Why Customer Interviews Make The Best Personas For Rebranding

Post by Alison Knott | Last Updated: May 14, 2021

When rebranding, companies creating customer persona based on their own experiences miss out on opportunities interviewing actual customers unearths. In short, customer interviews make the best personas for rebranding because:

  • They remove bias
  • They allow you to focus on the customer’s journey, not demographics
  • They reveal what people actually care about
  • You can use them for copywriting gold
  • They make for instant competitor research

That’s not to say that a business owner who’s been serving their clients or customers for many years doesn’t understand their needs. It’s more about understanding the true frustrations and trigger points that cause a client to reach out in the first place!

 

What is a customer persona?

Customer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on interviews, data and research. They help you focus your time on qualified prospects rather than your assumption of who your ideal client is. Having a deep understanding of your customer personas is critical to driving content creation, product development, and sales.

When you’re looking to rebrand your business or update an existing brand, make sure that your designer or consultant includes the development of customer personas in their intake process.

This will help create ‘boundaries’ around what should and shouldn’t be a part of your customer messaging within your brand. For example, say your customer persona turns out to be women in their 60’s who have been in leadership roles most of their career. Having a copywriter who generally connects well with Millennials new to business isn’t going to help you bring in clients who need your specialized product or service.

The secret to creating a good customer persona has always been interviewing people who are already buying from you. However, business owners often assume they understand client needs. Or, they take hypothetical guesses about what they want and what they will actually pay for. (With varying results, as you can imagine.)

6 diverse people sitting on chairs. They are all holding up sheets with a large question mark on it, obscuring their face.
It’s time to stop guessing who’s lining up to work with you, and why they might get up and leave.

 

Should you update your customer persona when rebranding?

In short, yes.

When rebranding your business, there is a shift happening. It could be that your business is pivoting and offering something new and exciting, or you could be shifting who you offer your services to. This means your original customer personas—if you had them—may be woefully out of date.

A rebrand is a little different from the branding you get when you start your business. You’ve probably been at this for a little while and may have some assumptions about the people you serve. This isn’t due to ignorance. It’s because we become so focused on how we do our work, we forget why prospects are attracted to us in the first place.

That’s totally natural, but it means a made-up persona isn’t going to cut it this time around. A template persona focused simply on demographics? I’d argue that we need to dive much deeper, folks!

Rebrands, not to be confused with ‘Brand Refreshes’, happen when a business wants to be more specific and intentional with who they serve and sell to. It can be scary to think that our perceived ideal client won’t match up with the ideas we have for our rebrand, and we might need to start from scratch.

Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of business owners sticking with a ‘hypothetical’ persona built from demographics data and anonymous surveys or reviews.

If you’re serious about rebranding your whole business—not just revamping your logo—there’s another way to develop your brand messaging and break from the status quo.

It starts with interviewing your buyers so you can reframe your services from your customer’s point of view.

 

Why client interviews make better customer personas

Interviewing your customers, rather than speculating, is the first step in aligning your offerings with the people you’re meant to serve. And no one knows this better than marketer Katelyn Bourgoin, an authority on customer interviews.


“Assumptions are especially problematic when they’re being used to make big decisions—like branding, website redesigns, and messaging strategy.” – Katelyn Bourgoin

“Sadly many freelance marketers and consultants are forced to GUESS what motivated their client’s target audience because they can’t get approval to talk to customers.” says Bourgoin. “Conducting even just a handful of 1:1 interviews with existing customers helps you to get clear on what really matters to prospects. The goal of these conversations isn’t just to ask customers what they think of the business—it’s to understand what motivated them to begin the buying journey in the first place and why they chose to work with one company over another. Real stories from real buyers is where the gold is buried.”

If you’re still on the fence about doing customer interviews, I totally understand. The idea of spending time on zoom or the phone talking to people about your business is enough to make most of us clutch our fictional personas to our chest.

So let’s look at some of the reasons you need to relinquish your grasp on the old and set aside some time for talking to your customers:

Interviews remove bias

As I said, you’ve probably been doing this for a while if you’re considering a rebrand for your business. Doing customer interviews and letting go of your initial personas doesn’t mean that you’ve been doing it wrong. It just means you could have an incomplete picture about how your customer thinks and what they need from you.

Clinging to this bias cuts you off from opportunities to grow your business and its offerings to fulfill the needs of a growing audience. Interviews allow you to get the low-down about what your customer needs in their own words.

They allow you to focus on the customer’s journey, not demographics
If your customer persona is focused on demographics, it’s all too easy to let your own ideas slip into your marketing and brand voice.

For example, if I said to you: ‘My audience is a millennial’, you probably made an assumption in your head from knowing their age bracket. You might assume that you need to be active on Instagram and TikTok to connect with them.

However, interviewing a number of your ideal customers might reveal that they don’t even use social media anymore and instead your business needs to target news outlets to get their attention.

If the demographics don’t correctly identify the beginning of your prospect’s journey, what else could you be missing?

Customer interviews reveal what people really care about

Doing customer interviews is the quickest way to accurately identify what your customer persona actually cares about, and what they don’t.

When you’ve been in business for a long time, you build up an idea of what your customer cares about. If you see a decrease in sales, you might pay for some ads to target what you think is important, creating a void in your marketing.

For example: Nic purchases a water cooler for their home. It’s very fancy with a cooling function, a heating function and a room temperature function.

The company that built this cooler might be thinking that their customers value the heating or cooling function, and without ever speaking to their customers, they would never know that Nic has never actually plugged their water cooler into the wall.

Nic’s problem has nothing to do with the temperature of the water, but rather with the taste of city water in their area. The only reason they purchased that cooler was that it was on sale, therefore a little cheaper than the basic dispenser.

Nic might be an outlier, but the company would never know without interviewing their customers.

Personas unearth copywriting gold!

When redesigning a website, one of the parts of the process that takes the longest is writing copy that converts. If you have a number of customer interviews on file, you’ll find all of the copy you need for your website to convert the curious into customers.

When done correctly, a customer interview will leave space for the interviewee to talk, tell stories, discuss their pain points and voice their complaints about services they’ve received before.

This gives you plenty to work with when it comes time to write headlines that connect to customer pain points and descriptions that separate your company from the competition. No more guesswork on what copy will make people book a call or buy on the spot!

Instant Competitor Research

Competitor research often starts with a quick web search to see who comes up in results. Or maybe ‘competitors’ to you are actually colleagues in your industry that you’ve had previous experience with. Again, centering around our experiences as business owners can mistakenly rule important players out of your research.

That one company you disregarded because their website looked bad might have a CEO who’s an international keynote speaker. Clients are drawn to their wisdom and experience and aren’t phased by an outdated website at all.

A fellow service provider you think is doing awesome with their online courses may in fact have a lot of complaints from purchasers who found the content too thin for their needs.

Understanding who your current clients considered or tried before arriving at your door is incredible insight. As Katelyn points out: “Companies that invest in ongoing customer research grow 2-3X faster. Yet studies show that only 3 out of 10 teams do it regularly. Teams that invest in customer research have a big competitive advantage.”

 

Tips for conducting customer interviews

Conducting client interviews is a core service I offer in rebrand consulting. I conduct interviews on behalf of my customers, so less pressure on them! I’ve found better success when interviewing for my clients because people feel like they can be a little more honest talking to someone outside of the business.

Here are my top tips for conducting customer interviews:

  • Make it as easy as possible for people to say yes to being interviewed. If you’ve worked directly with them, an email is usually all it takes. If your product is more ‘hands off’, a gift card might be a good incentive to participate.
  • Create a calendar link to make booking your interviews easy. This could be a free service like Calendly or something paid like Acuity Scheduling. In Calendly, you can limit how far in advance someone can book. I find giving 1 week to book forces people to commit rather than say “Eh, I’ll get back to this later.”
  • Keep the interview to under 20 minutes and use a script. This keeps the conversation on-task and keeps note-taking and review consistent. Katelyn has created the Customer Clarity Call Cheatsheet. I cannot tell you how amazing this kit is. It provides you with all the scripts, tips and note-taking templates needed to hit the ground running. An amazing kit that I think all designers and business owners should have at their side.
  • Remember to treat the interviewee like a trusted insider, not a potential sales lead. This interview is all about them, not your company.
  • Record the conversation if you can, and take extensive notes. Pay attention to the language they use when describing their pain points, their needs, their reactions to solutions available. (You can use this as copy later)

 

Example of a rebrand customer persona created based on customer interviews

Example of a customer persona including a photo of a fictional buyer and associated information as used by Alison K Consulting during rebranding projects.
The image above is a fictional example.

When it comes to creating customer personas, you can arrange the content however you want. The example above is what I use for rebranding projects—I like to keep them to one page so they are easy to digest. In some cases, multiple people may be blended into one persona, or I may end up with multiple distinct ones if that’s the pattern that emerges.

Photo

Having a photo representation sticks in our mind better than all the fine textural details that come with a customer persona. I like to use a stock photo so that the person stays hypothetical.

As you work through your rebrand, their face will begin to pop up in your mind as you define yourself against their needs and expectations. This creates healthy boundaries of what is and isn’t ‘right’ for this prospect.

Two quotes under image

I’m not taking direct quotes from my interviews here. The purpose of these quotes is to summarize overarching themes brought up in the interview, so I create these for the customer persona by distilling these summaries into memorable quotes.

The first is a summary of how they’re feeling at the moment of the catalyst. And the second is a gap that still remains even though they may be satisfied with outcomes. Reserve the right to improve your process or product!

Challenges & catalyst

It’s important to understand what triggered a prospect to make a purchasing decision and become a client or customer. Often this is directly associated with seeking a solution to challenges or pain points, but it could also be a joyous or catastrophic personal event.

(It’s safe to say a lot of my interviews right now have COVID as a major factor in the catalyst moment.)

Needs & goals

These items can be very specific to your work or have no connection whatsoever. But it is important to understand the needs and goals of prospects, even if you don’t initially think they apply to your work.

Before Acme Inc.

Covers what they were using or doing before coming to your company. You can use this to find out where your prospects hang out, and who your competition really is.

After Acme Inc.

This is the area where it finally becomes more about you and less about them. You can find out how their expectations were met and what sets you apart from your contemporaries. It also covers anything you may be missing or could improve on.

Upper case words

Wording that is in all caps signifies actual words said by those being interviewed. This can be great fodder for copywriters or to tweak your existing messaging.

 

Rebranding is no longer just a new logo and updated colour pallet

Rebranding a business means shifting your messaging to create a connection with your target market. If you haven’t interviewed your best clients yet, now is the time.

Interview your current customers for game-changing insights on opportunities sitting on the table waiting for you to notice them and changes that will help your business grow into a complete alignment with the customers that not only need your product but have the budget to work with you.

As Katelyn puts it: “People don’t buy because of *who they are.* They buy because of *who they want to become.* 1:1 interviews with clients allow you to dig in deep to understand what really motivates people to commit to your brand—they’re extremely powerful.”

Take the time to interview your best customers for the information you need to guide your business through tough times and come out ahead of the curve. Happy interviewing!