‘Customer personas’ in spotlight

By McKenzie Dowson Chamberlain

Things can get pretty quiet this time of year, especially if you’re running a startup or small business.

If you’re looking for new customers, now is a great time to reflect on your strategy for customer acquisition. In particular, you can look at revisiting customer personas.

What are they? Customer personas give you a method of both exploration and representation of your ideal customer. They cover who your customers are, how they behave and where you can reach them.

In this article, we’ll go through how you can flesh them out as detailed characters, crafted from real data and insights — and why this can be so effective for bringing new customers to you.

Most of you will have three or four customer personas or even more. Having only one kind of customer is pretty rare. Knowing this, try to keep them separate from each other, as tempting as it can be to amalgamate them into one giant super-customer to rule them all.

The other temptation is to use your imagination, instead of their real-life answers. If you have gaps in your knowledge about your customer persona, this is a good signal for you to "get out of the building" and find the answers.

To build each customer persona, let's think about four aspects: demographics, psychographics, alternative solutions and watering holes.

Demographics are things like age range, income range, gender and geographic location. This is the most common way to divide customers into groups.

When we work with early-stage startups, demographics are often the primary way they describe their target audience — i.e. "professional women between 25 and 34".

While all information is good information, generalisations can lead you down the wrong path. That’s why we beef up our customer personas with information about them that reaches beyond demographic labels.

Psychographics refers to the inner world of your customer. As opposed to "ages 25-34", your customers might care about the environment or prioritise affordable products and services.

Consider what motivates them as they go about their day, their values, aspirations, and apprehensions.

These characteristics have a big impact on how your customer behaves.

A great way to do this is to look at customers that you already have. By understanding the psychographics of customers who have bought from you in the past, you can start to understand who your next customer might be.

Remember — yours is not the only door a customer might open. It’s important to understand what your potential customers see as their other options.

"Alternative solutions" is what your customer might do instead of buying from you. This is not to be confused with the question "who are your competitors?", which is something we’ve seen a lot of startups miss!

For example, if somebody breaks a lamp, and you sell lamps, the "competitors'' question might lead you to list all the other lamp shops in your local area. But if you ask your customer what options they considered before coming to your lamp shop, they might say: open the blinds, buy a candle, use the torch on my phone, steal a lamp from my brother or just sit in the dark.

For those working on something innovative, it’s tempting to handwave this part with a cheerful "I have no competitors, no-one else is working on this". However, while there might not be any direct competitors, using the "alternative solutions" approach will help you identify what it is about your solution that is better (or worse) than the alternatives.

As well as being crucial for understanding how your customer behaves, customer personas can also give you some great clues about where your customers might be looking, and where you need to position yourself for maximum customer eyeballs.

"Watering holes" describes the places your customer might hang out. Think about where your customer spends their time online (Facebook? TikTok? LinkedIn?), in person (bus stops? yoga studios?), or with family and friends (vegan cafes? cinemas?). Also consider how they receive relevant information — where do they see ads? Where do you need to be, in order to be seen by them?

Think about it like this — imagine a "safer than candles" tagline tailored for apprehensive young parents looking at an oil diffuser. Or, a big, clear, "locally owned" sign, aimed at community-conscious retirees checking out books at the library. Aligning your messaging with the information you’ve garnered directly from your customer means you can effectively engage with your audience across various platforms and contexts.

We know these slower months of January, February and March can stir up some mixed feelings for many startups and small businesses. Despite the average foot traffic being lower, it can be the perfect time for businesses to invest time in creating and updating customer personas.

When you’re running a small business or startup, you’re often playing all the roles and wearing all the hats, which can get a bit overwhelming. Remember to work on the business too, not just in it.

If you’re in need of a re-jig, a plan for your next steps, or even just a chat about where you could go next, someone with an outside perspective could help. Startup Dunedin can meet with you for free and connect you with the right people, tools and resources.

 - McKenzie Dowson Chamberlain is Startup Dunedin’s communications lead. Startup Dunedin offers free resources, connections and chats for Dunedin-based entrepreneurs. Get in touch with the team at https://www.startupdunedin.nz/meet