Why You Need To Create A Convincing Marketing Persona Backstory

Marketing Persona BackstoryWhy create a marketing persona backstory for each customer segment?

To inform your persona with a specific background, context and motivations.

This makes your persona believable.

Like playwrights and screenwriters, you create each marketing persona based on a composite of similar people in a subset of your prospects and customers.

To inform this work, build a backstory for each persona to ground the narrative in a specific place and past history. As with plays or films, the marketing persona backstory doesn’t enter into your marketing.

Speaking at Content Marketing World 2013, William Shatner explained the importance of backstory for an actor. When playing a role, the actor must innately understand what the character feels and thinks to inform the actor’s verbal and non-verbal communication.

For Shatner, everything is in play when an actor portrays a character. In his words:

“The backstory is as important as the story itself and can convey the same message. Layer the story. Step out of the obvious.”


As a result of creating the character’s backstory, the audience believes the actor’s portrayal of the character.

So why do you NEED backstories for your marketing personas?
Because it includes every element of the character’s past.

In turn, this influences how he feels about himself in the world. And, more important for your marketing, it informs how these collective experiences shape how your prospect relates to your offering.

To help you improve your personas and the marketing you create around them, build a marketing persona backstory using these 10 attributes.


How To Create A Convincing Marketing Persona Backstory: 10 Attributes

To develop a convincing marketing persona backstory, use these 10 attributes to better understand each key segment of your audience. Then use this material to inform your content marketing and other promotional materials.

To underscore the importance of backstory to building a character, actor Regina King said (Backstage Magazine – May 17, 2017)

“It may not necessarily be talked about or discussed on camera or in the dialogue, but for every character I’ve played, there’s a backstory: who their parents were, were they college graduates, where they grew up. All of those things help to inform what whoever I’m playing will or won’t do.”

… “There’s no such thing as being too prepared. There is such a thing as over-rehearsing, but not being too prepared as far as building the backstory.”


1. Background and Personal History

What past events shaped your prospect or customer into the person they are today? This includes their personal and family history. What specific events, either personal or public, changed or influenced their view of the world?

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • How does your customer’s upbring and status shape her approach to money? This can have an impact on the type of brands purchased, how money is allocated to different types of purchasing (housing, food and other items).
  • What online platforms and stores does your customer spend time on?
  • How does your customer feel towards spending versus saving?
  • How does your customer’s current family and/or roommates influence her buying habits? Is she single, married, have children or is widowed? On a related topic, who handles the family and household responsibilities?


2. Profession, Education and Other External Influences

When developing your marketing persona backstory, consider how external factors have contributed to your customer’s outlook. Because in turn this influences their buying behavior.

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • What does your target customer do for a living? Do they view it as “ just a job” or do they have long-term ambitions? If so, what level are they at in their career? In turn,this influences the amount of disposable income they have and can sway different brand choices.
  • What level of education does your customer have and how does this affect their job and income? How does the type of schools the customer attended relate to their career and purchase choices?
  • What other organizations related to your customer’s job, career and/or education influence their purchase patterns? Think broadly about these memberships.
  • Is or has your customer or a member of her family served in the military? This can have an impact on getting government contracts as a business as well as other types of buying decisions. For example, as a World War II veteran, my father used the VA to get most of his medical care because it didn’t cost him anything.


3. Values and Beliefs

What factors showed your potential buyer’s political, social, and economic views as they relate to your offering? What shaped her views over time?

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • How do her values and beliefs influence your shoppers propensity to purchase your brands? How does she and those who sway her buying decision feel about your company and brand? Does she trust you?
  • How does your offering reflect on how she and others feels about herself?
  • Who influences her views and who has the power to change them?


4. Goals and Issues

What does your target audience want to achieve in life? How do they see their life unfolding over time? Will they marry or will they remain single? Do they want children or not?

How do greater community issues sway your customers? Will they dedicate their life to serving the higher community good as medical professionals, teachers or government officials?

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • What personal goals do your prospects and customers have?
  • What issues sway your customers’ buying decisions and why?


5. Potential Concerns

What factors drive your audience to purchase? And how have these factors changed in light of the changes due to COVID and its aftermath?

So think beyond your organization’s products, services and content:
To take into consideration accelerated digital transformation.

When creating your marketing persona, include these factors:

  • Business type. This extends to healthcare, financial services, education and government.
  • Product and service delivery. This consists of online only, order online pickup at store, and retail only.
  • Device chosen for specific transactions. These include computers, smartphones, tablets, voice and multi-modal assistants, and self-serve kiosks.

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • What fears and concerns does your target audience have? How do they influence buying behavior today and going forward? For example in the pandemic in 2020 and continuing into 2021 and beyond shifted people’s needs. It shifted people down a level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    The research proves onsumers are very focused on their most basic needs at present

  • What will your prospects and customers do if you can meet their purchase-related needs? Will they change providers? What can you do to retain them as long-term customers?


6. Emotional Drivers and Psychological Motivation

When you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, how does she feel about herself and the world around her? How does this influence her purchase choices? Consider how easy it is to sway her point of view as well as who or what can influence her decisions.

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • How does your customer want to feel after purchasing your brand? This relates to Clayton Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done (aka:JTBD). What do you have to highlight in your marketing to support her purchase decision?
  • Who influences your customer’s purchase decision? As any mother knows, children can be very picky when it comes to food and brands.


7. Product and Marketplace Definition

While this may seem obvious to many marketers, the reality is that your prospects, customers, their purchase influencers and end-users may view the market and their potential product and service options differently from you. This is straight out of Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia.

For example, while my Bertelsman customers used all of the following options to get books in the late 1990s, I could talk about Barnes & Noble and Amazon as competitors in meetings. BUT, I couldn’t mention Costco (which sold bestsellers at half price) or public libraries (which were free for readers to use).

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • What products and/or services do your customers view as alternatives or substitutes? Go beyond those businesses you believe are your competitors. Think across platforms, formats and devices.
  • What other products and/or services meet their consumption needs?
  • What information do your customers need both before AND after they buy from you? Remember that the buyer may not be the end user! Over half of smartphone users are more favorable to companies that provide instructional video content. (Google 2015)


8. Physical location

The physical location of your customer sets the stage for their research and purchase. In plays and films, this is referred to as “mis-en-scene”.

It’s your buyer’s context. In a voice-enabled world, context is where your audience interacts with your brand (or not.)

Specifically, when your prospect makes a purchase request via her device it conveys buyer intent based on her location, device used and format of the information or content she expects to be returned.

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • Where is your shopper physically when she researches and/or decides to buy? Take into consideration the device used (computer, tablet, smartphone, voice assistant and/or other device such as her car.) Consider the elements of location and the role they play in purchase.
  • Who else is present when she is shopping who may influence her purchase decisions?
  • Who is her go-to brand or supplier? Why should or will she try your offering? Is it a quick fix due to circumstances?


9. Time Including Day of Week and Daypart

Time has a big impact on your marketing persona’s research and purchase decisions.

Depending on the type of purchase, especially high involvement, expense investments, buyers have a long time horizon before actually pulling the purchase trigger. Unless something has changed the circumstances.

For example, my mother bought her last car quickly with limited purchase research because her previous car was totaled in an accident.

By contrast, if you feel the need for an afternoon snack, chances are it’s a low involvement purchase that you make because you’re suddenly hungry or see a special shop.

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • When is the customer seeking to research and make her purchases? This influences product and service availability.
  • Is this an impulse purchase based on last minute need or want? Or has something else triggered the purchase?


10. Past Buying Behavior

Of all of the marketing persona backstory attributes, this relates to your company’s products and services.

Customer Experience (aka: CX) Matters. It includes every touchpoint in the purchase and use process before, during and after past transactions.

You don’t build loyalty until after the customer’s second purchase.
The first purchase is still part of the customer’s testing period.

Customer Retention - Loyalty Loop Chart

Marketing Persona Backstory Questions To Answer:

  • Has the customer bought from your organization in the past? Did they have a good customer experience? Did you help them to use the product?
  • What do other customers say about your organization and its products and services? Over time, research shows again and again that family and friends have the most sway over purchases. For example, I just bought a high-priced Dyson vacuum cleaner based on a friend’s recommendation.
  • What are your buyers’ tradeoffs and rationale for this specific purchase decision?
  • Have you followed up on the customer’s past purchases and fixed any issues that they may have had? This also includes how you handle and protect your prospect and customer data, both privacy and security.


Marketing Persona Backstory Conclusion

When you take the time to develop your marketing persona backstory, you better understand your target audience. As a result, you can better meet their needs with your product, service and content offerings.

Because instead of just going through the motions, you have more empathy and insights into what your buyers are thinking and feeling.

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.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on September 27 , 2013. It has been significantly updated and expanded.

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


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