Alastair Smith

Target personas: Sun Tzu was right, you do need them

Admittedly, it is possible that 5th Century military strategist Sun Tzu wasn’t thinking of Financial Services marketing when he said: “know your enemies and you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle”, but his words still ring true today.

And while we may not be talking about enemies per se, but rather customers and potential customers, if you have limited understanding of your audience, then it’s impossible for you to win the battle that is sales and marketing.

If you only have a surface-level knowledge of the issues they face and what they are trying to achieve, then it’s impossible to create strategies, products, services or marketing messaging to help them.

But, if you dig down and get to know your prospective customers on a deeper level, you’ll find it much easier to craft laser-targeted messaging that practically compels them to buy. This is where personas come in.

What is a persona?

Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas or target personas) are fictional, generalised representations of your ideal customers.

Personas put a human face on customers; giving them a name, a job title, defining their motivations, aspirations and fears rather than just treating them all as an amorphous blob of ‘prospects’. By defining our customers, we can better understand how our organisation can connect with them and help them.

While user personas are often created by the marketing department, they are useful for all parts of an organisation – marketing, sales, product, and services – to help everyone understand the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and help everyone across the business relate to their customers as real humans.

What is the outcome of building them?

Having a deep understanding of your buyer personas is critical to for effective acquisition and retention, helping you to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business. Benefits include, but aren’t limited to:

1. An understanding of customer needs

Buying a birthday present for a good friend is easy – you can visualise them and their interests as you shop, what they like, what they dislike until you find the perfect gift for them. Buyer personas work in the same way – they allow you to better understand the needs and wants of your customer base, meaning that you can tailor your offering (whether that’s a product or a piece of content) in a way that they will find most valuable.

2. Know of where customers ‘live’

Understanding where your personas spend time (online or offline), where they source their information and who they take recommendations from is key to ensuring that you can target the distribution of your content much more effectively.

Prospects are more likely to react positively to messages they find in channels that they already use.

3. Higher quality leads

Reaching the right people, through the right channels and using the right content to move people through the sales journey means that you will be delivering a larger number of higher quality leads.

4. Consistency across business

Ensuring that your whole business is familiar and has bought into the target personas, means that the whole business can be aligned in helping those personas achieve their objectives and become customers e.g. if marketing has created opt-in content to target a certain persona and their persona type is recorded in your CRM when they register to download, your sales team already have an advantage when they pick up the phone to follow up. They will already know what is important to that lead, what questions and objections they may raise and what they can do to make closing the sale more likely.

5. More efficient targeting of effort

Once you have defined the personas which are most likely to result in the highest number of conversions and sales, your marketing and sales team can concentrate their efforts on attracting those sorts of customers.

The flipside of this is developing ‘negative personas’: identifying and defining the types of prospects who have shown in the past that they are unlikely to become customers. Reducing the amount of time wasted pursuing leads that will never purchase or acquiring short-term customers can be just as beneficial to your business as identifying those who do.

How do you create personas?

Hopefully you should be able to see the huge advantages that well-targeted user personas can offer your organisation. You’ll spend less time and effort on marketing and sales, and deliver a higher number of leads at a lower cost.

So how do you go about developing them? Well, the good news is that it isn’t that hard. In fact, writing personas can actually be quite enjoyable.

1)  Decide how many personas you need

While you may have one decision maker that your messaging is targeted at, you may also need to create personas for influencers, who often perform research and control the top of a sales funnel.

Influencers often begin the research process online, and if they don’t find content from you that answers their questions or meets their own needs, then your product or service may never make it past their filter to be considered by the decision maker.

As an example, a Fund Manager may have three personas that they target, who are all important in increasing their Funds Under Management:

  • ‘Approved Producs List Alan’ – who needs to be convinced to allow the Advisers in his network to include the fund on the list of the products they can recommend.
  • ‘Adviser Andy’ – who needs to be convinced that recommending the managed fund is in his clients’ best interest.
  • ‘Retail Investor Rob’ – who needs to be convinced that a fund is worthy of him including it in his portfolio.

Once these personas are defined, the fund manager can create marketing content, and even products to satisfy the requirements of each.


Yell sample personas

2) Decide what you need to know

While the information you want to know will vary depending on your business type and the industry you’re in, some of the core insights required to build your target personas will be similar.

Adele Revella, founder of The Buyer Persona Institute, identified “5 Rings of Buying Insight” to consider when deciding what information is (and isn’t) necessary to know:

  • Priority Initiatives: What are the key factors that cause buyers to invest in solutions like yours?
  • Success Factors: What results does your buyer persona hope to achieve by purchasing your solution?
  • Perceived Barriers: What may cause your buyer to believe that your solution is not their best option?
  • Buyer’s Journey: Plotting a typical journey from Attention > Interest > Decision > Action will reveal details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options and make their choice.
  • Decision Criteria: Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions, or companies does your buyer judge as most important and what are their expectations for each?
3) Conduct research

While it may be tempting to write user personas based on ‘gut feel’, the most effective personas are those that are written following thorough research, surveys, and interviews of your target audience.

By sourcing information from a variety of sources, you can ensure that you are gathering the challenges, goals, desires and needs to develop well-rounded collective characteristics about your ideal customer.

  • Interview current customers to discover what they like about your product or service.
  • Look at the analytics for your website – the pages and content that different user profiles view, who completes any goals that you have set up and where people drop off and leave your site.
  • Look through your contacts database to uncover trends about how certain leads or customers find and consume your content.
  • Consult your sales team on who they interact with most and who is most likely to result in a sale.
  • If you have one, talk to your account management function about what differentiates a happy customer from someone who is less so.
4) Document your personas

Once you’ve conducted your research, pull your notes into a neat and tidy document, which can be circulated to all stakeholders for their review and feedback. Adding a stock image of your persona can help people to visualise them.


When you share your personas with your organisation, ensure that you explain what the persona is, its importance and how it will be used by your organisation.

To help you document the personas for your business, we’ve created a Financial Services Persona template which you can download at the bottom of this page. As there are so many business models within Financial Services, it should be used as a guideline but it is a solid starting point to get you thinking.

5) Keep your personas relevant

As businesses change and new developments occur in the market, the ideal target persona for your organisation may shift over time. Ensure that your organisation’s personas are reviewed at least once a year to ensure that you are still creating products and marketing messaging that is tightly targeted to the people who really matter to your organisation.

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