How to Create a Convincing Marketing Persona Backstory

Marketing Persona: The Importance of Back Story

Marketing persona backstory-heidi Cohen Do you know your target audience? To understand their potential buyers, marketers create personas to represent the key segments. The process of creating a marketing persona (including a social media buyer persona) is similar to the way playwrights and screenwriters develop characters for their comedies and dramas.

Key to development of a character or marketing persona is that person’s backstory: everything in the character’s past that influences how he feels about himself in the world and how that experience shapes how he relates to your product or service.

Content Marketing World keynote speaker William Shatner made the point that for an actor, everything is in play when portraying a character. “The backstory is as important as the story itself and can convey the same message. Layer the story. Step out of the obvious.”

Therefore, the actor must innately understand what the character is feeling when they’re playing a role. For Shatner, this meant creating a backstory to portray Priceline’s The Negotiator to encompass non-verbal communication.

Often marketers are so busy creating fresh content that they neglect to consider the backstory of their prospect or customer and their relationship to the product or service. As a result, their content is Teflon and its message may not stick with their audience because it hasn’t taken into consideration how the buyer feels about the content as well as the product or service.

7 Attributes to create a convincing marketing persona backstory  

To develop a convincing marketing persona backstory as a conduit for understanding your target audience and creating strong content, here are 7 attributes used by dramatists that marketers can adapt to develop effective personas for their key segments.

  1. Values and beliefs. What are your potential buyer’s political, social, and economic views as they relate to your offering? How does this influence her propensity to purchase from your company? How does your product influence how she feels about herself?
  2. Family. How does your customer’s family influence her buying habits? Is she single, married, have children or is widowed? This has an impact on what she buys and whose opinions hold sway over her decisions. Don’t underestimate the impact of upbringing and view towards money.
  3. Profession and education. These two elements go together. Specifically what does your target customer do for a living and where are they in their career? This influences the amount of disposable income they have and can sway different brand choices. Further level of education and where a customer attended school can influence choices.
  4. Potential concerns. What is fears does your target audience have? How does this influence their buying behavior? For example, in many companies, it’s easier to purchase from one of the top vendors than to go through the process of getting special approval.
  5. Physical location. This speaks to your buyer’s context. Where is her home and where is she when she decides to buy from you? Consider the elements of location and the role it plays in purchase. Are you the regular supplier or just a quick fix due to circumstances.
  6. Timing. It also relates to product availability. This encompasses a number of factors such as what is the prospect’s time horizon for purchase and how does this relate to her overall needs?
  7. Past buying behavior. Most importantly this relates to your company’s products and services. You should be able to access this information in your database including what they bought, how much they spent and for how long they’ve been purchasing from your firm. But don’t be limited by this data. Consider your buyers’ tradeoffs and rationale for their decision. For example, you’ve got longer store hours or provide free delivery.

Developing a backstory for your marketing and  social media buyer persona helps you as a marketer to better understand your target audience and create content that meets their needs. Take a tip from William Shatner, an actor who has portrayed a variety of well loved characters – backstory enables you to walk in your target market’s shoes.

What other traits would you add to the list of backstory elements and why?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

BTW—I will be speaking on the topic of marketing persona at CRM 2013 in Lima, Peru on October 15th and in Bogota, Colombia on October 17th.

PS — Big tip of my hat to Joe Pulizzi for convincing William Shatner to keynote Content Marketing World.


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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Photo Credit: (c) 2013 Heidi Cohen

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  • http://www.annbevans.com/ Ann Bevans

    So true. I believe that knowing your target market’s stories will help you create messaging that will resonate with them so strongly, they can’t help but tell others. After all, your ideal client is your ideal client in part because he “gets” you. You vibrate at the same frequency. So your stories and their stories support each other.

  • Holly McIlwain

    Heidi, your playwright analogy beautifully demonstrates the process for creating the backstory. Because of the ease in accumulating large numbers of fans, followers and likes, so many are using a throw it out there and see what sticks approach. And you’re right, “their content is Teflon and its message may not stick.” Try to influence all with a generic message and odds are high of influencing few. Giving each persona a human name, like a playwright’s character, also helps in the process of defining the 7 attributes you provide in your blog and in particular using a person’s name helps communicate with a marketing team. Thank you.

  • Mick Wallace

    I can’t agree more. Early on in my career I didn’t use this technique so much but I sat down and got some marketing advice from the brilliant Mr. Dignam and he made me come up with a perfect customer. Not someone 19-29 living in a $290,000 – $600,000 home but a more exact persona. It really made my efforts more focused. Great piece keep em coming !

  • http://www.prosemedia.com/ Justin Belmont

    Great article, Heidi. Everyone should keep those 7 attributes in mind
    when writing content. It’s not only important to tell a story to your
    consumers, but to tell the right story. Considering factors like values,
    location, and past buying behavior will help you focus your story, as
    well as tell it the right way.

    Churning out content is great, but as you say—sometimes this results in marketers neglecting to consider the consumer.