Creating Personas vs. Customer Segments: What’s The Difference?

April 14, 2015 3 minute read
The key to digital marketing is personalized content. Understand customer segmentation and personas to develop the best strategy for your brand with this blog.

Developing personas and segments is a critical step in creating a personalization strategy for your business. The terms "persona" and "segment" have often been used interchangeably to group and define the characteristics and profiles of customers, but the truth is the words mean two different things, and the distinction is an important one. Segments help to forecast market interest for a product or service, while personas help to understand the emotional and behavioral triggers behind individual customers within that market. Used together, they can act as a powerful and complementary set of marketing tools for more in-depth and accurate customer targeting.

Before you develop your strategy for them, let’s take a look at the distinctions between them.

Customer segmentation is the practice of grouping different sets of similar people (customers or potential customers) based on distinct needs and/or characteristics. Segments are generally developed by conducting large-scale research and are defined using demographic information like age, race, location, or psychographic and behavioral information like interests, opinions, values, lifestyle, risk aversion, or life stage. Customer segments don’t provide insights into a consumer; rather, they offer insights about groups of consumers within a larger marketplace. These groups can help a retailer differentiate between the different types of customers that exist and what those customer groups might be interested in.

Personas are fictitious characters created by a retailer to mimic a real customer. They're made based on profiles, which include foundational demographic information collected through research with real people. These profiles are a direct representation of a customer group that shares similar values, behaviors, and goals. Personas begin with those basic profiles and then are given names, faces, personalities, and families to paint an accurate picture of precisely what that person would want and need in real life. Personas add the emotional and behavioral component — the warm, fuzzy stuff. Once complete, they can help determine need states or end goals for a particular consumer, so that you know just how to target them and what will resonate.

While segments and personas are both tools for grouping current and potential customers, they provide two separate use cases for a business. Used together, they can paint a comprehensive and complete picture of how a business should market to its customers. And, once a company has grabbed the customers’ attention, segments and personas can tell you how best to target those prospects to relate to their wants and needs.

Segments are primarily used to help determine whether a brand or product will resonate in the marketplace. They're great for helping dictate a brand’s messaging, content strategy, and product targeting. Segments can be used initially attract a customer to your brand. Using personas, on the other hand, can help your brand keep a customer around once they’re interested and ultimately encourage them to convert. Personas allow a brand to have true insights into the psychological and emotional wants and needs of their consumers. By designing personas, brands have a detailed character and associated story that they can apply in real life scenarios and that they can approach with the wants and needs of real people.

Now that you’ve developed your segments and personas, you’re one step closer to upping your personalization game. Ready to learn more? Our Digital Personalization 101 ebook dives into the next steps.

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