3 Steps To “Persona”-lized Marketing

What is persona segmentation, and why should you care? Columnist Jordan Elkind explains how it can be used to personalize email marketing.

Chat with MarTechBot


“Batch and blast email marketing is dead.”

So say an increasing number of marketers (ourselves included). But if this is the case, teams need to have developed an alternative for the new, more personalized era of marketing.

Many of the teams that we work with have decided on persona segmentation as the strongest building block for their personalization efforts.

What Is Persona Segmentation?

Persona analysis and segmentation considers the collections of items that different types of shoppers buy over their whole lifetime and groups those shoppers by their shopping preferences. This gives teams more opportunities for cross-selling, a deeper understanding of which customer groups are most valuable, and a better ability to personalize communications to customers.

For example, a women’s apparel brand could have customer personas like “jeans lovers” (buyers who are into denim and t-shirts), “experienced business shoppers” (professionals buying the chicest pant-suits and blouses), “upscale casual” (shoppers looking for accessories that go with their leather jogging pants), and so on.

Then, instead of sending one email to your entire email list (or trying to build ten emails for specific product categories), your marketing team could send different versions of daily emails, seasonal sale emails and so on, catering to the different personas.

Teams also get the additional benefit of being able to compare the customer lifetime value of these different personas, and also to better cross-sell products within personas according to customers’ preferences.

You may already be running some form of persona segmentation, or this may be a bit new; so below, we’ve outlined the three steps to strong, sustainable personas for your customer database. We’ve split the steps into basic and advanced to keep it interesting for you regardless where your team falls on the spectrum.

How can you get started with persona segmentation?

1. Define Your Personas

This is where you lay the groundwork. It’s both a qualitative and quantitative process that looks to group customers based on their preferences.

Basic Customers

It may not be worth it for your team to run a full-blown persona analysis right now. Your initial personas could be based around product categories, grouping customers together based on what they’ve bought previously.

Keep it simple. Limit yourself to three basic groups and then build from there. Abide by our cheesy rule-of-thumb acronym, which is to keep segments (personas in this case) REAL (relevant, efficient, actionable, and lasting). You can learn more about principles of segmentation here.

Advanced Customers

If you’re ready for more, you may want to invest in predictive persona analysis. The type that we recommend involves statistical methods that take in customer data, and then cluster customers based on their previous and predicted future purchases.

In addition to just purchase history, this analysis can incorporate age, geography, device preferences, etc,. and use those variables to better group customers based on their personal product affinities. You then look at these personas (we recommend building no more than five different ones to start), understand what’s unique about the different groups, and name them accordingly.

2. Test & Refine Your Personas

Now that you have your segments bucketed out, it’s time to give them a spin, see if they’re meaningful, and improve them as you go.

Basic Personas

Pick one of your new segments that you think will be most impactful or interesting. When you would have sent a sale email, try one version for the general audience, and then one version that speaks to whichever persona you’re testing.

Make sure to use control groups so you can accurately gauge impact. Once you’ve tested, start to sprinkle personas more regularly into your marketing (with proper testing parameters), and improve the definitions as needed.

Advanced Personas

Much like for the more basic refinements, experiments are the spice of successful marketing. You need to test your different personas, so depending on what your team has on its plate, you can start with trying out just one persona, or design a more complicated experiment that tests more than one of your personas at a time (include control groups for each one).

As you rely more on these personas over time, you also may see them evolve as your customers’ preferences do. Keep monitoring and re-classify as needed.

3. Incorporate Personas Into Existing Marketing Efforts

Now that you’ve built segments, and have started the ongoing process of understanding and improving them, think about the best way to hard-code these personas into your marketing processes. Some of this work should be done before you even start, though getting the most out of your personas will be an ongoing process.

Basic Marketing Efforts

Make sure that your email team is completely on board with this shift and is ready for the responsibility beforehand. Develop a calendar and some milestones as you get started. Stick to the plan. Have regular check-ins to access progress.

Advanced Marketing Efforts

This is similar to the “basic” requirements (get buy-in, keep a calendar, etc.). However, for a more advanced team (often this means bigger), the roadblocks often come from fitting this new approach into pre-existing processes and agendas.

Do your best to communicate what personas will mean for current priorities. Document current processes and workflow now, and map out how this new layer of segmentation and email targeting will impact team members going forward.


Good luck on your journey down the persona segmentation highway. It’s a process, but soon you’ll enter the promised land of improved email segmentation, deeper cross-selling insights, and an understanding of which personas are the most valuable for your business long-term.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jordan Elkind
Jordan Elkind heads the product team at Custora, an advanced customer analytics platform for ecommerce retailers. Prior to joining Custora, he earned an MBA from Wharton and worked in marketing analytics at Citi Cards.

Get the must-read newsletter for marketers.