Persona Interview 101: Understanding Your Ideal Customer

Blasting money on marketing campaigns with no idea of your target market is like blindly throwing arrows in the dark, hoping that one of them will find its mark. 

Marketing is more about understanding your audience than it is about throwing money at ads. What makes them tick? What draws them in? Why would they want to buy from you instead of one of your competitors? 

If you’re not sure about the answer to these questions, it’s time to get in touch with your ideal customer personas. 

What is a customer persona, and why should you build one?

Before we go any further, let’s first take a pause to understand what a customer persona is. 

An ideal customer persona is a well-defined, three-dimensional representation of the people you want to attract to your business. 

These fictional characters represent and reflect important demographics and purchase drivers within a particular customer segment. Their purpose is to help you:

  • understand what motivates your customers
  • ensure that your marketing messages are relevant 
  • create pertinent content
  • align marketing strategies and tactics to customer preferences

In simplest terms, customer personas are tools that help you understand who your target customers really are and how they would like to be marketed.

A template Point Visible uses to create target persona cards

If you don’t know your target customers like the back of your hand, you’ll never be able to create a marketing campaign that sells. Look at the failure of JCPenney’s 2012 rebranding

In a move that ultimately backfired, JCPenney’s newly appointed CEO, Ron Johnson, decided to ditch their very successful private-label brands for expensive name brands. He also replaced the lure of discount coupons and price markdowns with a new “fair and square” everyday low pricing scheme. 

This transition alienated many of their core customers who liked hunting for deals via coupons and price markdowns. Unsurprisingly, the company’s plummeting sales became national headlines within months of Johnson’s arrival. 

In a conversation with Businessweek, Johnson was quoted saying, “The reality is all of the couponing we did, there was a certain part of the customers that loved that. They gravitated to stores that competed that way. So our core customer, I think, was much more dependent and enjoyed coupons more than I understood.” 

Johnson instituted a plan without accounting for the needs of his loyal customer base. A better grasp of his customer personas would have helped Johnson adequately understand his customers’ motivations and avoid this gaffe altogether.

How can you create personas?

Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of any marketing strategy is determining your target audience. The only way to know what you should say to potential customers in any campaign is to know who is going to be listening. Here are some ways to figure out who makes up your target audience:

  1. Conducting surveys asking your target audience (or similar audiences) what they think about your brand, competitors, and categories.
  2. Analyzing qualitative data to better understand trends and customer behavior.
  3. Interviewing your ideal customers in an effort to understand their priorities, motivations, and desires. 

Just like a learning organization whose members’ knowledge and expertise continuously evolve. If you want to stay updated on customer knowledge and insights, you need to constantly seek out information about them. 

While carrying out surveys or analyzing data are great ways to get started, the best and the most reliable way to get inside your customer’s head is by talking with them. Interviewing people will give you the solid ground you need for marketing and design.

Why interview ideal customers when surveys are much easier?

Conducting surveys and polls can be a more manageable way to keep an ear to the ground and find out more about your customer personas, but they hardly ever capture the nuance and depth that real-time conversations can. 

Sure, surveys can get you piles of customer data in a couple of hours. Except this data won’t tell you very much about the motivations and feelings of your target audience. 

Take it from seasoned marketer and author of Roadmap to Revenue, Kristin Zhivago

In her book, Zhivago stresses the importance of talking to your customers and how doing so helps you make a better sale by “reverse engineering” it.

How to find the right people for persona interviews?

The initial step in conducting a target persona interview is getting in touch with people who can offer an invaluable perspective. You need to be sure that you’ve selected the right people to speak to. Below are a few relevant pools from which you can choose the most suitable interviewees:

Current customers

Your existing customer base is the perfect place to start with your interviews because they’ve already purchased your product and engaged with your company. These individuals are in a unique position to help you understand your target personas as they’re familiar with how you run your business. By inviting them to participate in interviews, you’re not just gathering insights — you’re also building loyalty and strengthening relationships.

Take note of what’s working for each interviewee and what’s not, but don’t just consider the users who love your products. Keeping all of your customers happy is just as important as making a few of them absolutely ecstatic. 

So, make sure to talk to customers who are not so delighted with your product, too. Although less biased than those of your happy customers, their points of view can tell you a lot about your target users and what areas can be improved.

Potential buyers

You most likely already have an extensive database of leads at your disposal. So, try to connect with your brand’s prospective customers, the ones who are either shopping around or might be interested in making a purchase. Consider including even those who have shifted away from you or haven’t yet begun interacting with your brand. 

Your potential buyers’ customer journey trends can shed light on how your ideal customers shop and what turns them off – what are their “objections to sale”. This improved understanding of their purchasing habits will also enable you to better position your brand to attract their patronage.

Other parties

When you’re looking to break into a new market or have no leads, attempt to connect with your interview participants via:

  1. Referrals: you can use your existing customers, social media connections, and coworkers to lead you to people who match your target demographic. 
  2. Third-party networks: you can start the persona interview process by using reliable online platforms such as UserTesting.com that can help you locate qualified interviewees who are not associated with your product or service in any way.

Now that you’ve identified your interviewees, it’s time to get them to sit down with you for a chat. 

Recruiting the interviewee

Finding your interviewee is just the start. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is actually getting your ideal participants to say “yes” to your interview request. Many people just don’t have the time, whereas others aren’t interested in providing feedback. 

To get around this problem, here are a few things you can do.

how to attract more interviewees

Offering incentives

Asking someone to spend half an hour on an interview is already a lot. When people see no real reward in it, they may have difficulty securing their commitment. 

Luckily, there are ways to incentivize potential interviewees to talk with you. These incentives might include a small gift card, a discount code, or some other pleasant surprise that’ll perk up their mood and get them more interested in talking to you.

Being super flexible and accommodating

Because you’re asking your interviewees for something they don’t have to give, treat them with respect by making sure you go out of your way to make things easier for them. Try to make them feel more comfortable by working around their schedules and making participation as convenient as possible. 

For instance, provide them with a link to a shared calendar tool, so they can set aside a time slot to meet.

Staying upfront and honest

When setting up persona interviews, it’s important to stress that they are not sales calls. Explain that you are doing research. Let them know how you found their contact information. Provide reasoning for why your company needs feedback from these individuals. 

It’s especially important not to come off as disingenuous when you’re interviewing someone who isn’t a customer. 

Be prepared for the interview

Before sitting down to conduct the interview, take some time to consider what you want to ask. Make a list of questions that will allow you to learn as much as possible about your ideal customer. 

Don’t forget to jot down your findings. You can also record the session and have it transcribed later. This will make sure that you don’t miss any important details.

Compile and analyze your findings

Once you have conducted the interviews, the next step is to study the raw data and condense it so that it’s easy for everyone to understand. Synthesizing hours of persona interviews and turning them into digestible insights will take up a lot of your time. 

These suggestions will help you stay sane during the process:

  • Start by combing through all your interview notes meticulously.
  • Analyze the answers to your interview questions by identifying patterns and common characteristics. Then, construct at least one primary customer persona.
  • Create a lattice so you can organize everything in one spot. You can also use pre-designed templates (like the one Point Visible offers below)  to systematically organize your findings.
  • Finally, share your analysis with the rest of the company.

Persona interviews give direction to your marketing efforts

Drawing an accurate picture of your customer is the first step to building profitable marketing strategies. You can’t hone in on trends or cater to specific needs if you don’t know who you’re trying to target. 

Slapping together poorly planned marketing decisions based on your gut instincts and good intentions won’t cut it in the long run.

If you need a helping hand with shaping your target personas, whether for link building or content marketing purposes, get in touch with Point Visible or schedule a call


Ahmad Benny is a mastermind behind Bengu – a London-born lover of technology, e-commerce, and digital marketing in general. He loves learning, researching, and curating value nuggets to save you time, money and help you achieve your goals.

Point Visible
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