5 Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Building Personas

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks


Personas are a must have for any marketer looking to create meaningful messaging and drive leads.

I’ve worked on building personas in all of my past jobs and am currently in the process of vetting and altering Uberflip’s personas. Over all this time, I’ve researched a lot about personas and have spoken with many other marketers about their processes.

For those of you looking for a how-to guide, this isn’t it (but you can listen to the webinar I did with Uberflip when I was at my last company where we discuss the whole persona process). This is more of a how-not-to guide based on what I’ve done myself and what I’ve seen other marketers do. Let’s dive in!

1. You’re not differentiating between buyer and user

I’ll be the first to say that I have been guilty of not noticing this distinction. While my first job was in the tech space, it had more of a B2C focus so all of our users were our buyers. I later moved to a B2B tech company and learned very quickly that the person who signs on the dotted line may not be the person who will actually be using your product day in and day out.

It’s important to make this distinction because you have to know the nuances of each role to learn how to get through to every person in the decision process. Even at small companies, it’s common for more than one person to be involved in a purchase.

Do you frequently have to speak with a financial decision maker? Who are your typical influencers? Are there any gatekeepers that must be won over before the deal can go through?

If you just focus on users, you will miss all of these key stakeholders and won’t have any messaging strategies for them.

2. Your interviewees aren’t diverse enough

During your process, you should be speaking to people who you believe fit into your persona buckets (if you’re not, we can make that mistake 2A).

It’s easy to convince your champions to get on the phone with you. They already love you and are so eager to talk to you! This type of person is obviously great for you to figure out why they love you so much, but it’s easy to get lazy and only talk to your fans.

When setting up your interviews, talk to a large variety of people. Talk to current customers, customers who have left, prospects who didn’t go through with a purchase, and even people who hold the title you’re targeting, but are not yet a prospect.

This mix will give you an idea of why people come on board, what problems people are looking to fix and how your solution provided (or didn’t provide) the solution, and unbiased information from people unfamiliar with your service. All of this insight can help you create messaging that will resonate with your personas and allow you to dive in deeper into the problems your churned customers or lost prospects had.

3. You have too many personas

If you’re just starting to build out your personas, do yourself a favor and try to limit yourself to around 3 personas. Sure, if you look at your database of customers, you’ll probably find a plethora of different titles, but this doesn’t mean that every single job title needs its own persona.

Talk to your sales team and find out the type of people they deal with the most. What are the common problems they see? Take this information and then bucket different titles into one persona that encompasses all the same problems.

You may have some outliers that pop up every now and again. While every customer matters, you have to be real with yourself and drill down on who you really want to target. Is the use case of the CEO’s child making all the purchase decisions interesting? You bet. Should you focus marketing efforts on all children of CEOs? Probably not.

4. You avoid the personal questions

Asking about what your interviewee wanted to be when they grew up, what their dream job is, or even what types of activities they like to do in their spare time isn’t as silly as it may seem. You can actually gain some useful information from personal questions (as well as help make the interview a little less dry by asking some fun questions).

We have been talking to some of our customers recently and when we ask about their dream job, a lot bring up being a writer. While it’s not a far stretch from a content marketer to writer, it does give a little more background on what drives our customers to do their job: they love writing. Let’s talk to them about writing. Let’s make their jobs easier so they can write more efficiently.

Maybe a lot of your customers love playing Super Mario World (I mean, who doesn’t). See if you can think of a creative way to tie their interests (amazing video games) into a fun piece of content (5 Things The Valley of Bowser Taught Me About Project Management… okay, it’s a stretch, but you see where I’m going with this). By learning about your customers’ and prospects’ interests, you can start to create more personal connections and start to show the human side of your brand.

5. You don’t refresh your personas

So you’ve made it this far and you’re like, “Yeah I know all this stuff, I did it all a few years ago!” Ding ding ding, we have a mistake. Building personas isn’t a one-and-done project. People change. Your industry changes. Your product changes.

Over the course of just a few months, someone who used to think your solution fit one problem really well may no longer focus on that problem and are more interesting in fixing something else.

As a rule of thumb, try to revisit your personas at least every year. Over that time, if your company changes significantly (releases a new product, changes pricing to up-level their offering, etc.), revisit your personas even sooner. With these changes, your old personas may not fit the type of customer your company is now trying to reach.

So there you go. Take your how-not-to guide, go forth, and build wonderful personas. If you can think of any other common mistakes, let me know in the comments below!

Once you have your personas all set, get your content in front of them! Learn how to increase your content’s discoverability in our latest eBook.


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