For today’s consumers, outstanding experiences are the differentiator. If it’s a question of product and price versus experience, over two-thirds of customers will pay more for a great experience. But how can you improve the chances of your prospects and customers having memorable online experiences with your brand?

Personalization offers one answer. According to recent research, organizations that optimize their digital experience with personalization can see a 19% increase in conversions. And where there’s effective personalization, there are often personas backing it up.

Why are personas important?

If you aren’t familiar with personas, they are fictional characters or profiles that a brand establishes to represent its target or existing consumer base. Each persona is often given a name, biography, and demographic information. Personas should also reveal motivators, needs, and challenges. They are rooted in first-party research and backed by data to ensure they are accurate and comprehensive representations of each type of target customer.

What is the reason for creating personas? Every consumer will have their own motivations for interacting with your brand. They’ll be at different stages of their buying journey, interested in different products (and for different reasons), and will have preferred communication channels.

Personas are an invaluable tool, allowing us to walk a mile in the shoes of our audience, and create targeted content with a greater level of empathy. Personas rooted in first-person research will be the most effective in aiding understanding and, ultimately, helping us create more engaging, personalized content.

Personas provide a way for marketers, UX designers, content strategists, and product development teams (among other customer-facing departments) to understand and segment customers. With established personas, teams can develop content, products, and conversations that are tailored to the mindset of the relevant audience. It all leads to experiences that put the consumer first.

Supporting digital strategies

Too many brands fall short on where they believe themselves to be when it comes to being “customer-first”. For example, about two out of five companies aren’t asking for feedback from customers. This is valuable information for understanding the wants and needs of your customers, and for identifying opportunities to take your customer experiences to the next level. Personas aren’t a silver bullet, but they can help fill in these types of gaps and create a fuller picture of your customer base.

Here are four areas where personas are important in optimizing your digital strategy.

1. Sharing knowledge between teams

Consistency is key. For consumers, every interaction is all one experience with your brand, online or offline. Every part of your business needs to be singing from the same song sheet – and personas can help you do that.

From marketing to sales, customer service to stakeholders, having a shared understanding of who you’re engaging with, and in what way, can make sure marketing and digital efforts work toward common goals.

2. Enabling design and testing

It’s not just your messaging that can benefit. User experience and design can be improved with persona research and effective testing.

A brand that has a clear picture of their target personas can ensure sites, experiences, landing pages, and direct communications are designed in a way that helps move the customer through their journey. If you know your personas are often on-the-go, for example, you’ll want to take a mobile-first approach to design.

When it comes to testing the accuracy of your personas, you could A/B test a range of interaction designs across certain persona groups. Consider the mobile-using persona example above. You could test various responsive website designs and see whether or not how consumers interact in real-life really reflects your understanding. If this testing reveals something unexpected, you can then adapt the experience.

3. Supporting segmentation and targeting

You’ve created your messaging and tailored your designs. You’ll also want to use personas to map your segmentation and targeting.

While we know that every customer has a unique journey and they’ll have landed on your site from various routes and for different reasons, having clear personas helps you first identify and then refine different segments. Showing content to your target audience based on specific behaviors and intentions that you’ve mapped out helps you deliver appropriate messages to the right people.

4. Supporting campaign creation

You’re starting a new campaign. You know the audience you want to target. How can you make sure your content resonates? And where should you place ads to get the most “bang for your buck”? Having detailed personas will help you answer these questions.

Content that engages will speak to your customers’ needs or pain points. It will answer the different questions your target audience has as they move through their buying journey. Look to your personas to discover and focus on those needs. For example, you may have one persona that outlines an IT buyer. They are aware of your products, understand the industry, and are looking to lead the way when it comes to innovative technology.

Alternatively, you may have another graphic designer persona that is currently at the discovery stage of the customer journey. The content you create for the IT buyer won’t be relevant for this second persona.

Personas with a human touch

Today’s consumers have high expectations. And there are plenty of other brands seeking to gain their attention. Your content needs to cut through the noise by proving you know and care about them.

Treat personas as a useful springboard to greater understanding of your target audience. You want them to be as accurate and representative as possible. It’s important to bring in customer-facing teams to understand what’s working for customers, and what isn’t. But don’t forget to get first-hand information from your audience. Ask for feedback from prospects, converted leads, loyal customers, and lapsed customers.

Also, be sure to validate your persona assumptions with data. Adjust based on the real engagement and interaction data you’ve collected. From demographic and location data, all the way to what they’re browsing for on your site, you have a wealth of data to help you create a holistic, 360-degree view.

The market changes rapidly, and there’s always a new challenger or innovator on the block pushing consumer expectations even higher. Consider reviewing your personas regularly, particularly whenever you launch a new product, or when your business pivots in some way.

Personas offer an effective way to get into the minds of your customers. Backed up with data, you can really get to know your customers and reach them at the right time, with the right message.

Want to push your personalization strategies forward? See how to move your personalization strategy from whiteboard diagrams to customer-facing programs in our guide: Personalization: How do I get started?

Jill Grozalsky is a Product Marketing Director at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.