New Term in the Digital Age?

The word persona, according to means a role or character adopted by an author or an actor. It is not a new term coined by some digital marketer. But the concept of user persona (also known as buyer or customer persona) goes back to 1983 by Alan Cooper, a software designer. The use of it became popular after his book in 1999 The Inmates are Running the Asylum. As the world becomes more digitalise, especially with the use of internet marketing, buyer persona becomes better known especially people in the space of digital marketing.

In the past we probably use words like target audience or market segment more often when it comes to marketing our products or services. We also identify what are the profile of these groups including their gender, age, race, educational background etc. These are probably pretty useful because it helps us to understand our potential customers. But what is so special about a persona? What is the difference between a persona and a target audience?


Essentially, Persona is the Target Audience, But…

When we talk about our target audience, we usually think of a group of customers that are going to buy our product or service. A persona, can be defined as is a fictional archetype of your customers. I have read a number of articles talking about target audience and persona. Then I thought persona is the trend and I should be taking more notice and see how to apply the idea. I logged in to my Facebook Manager account only to realise the tab reads audience and not persona. Then I asked myself if using of persona is the trend, why Facebook does not describe the customers as personas but use the word “audience” instead?

Looking into the detailed selection for audience under Facebook Manager, I see the descriptions are typically what I would do for my target audience profiling. And in defining a persona, I had to put in a lot more description of this fictional character like its goal and dreams, its liking and up to what it does on a typical day. Therefore I concluded persona and target audience means the same thing. The only difference is a persona is a more detailed description of your target audience. Why do people just make things complicated trying to say target audience and persona are different things? It is just so simple! But if it is so simple, then is trying to define your buyer persona overrated?


Putting Your Persona to Work

Can’t find to use persona profile

I attended courses that asked me to define the persona and describe them as detailed as possible. And bear in mind, for a good persona description, I was supposed to do surveys, interviews and detailed research. But where do I use those details for? Is it just to look good? I was taught describing your buyer persona is important. But why are they important when I only need an audience profiling to be used on most platforms? This, is where, you need to understand.

In the digital world, you can only select your target audience (less description). The input fields are already plentiful which includes a wide range of demographics and interest. But unless there are platforms that can be so detailed for me to select variables like audience working hours, time of sleep, goals and dreams, having a buyer persona is basically useless.

The real use of persona

But the real use of your buyer persona is in your writing (in the context of web design and development). When the market is flooded with so much information, people will look for contents that they think is speaking to them. And this is where your understanding of your persona comes into play. You know their habits, their goals and motivation.

Therefore you can create a story that they can relate to or a scenario that narrates how they are motivated (by pain and pleasure) by their goals and needs and eventually reaching them. And then you try to relate your offerings to that achievement. It is an association that you want to create. At times it could be subtle, at times it could be bold in your message. An example is the NTUC Income “True Care is not always obvious” video. It is relatable, though a bit dramatised, but it served its purpose.

So knowing deep into your target audience, which is persona, means you can craft your contents in terms of style, tone, language, colours and other settings that can make that connection with your persona. That makes marketing effective. Persona is powerful in this digital age because of the law of large numbers. In the past your advertisement reach can be wide but not targeted. Now it can be wide and targeted. Within the target audience that you set, say on Facebook, your carefully crafted content make it speaks to a particular group within your target audience and get connected with them.

Persona in the future

Knowing some habits of your persona also allows you to time your advertisement. Your ad timing can be very different if you are targeting working mothers versus stay-home mothers. You want to catch them at the most appropriate time. As search engines become more powerful and intelligent, not only are they able to capture normal data, they are also able to detect browsing patterns of the user. Searches are now focus on user-intent searches. Eventually your browser knows everything about you and provide (or sometimes push) you information by guessing what you are looking for next, based on your previous browsing patterns. And this is where a persona fits in.


So, is Persona Overrated?

I think persona creation is important. Probably not overrated but misunderstood. I think personas are your target audience in a more detailed description. But you can create plentiful personas and let them sit like white elephants. Or you can get these personas alive. Many focus in the how without paying attention to the why. I think if you now understand the power of persona and why it could be powerful, learning the how now makes more sense.


If you want to create personas that speaks to your audience, as a web design and development agency, we are here to help you. Contact us at or visit how we design and develop on our website.


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