How We Created and Iterated on Our Customer Personas for PelaCase.com

Let me start by saying that until Pela Case had this piece “dialled in”, we were a floundering startup that was struggling to find its ideal market.

In case you missed it, I have two other posts on building Pela – our in-house product – from the ground-up, check them out below or continue reading to learn about finding your ideal market:

How to Find and Refine Your Ideal Customer Personas

Today, I am going to share our experiences with testing, refining and locking in on our ideal customer persona. Basically, how we found a product-market fit that could serve as a platform to growing the business more predictably. I can’t stress how important this one seemingly small thing is to building a meaningful, sustainable business.

Don’t get me wrong, until we really figured out who our ideal customer was and how to reach them, we were still a growing business that had raving fans for customers. That was probably what kept us going the most. Knowing that the product, and more importantly the mission was one people could get behind. The frustrating thing was the growth wasn’t anything to write home about and we definitely didn’t have the momentum needed to get over that evasive 7-figure mark…a key milestone to building a sustainable direct to consumer brand.

We were still hustling too hard to get sales. Which means we weren’t quite hitting our ideal customers in large enough quantities so as to get the word of mouth and customer referrals we wanted.

Before we get too far into this, if you haven’t read Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans piece, I’d strongly suggest you do that.

Pela’s Start – Define All of Your Potential Customer Personas

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Conventional wisdom suggests that you have multiple customer personas and it makes sense to dive in and map these out early. Personas help you validate all decisions in the business as you move along.

I’m all for taking this approach, providing there’s already been a good amount of proof around product market fit. Pela had for sure proven that there was product market fit, but we were a little confused as to which of our personas was actually the one powering the business (buying products).

We mapped out a handful of customer personas early on in our life. We had really great customer engagement so it wasn’t terribly difficult for us to talk to our customers and see what they liked about our product. To give you some concrete examples, here are the things we assumed and validated through customer feedback:

  • Eco-Friendly products are often what our customers are seeking out and researching.
  • There’s a lack of trust in “green” product space. Too many imposters. Confusing information.
  • Eco warriors are growing in #
  • Women under the age of 35 seem to be the loudest group in this space. This is a hard group to market to though.
  • Outdoor enthusiasts overlap nicely with eco warriors
  • Our mission to reduce plastic on the planet is what many love about Pela.
  • Many mothers are concerned with the products in their homes…less chemicals the better.
  • Zero-Waste is a movement
  • .

Those are just a small sample, but we had filled up a very large white board with all of the things we thought described our customer personas. Most of these still hold very true today when you dig into the data and look at who our customers really are.

Distracted by the loud few…

One of the biggest mistakes and ultimately one of our larger lessons learned was listening to a few customers and thinking they represented the many. For us this came in the form of a handful of really great customer emails that told us they loved our cases because they were free of harmful chemicals. These customers were concerned about having products in their homes with harmful chemicals.

We loved the feedback! We thought we had locked in on a really great customer persona. They had a real reason for buying our product and we figured we’d be able to reach more of these types of customers pretty easily through our social channels (organic and paid).

The good news, we were able to drive significant traffic to our site using paid media on Facebook. We created highly relevant content targeted at this customer persona and used paid ads to promote it. The clicks were cheap and plentiful. The sales…not so much.

The demand for information was there, but the demand for our product as a solution to the problem we were highlighting was not.

This wasn’t a failure of the persona. It was a failure of ours to find the right fit for this persona.

We could have kept iterating on this one, but decided that for the level of effort we could try another persona much faster and see if there was a better product/market fit.

Go Deep Before Going Wide

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Once we narrowed in on our hero persona, we decided to really go deep into this cohort of customers to see if the Kevin Kelly 1,000 true fans concept would work for us. Turns out, it rings true for our phone case company.

This narrow focus helped us fight off any shiny objects that would come into our field of view.

What this means tactically is that all of our marketing was for one customer, not 3 or 5 different customers. We had one set of core messages that we would test against our one core customer.

It means we aren’t worried about finding new products to serve different customer personas, since the one customer we’re trying to serve is for the product we have.

Every, single, discussion is how we better serve ONE customer persona with the objective of turning our customers into raving fans because raving fans will be loud and tell their friends about us.

That last point is so damn important and a lot of brands miss this one. You don’t want customers, you want fans (hence the Kevin Kelly reference).

At Pela Case we found our fans. They share our mission, our purpose, without us having to push it on them.

One Loud Customer Persona = Leverage

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Once you go super deep into one customer persona, you’ll find that you can create a ton of leverage really, really quickly.

For Pela Case, we knew we found our perfect customer because they started sharing photos of our product from all over the world without us even asking them. That was our big A-HA moment.

How do you create leverage from your one true customer persona?

You ask them for help.

At Pela we ask our customers to share their journey in being better consumers. They regularly comment and engage with our content. They create new content for us and share it with their friends.

We also ask for referrals and for every referral we get, we give to charity.

In return, we share our customers stories. We share their instagram photos, giving them access to our audience. We engage with their content on our social channels. We respond when they ask questions.

This all might sound simple, but how many brands do you buy from that actually want to talk to you? How many brands will turn around and share the photo you posted to Instagram of their product? My guess, not many.