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How to create a customer persona for ecommerce

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A customer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your target customer. It’s a vivid cross section of your different buyers—their unique motivations, pain points, preferences, and backstories. 

These profiles will be one of the best tools for developing a successful, targeted marketing strategy for your ecommerce brand. They deliver insights that your target audience research won’t. 

If your product is a new payment app, for example, market data might tell you that freelancers between 25-35 years old are most likely to use it. But a well-executed persona could reveal that your target customer feels like they’re already juggling too many digital tools, while wanting to take on more clients. For some customers, freelancing is a side hustle. Others are new parents working from home temporarily. 

Proper market segmentation depends on gaining a deeper understanding of your buyers. Use this beginner's guide to building customer personas to get the full picture. 

Why customer personas matter for ecommerce

In an age of personalization, customers have a low tolerance for irrelevant marketing messages and bad online shopping experiences. An Accenture report found that nearly half of all consumers have exited a business’ website—and made their purchase elsewhere—because the experience was “poorly curated.” 

Another survey revealed that 40% of U.S. consumers said messaging felt personal only “sometimes.” Yet 80% of customers said they’d be more likely to do business with a company that offers personalized experiences. 

It’s no surprise that generic messages don’t resonate with consumers. Putting together customer personas, also called buyer personas or marketing personas, is a way to churn out personally relevant, compelling campaigns.

With a few composite sketches, you can get more ROI on your brand’s content marketing efforts and improve customer retention. Buyer personas have widespread utility. Everyone selling or creating content for your small business can refer to them. In addition, your team can more easily decide which features or initiatives to prioritize. 

What does a good customer persona look like? 

When you read a good customer persona, you should quickly understand the goals, behavioral drivers, concerns, and expectations of that "buyer." Your version can be as simple or complex as you need, although many are one-sheets or brief digital presentations. 

You’ll perform a combination of quantitative and qualitative persona research to capture the relevant details. If your products aren’t available to actual customers yet, you can easily construct profiles for potential customers. From there, many businesses narrow down their data into three or four clear-cut archetypes. 

Key components of a customer persona 

The most important concept to keep in mind is that a buyer persona is more than a list of characteristics. As you can see in these marketing persona examples, there’s a lot of flexibility with what you can include. Here are some staple sections of your customer profile:

  • Name: Your buyer needs a memorable name. A lot of marketers use alliteration, such as Research Analyst Robert or Landlord Lauren.
  • Demographic information: Collect details like age, gender, location, job title, education level, and average household income for a B2C business or company budget for a B2B business.
  • Background: Take note of relevant habits and preferences. For example, what are your customer’s trusted information sources and preferred social media channels? How much time do they spend researching solutions?
  • Goals: These are the personal or professional objectives that are driving your customers. Make sure you understand which one ranks first and how they relate to one another.
  • Challenges: Compile the obstacles that are stopping your customers from achieving their goals. These pain points could be related to their job, family, age, or otherwise. 
  • Common objections: Why might a sale fall through? Why do customers say no to your solution or your competitors? Which benefits aren’t resonating? This response will guide your messaging.
  • Sales pitch: Some businesses brainstorm a two- or three-sentence pitch for each persona using the above insights. It’s particularly helpful for training new team members. 
  • Hobbies and interests: Put your customer’s needs in their proper context. Understanding what your buyers do with their spare time could also inspire content ideas.
  • Photo: A photo is optional, but it humanizes your persona even more. You could use a stock photo, photograph a real customer, or use a digital graphic. 

Many businesses add in a few made-up qualities, like a favorite food or color, to make their personas feel more human. Take advantage of customizable marketing persona templates, like this free HubSpot template, to get started. 

How to create your own customer personas in 4 simple steps

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Now that you know what customer personas look like and why they’re vital for ecommerce, it’s time to craft your own. Follow these steps to get to know the people who you're asking to choose your product or service. We’ll also go over ways to implement your personas across your business.

1. Gather target audience data

Start broad with quantitative market research. Google Analytics is a great source for demographic information and other customer snapshots. If you have it set up for your online store, simply generate the audience reports you need. Dig into interests, mediums, and other segment details at the local, national, and global level.

If your business is up and running, it’s a cinch to pull detailed information from your customer relationship management (CRM) software. If your ecommerce site isn’t live yet, don’t worry. Use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels popular with your customer base. You can use in-site ad builders to estimate the size of your market, or explore individual pages and profiles. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website is a trusted site for industry segments, salaries, and other population figures. Use recent industry fact sheets or get in touch with industry associations for helpful statistics. 

2. Get in touch with your customers

Qualitative feedback is just as important as the customer data you can find online. Hear directly from your target market with a mixture of in-person or phone customer interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, and more. Ideally, you’ll talk with both current customers and prospective customers.

First, put together your customer persona interview questions. For example, the owner of website building software might ask interviewees: 

  • What do you want to accomplish using your website?
  • How did you research different website building options?
  • How could we improve the user interface?
  • What are some of your favorite website designs? 
  • What do you like to do in your free time?

If you can’t pull subjects from your current customers, you may need to offer incentives and call for volunteers. Reach out through social networks like LinkedIn. Encourage submissions and referrals by providing gift cards. Use tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms to keep responses organized.

It’s also a good idea to pull from customer service records or sales calls if you have access. Make sure you hang onto any interesting or revealing customer quotes. When you create your archetypes later, add the quote that encapsulates that buyer.

3. Segment your market 

Now that your research is complete, narrow down your results. Segmenting is freeform—you can group individuals in many different ways. Single out the details that will most affect how you communicate with your audience. 

Look for trends and commonalities so you build the most accurate customer personas. For example, if the majority of customers say budget is a challenge, make sure this is prominent in all of your personas. 

Maybe you realize your online luggage store has a distinct customer group of males in their 40s who live in suburban areas, travel often, and prefer YouTube for content. Some of these individuals may only travel once per month, and others jet-set every week. A real person couldn’t do both, but a persona allows different qualities to coexist. 

What’s important is that this segment is distinct from your other segments, like your college-age customers who travel infrequently to see family or study abroad. 

4. Create and share your personas 

With all the legwork done, it’s time to build out your different personas. Organize all the key customer data and responses you’ve gathered into the template you selected earlier. 

Continuing our earlier example, let’s say you’ve identified two distinct groups of travelers. Bring each “person” to life with an intuitive name, like: 

  • Grant Globetrotter, who represents older men traveling for business and pleasure
  • Taylor Traveler, who represents young students traveling on a budget

After populating each section, ask yourself: Does each persona tell a different story? Are my ideal customers represented here? Do I understand how to communicate with these customers? If the answer is yes, continue on.

Depending on your company size, you may have a sales team and marketing team. Distribute the personas to them to gather feedback and give them a reference going forward. 

Customer personas aren’t ever truly finished. Just like real people, these buyer snapshots will evolve with time. So, revisit your personas as your company and customer base grow.

Ways to apply your customer personas to your business

With buyer personas in hand, you can start putting your customers at the center of your business strategy. Use your profiles to: 

Putting a face to the name

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Appealing to a crowd is much more challenging than meeting the needs of a few target individuals. Use customer personas to tailor your marketing and provide better, more personalized service across the board. 

Defining your unique buyers also lets you break away from the features-driven marketing mindset. Instead, your team can focus on responding specifically to customer pain points. 

Your ecommerce business is entering into a long-term relationship with its customers. Take advantage of customer personas to make sure this relationship is a successful one.

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