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Prickly Needle Co. took a cue from P.T. Barnum in creating this ad targeted to prospects in the porcupine population.

The most successful marketing campaigns in history all have one thing in common: They targeted the right people.

It seems obvious, right? Unless you have the legendary sales skills of P.T. Barnum, you won’t have much success selling needles to porcupines.

Yet, like the hapless marketers at Prickly Needle Co., you may have struggled to identify your ideal customers, wasting time and money on messages that don’t stick with people who knit or sew.

One way to solve this problem is to create personas: representations of the people most likely to need or want your product or service. Personas are developed through a combination of web analytics and customer research. Each persona is a composite of one customer segment’s needs and wants, described as an actual person with a background and goals.

For instance, a company selling makeup might create the following persona to represent a segment of its customers:

Mandy May: A 35-year-old single woman who works long hours as a mid-level manager in a busy office. She is a fitness enthusiast and donates to animal rights groups. She worries that some makeup contains harsh chemicals. Her goals include widening her social circle and maintaining a youthful appearance. Her pain point is lack of time to shop for makeup that is chemical-free and not tested on animals.

Using that persona, marketers can decide how best to appeal to Mandy. The resulting campaign might stress that the company’s products are organic, not tested on animals, shown to improve skin health and can be ordered online with free delivery.

It’s a concept that can be applied to any product or service. You can start developing personas with information you already have about current customers.

Or you can keep on pitching needles to porcupines. But be forewarned: You will get stuck.