Personas are a strategic tool used in marketing to help visualize a particular audience or segment. Personas bring intangible qualities to life by bundling them into a fictional representation. These characterizations can include various qualities depending on the product or service doing the targeting. Characteristics might include what the ideal customer looks like, what they wear, their income level or their perception of your brand.

We’ve all worked with personas in some form or fashion, and we all have an opinion about them. Whether you are of the mind that they are useful or ridiculous, you’re right. When you do personas right, they are powerful tools for alignment and action. But just as true is the fact that personas can be a playground of inefficiency.

The good news is that we aren’t here to convince anyone that their experience of personas is wrong. Instead, we are here to validate both the lovers and the haters. Congratulations! You’re both right. But more to the point, we want to steer everyone back on track because personas are particularly useful in home improvement where the customer mix is especially broad. We’ll review what to do and what not to do when developing with personas. We’ve even included a home improvement persona and template for download. You won’t want to miss it.  

For People Who Love Personas

There are plenty of reasons to love personas, including the fact that they are visual in nature, and many of us process information quicker this way. The beauty of this hybrid between information and graphics is that it pre-processes the information. Teams with differing processing capacities and familiarity with the information can more quickly arrive at a mutual understanding with the help of visuals. They can also recall the information more quickly.

As human beings, we evolved to relate to other people and process interpersonal information subconsciously. So, by assigning a face to the multi-dimensional qualities of a group of anonymous users – including their wants, needs, motivations, fears, etc. – we can wrap our minds around it more easily. This is especially helpful in the home improvement industry where project suitability is so critical, and product knowledge varies so widely. Personas allow us to work through the discrepancies between DIY and professional perspectives.    

Up to a point, personas can be fun, too. During a recent persona and user journey mapping workshop, we introduced a large, cross-functional team to Emotional Eric as a Persona 101 example. Afterward, we broke into groups to map their buyer personas and journeys in detail. Later that evening, while the client was celebrating at Top Golf, Emotional Eric showed up to play a few rounds. It’s proof that personas stick with us.     

Because personas can have a name and a face, we can bring them into discussions. For example, we can take Emotional Eric to the holiday party or save him a seat at the strategy retreat. We can ask him what he thinks about the new brand messaging, and if he likes the website. When Emotional Eric is present during journey mapping, he helps teams orient conversations around his concerns. This keeps the discussion objective and provides a more collaborative container for feedback.

For People Who Hate Personas

For every reason there is to love personas, there’s an equal reason to find them laborious and ridiculous. It’s true that persona development can go too far, bordering on a creative writing exercise rather than a marketing tool. This type of user profile exercise can quickly alienate the very stakeholders who are critical to the process, but who don’t want to get that personal. It can also feel like a waste of time.

The background narrative that is so helpful in establishing a persona can be its downfall when we engage details that aren’t relevant. Asking your sales team to deliberate over how your target audience likes their coffee, or what model car they drive doesn’t matter if your product is duct tape. In fact, it can be detrimental. When we engage in excessive storytelling, we run the risk of obscuring the important details, those that make a product or service valuable to a persona.

Everyone Wins with Personas Done Right

1. Define Right Fit and Share Knowledge

The most important feature of a buyer persona is the knowledge they facilitate as to what makes your product or service a good fit for that audience. If this knowledge is universally and immediately apparent to anyone and everyone at your company, perhaps you don’t need a persona. But typically, that’s not the case. Often, everyone has a slightly different perception of the audience, and what they need or want. This is especially true in the home improvement industry where gaps in experience and background can be extreme across job functions.

2. Create Alignment and Clarity

When personas are done right, they create alignment around the end user, who they are and what is important to them. Concise and relevant personas are essential tools for business. They demonstrate confidence in your understanding of your audience in the same way a great elevator pitch speaks to your understanding of your positioning.

3. Eliminate Artificial Agendas

Carefully constructed personas create an image of the user which is relatable and elicits enthusiasm. When personas are done right, they keep the focus on consumers. From time to time, we all need a reminder that the end user is real. Personas invite us to focus on the deck repair, leaky basement or nursery to be painted. In this way, they un-invite internal or political positioning from marketing.

4. Facilitate Knowledge Growth

Lastly, when personas are done right, they become living artifacts, tools for documenting learned information about an audience. They take on a life of their own, maturing as your brand and marketing develop. Personas done right remain in circulation and are shared across teams.

How to Get Your Personas Right

1. Give Them a Face

As previously mentioned, personas can engage subconscious processing because they trigger human connection. So, it’s important to give personas a face. Whether that face is an avatar or a photo doesn’t matter. It simply helps to assign it a relatable package. If you’re worried about being too narrow with respect to age, race, gender, etc., that’s okay. Your persona can be fluid. However, when it comes to home improvement personas, we do recommend that they be human.

2. Create Context

Next, develop context for your persona. Develop a narrative that serves to establish that they are a qualified persona. This implies two things. First, that you can articulate what makes someone a qualified persona – including whether or not they are a buyer, advocate or other. And second, that if there are a variety of qualifying conditions, you may have multiple personas. Because the qualifying scenarios for home improvement can differ dramatically, most of our clients have at least three.

3. Keep it Simple. Make it Relevant.

When creating context, it’s important to keep it simple and relevant. Personas needn’t be overly detailed except where those details reflect your user journey. Examples include wants, needs, pain points, decision points, touch points, targeted messages and channels. Product knowledge, experience, personal use case and budget are almost always relevant details in our industry. Sustainability preferences are influential as well. Focus on the information that secures them a seat on your buyer journey, and what it takes to keep them engaged along the way.

4. Prioritize Industry Expertise

Subject matter expertise is critical to persona development. As experts in marketing, our team has facilitated persona workshops in several industries over the years and can safely say that there’s no substitute for the insights that industry veterans bring to these conversations. Personas can be developed by marketing teams, but without the validation of other business perspectives, they won’t be nearly as valuable.

Personas for Home Improvement

As experts in home improvement, we know that buyer personas for our industry are unique. Not only are the circumstances that drive decisions different, but the archetypes are also distinct. Case in point, is there any other industry where professionals and retail associates are as crucial to success as in home improvement? In our experience, these roles often require their own persona work.