What do Universal Studios, Zippo lighters and Delta Airlines have in common?

The answer: all use personas in their marketing.

Delta recently created personas to help flight attendants meet customer needs. Zippo used personas to shape its first brand extension in 70 years. And Universal’s personas helped online ticket sales jump by 80 percent.

What Is Persona Marketing?

Persona marketing is nothing new. Author Angus Jenkinson debuted the concept in a 1994 trade article titled “Beyond Segmentation.” In it, Jenkinson suggested creating fictional characters to represent customer segments. These personas, his thinking went, would humanize analytical data while also helping marketers connect with the needs and motives of their target market.

While they never really went “out of style,” personas experienced a recent resurgence as web designers started using them to improve site navigation. Many marketers, too, have rediscovered personas in recent years.


The effort put into these personas varies. One Detroit-based agency creates entire “rooms” filled with furnishings and products that fit each “persona’s” lifestyle. Other marketers believe just a descriptive paragraph and a photo will do.

Persona Marketing at JPL

At JPL, personas help us maintain a clear marketing message across multiple departments. To create these personas, we start by pooling our knowledge of various customer segments. Who uses this product or service? What categories do these people fall under?

It quickly becomes clear whether we need one persona or several. We then determine details about the typical customer’s age, gender, profession and other characteristics. Sometimes these come directly from polls and other research. Other times, they’re based on gut instinct.

After defining personal characteristics, we explore that customer’s relationship to the business. Has the person used this product or service before? What does he know about it? Why does he need it? Finally, we move on to the purchase decision, and the factors that might steer it one way or another.


Example of a Marketing Persona

Once we’ve collected these details, we use them to craft a one-page summary. This summary includes a photo, a name and a call-out identifying the customer’s immediate needs.

Take “Andy the Architect,” a persona we recently created for an engineering client. Andy works at a mid-sized firm, where he hopes to one day become partner. He often collaborates with engineers, but occasionally experiences a communication breakdown that causes the work to suffer — something he hates because it reflects poorly on him.

Andy’s callout? “Please make me look good!”

Of course, we can’t represent each customer with a single persona. Some will be married, others divorced. Some will have three children, others none. But by creating personas, we can put a human face on consumer data that might otherwise seem amorphous and sterile.

The Real Value of Marketing Personas

From there, it becomes easy to create successful marketing. Decisions aren’t based on personal preference but what Andy the Architect would respond to best.

With all the media, messages and data in today’s marketing campaigns, it’s easy to become bogged down by the details. Personas keep your customers front and center. Suddenly you’re not marketing to reams of demographic data. You’re talking to real live human beings.

Only then can you make a connection. And only with that connection can you make the sale.