29 March 2016

Proto-personas: buyer personas on a budget

Tags:Strategy, Culture

We’ve already established that buyer personas are critical not just to your sales and marketing teams but to your organisation as a whole. However, developing these fictional folks can make for a costly endeavour. If you can’t afford the money or effort for full-blown buyer personas, proto-personas might just be your new best friends.

Typically, companies generate buyer personas based on real data; often, a marketing exercise or user research leads them to create these comprehensive, customer-focused entities. However, this research piece can be labour-intensive and expensive. Other organisations develop what they call personas based merely on a wish list; someone has come up with them – seemingly plucked from thin air – but they have no basis in real research, and there’s no evidence that they’re actually representative of the company’s customers.

Fortunately, there’s a middle ground: proto-personas. Proto-personas allow you to have an understanding of who’s coming to your products and services, but you approach it in a different way. They’re great options for smaller organisations that may not be able to properly develop or fund fully fledged buyer personas.

As a less formal exercise in user research, proto-personas are based on:

  • Customer behaviours
  • Customer beliefs
  • Customer needs and wants
  • Demographics.

With these in mind, your first order of business is to do some staff brainstorming and take a look at your analytics.


Get your team together for a session of free association. Based on their collective knowledge of their market and understanding of who is using their products and why, you can come to some pretty well-educated conclusions about your archetypal customers.


Add to this your analytics. As we all now know, Google can tell you a whole lot of stuff these days. Look at your analytics data and try to gain insights – and a good feeling about – who’s coming to you. Who’s signing up for your newsletters? Maybe do a quick survey or two on your website. Together, many of these metrics can help you create some stellar proto-personas.


Don't let taking the 'budget' route and an erroneous persona contaminate your sales and marketing intel. While proto-personas do allow you to circumvent a great deal of the rigour associated with developing more fully-fledged buyer personas, validating these personas through further testing and research is recommended to avoid inaccuracies and mistakes.

So though they may not be as comprehensive as traditional personas, proto-personas do help you:

  • Put your organisational focus back on customer-centricity
  • Serve as helpful reference points for your team
  • Provide a starting point from which to grow and develop stronger personas
  • Revise and shift company strategy as you learn more about your customers as you go along
  • Help with future decision-making.

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