How to Start Building Your Marketing Persona: A Coffee Shop Case Study


Today, I'm working out of a small coffee shop in San Francisco. The diverse clientele I've seen here provides excellent material for a short lesson in building your marketing persona.

A marketing persona is the imagined embodiment of the characteristics of the people you are marketing to. They are like characters in a story that involves your business. You should use your marketing personas to make decisions about your marketing strategy.

Once you develop a solid buyer persona, that’s the question that you should be asking yourself constantly: ‘Would Jane (or John) like this?’
— Noah Parsons, How a Buyer (or User) Persona Can Improve Your Business

At first, you may imagine your varied users, customers, and audience members and feel overwhelmed at the thought of crystallizing their complex characteristics into just a handful of essential facts. The trick is to relax and define them broadly at first and narrow down their traits or segment them into specific groups as you continue to learn more about them.

So, if I were making marketing personas for this coffee shop, what would I do?

Start with your most valuable customer.

When we start building our marketing personas, I usually I ask existing businesses to define one to three of their primary target customers, users, or audience members. These customers may be their most common kind of customer, their favorite customer to work with, or the type of customer that brings in the most profit for the business.  We'll start here and create a persona for your ideal customer later on.

(If you're a new business without a large existing customer base, you may have to jump straight to imagining the characteristics of your ideal customers, which we'll get to in a future post. In the meantime, try to apply these lessons to your current clientele.)

If this shop were one of my clients, I'd ask them a lot of questions about their customers to help them shape their marketing personas. Instead, I'm just going to make up their answers based on my observations and imagination.

Let's pretend that this shop has two types of customers that bring in the most money for the shop: people who make catering orders and people who camp out to work on their laptops and buy copious amounts of coffee and pastries throughout the day. We'll name the catering orderers "Oliver" and the coffee campers "Carly."

Simply sum them up.

Now, we'll write a brief summary, no more than a few sentences, about who we think the average Oliver and Carly really are.

"Oliver works in a nearby office and is usually in charge of ordering snacks for their frequent morning meetings. He counts on the coffee shop to provide a variety of pastries and a carafe of delicious coffee on time and sometimes on short notice."

"Carly works remotely and appreciates the coffee shop's reliable WiFi, speedy service, and satisfying menu. She orders coffee and food throughout the day to stay fueled, and she frequently invites new customers to meet her for drinks and meals."

Make it visual.

Now we know our persona names a bit about who they are. Next, just to make them a bit more real for you, let's give them photos.

 Meet Oliver.

Meet Oliver.

 And meet Carly.

And meet Carly.

Don't they seem much more real to you now? Can't you envision making your marketing  decisions by asking them questions like, "Hey Carly, would you appreciate some kind of customer loyalty program that rewarded you for bringing in new customers," or "Hey Oliver, would you be interested in an e-newsletter about how to eat and and drink for better productivity?"

Believe it or not, we're finished, for now. These two personas are in their most basic form, but they're all you need to get started. We'll talk about how to add more useful details to them in a future post. Got any questions for me about personas or other marketing topics? Let me know!