You talk with your spouse with a certain tone and inflection of voice. You have a certain pitch and focus on some subjects more than others.

Talking to your boss, your tone, voice, and intent all change. Hit the bar later with your friends and it all changes again.

We play different roles for different people, and we talk to all of them differently based on our roles, expectations, and personal histories. If you try to talk to all people at the same time, your message will become so diluted that you’ll sound like a politician.

I talk to a lot of business owners who have developed great content but are struggling with engagement. I ask them who they’re talking to. I’m not looking for the answer, “customer,” but for a persona.

A persona is, in Ardith Albee’s words, “[a] composite sketch of a key segment of your audience.” Creating a persona requires us to step back from all the clever things we’re doing on Facebook and ask the question: are we doing these clever things for our customer, or for us? If they aren’t created for a persona, they’re probably created for us.

How do you know who they are?

In the last article, I talked you through answering Key Questions. But it doesn’t take long to begin to wonder: “where do I get those answers?”

While big corporations have to invest in extensive research and sort through reams of data to construct viable personae, small business owners only have to do one thing: listen. Talk to your customers, learn about the direction your industry is headed in, and fill in the blanks with a combination of facts, educated guesses, and gut feelings.

If you have any demographics about your customers, be it from a loyalty card, POS system, Google analytics, or a host of other sources, use them. Get as much information together as you can. Did I mention that personae are really, really important?

There’s a catch. Your existing customer may not be the future of your business. Your existing customer is your base, and she is keeping your business alive. She may continue to be your base, or, due to shifting demographics or the desire to broaden your reach, you may want to extend your reach.

Who is your Persona?

BHAG Persona Venn

But wait: don’t you have more than 1 type of customer? How do you know who to crystallize into a persona?

Build your “current base” customer persona first. This is the person keeping food on your table.

Second, build the persona for the customer who (hopefully) will be your base in 5-10 years. This may be the same customer. If it’s different, make sure it’s not radically different.

Sudden movements can be dangerous in marketing, so make sure that, even as you begin talking directly to your target persona, you don’t say anything to alienate your base persona.

Once you feel you have a good handle on speaking to your base and your target, you have the option of expanding if you want to. Every business has multiple “niche” customers. These demographics only contribute a fraction of your current revenue, but if nurtured, could provide an important growth node.

You’ll probably speak to your niche persona in a very different way than you do your base or your target. If you want to nurture that growth area, create a 3rd persona.

Lastly, and very optionally, is your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) Persona. This is a group which makes up a minuscule percentage of your revenue now but which, if dramatically expanded and cultivated, could benefit both your revenue and your brand.

BHAG Personas are a long way from your base. At my Garden Centre, they’re millennial men. While totally different from either my base (Baby Boomer women), my Target (X-er women), or even my Niche (Semi-retired men), they’re the fastest growing demographic in gardening. Attracting them as customers would increase revenue but, more importantly, mean that my brand would become trendier and more modern than it is now.