Audience Persona Exercise

Terry freezes, locking his eyes on a hawk yards away that sits on a tree branch. He grips the camera hanging from his neck and brings it up to his eye, aiming for the perfect shot. He needs another lens, but he sees the hawk jerk his head towards the opposite direction. The bird’s about to take off. Keeping his eye on the prize, Terry carefully reaches around towards his backpack, unzipping a pocket, and grabbing his lens. A bead of sweat rolls down his forehead. He works fast, fearing even a breath will scare off the majestic creature. Click! Click! He takes photo after photo of the hawk taking off, its beautiful wings reaching wide out. Terry exhales in relief and excitedly looks at his digital pictures.

Hillary, a business owner, made that unique backpack Terry was wearing. To create that backpack, she had to deeply understand outdoor photographers and their unique needs. Terry is an audience persona – a visual representation of the primary person a business wants to interact with. Ministries often struggle to determine their audience, mainly because they want to include everyone and also, prefer not to think of themselves as a business. But not having an audience persona may be preventing the ministry from understanding their congregation, donors, or whoever they're serving and working  directly with. With that in mind let's look at three exercises to help create an audience persona.

The Person

First, grab a pen and paper, and create two columns. On the left column, start writing down names of fictitious people (three to eight). They can’t be people you know, so get creative. These names represent the people that are served in your ministry. Next, write a short overview for each person on the right column. Their age, employment, marital status, number of children, etc. Write about what stage of life they’re in, why they showed up at your ministry, and what their biggest needs are. Write and write until the right column is full of notes about these imaginary people.

The Problem

Next, take a morning and go out to a coffee shop or some public setting where you can people watch. Take out your list of characters and descriptions and start looking for individuals who might match them. Focus on three. As you do this, begin to imagine different challenges in their lives. What pains are each of them dealing with? Picture them sitting down with a trusted friend or college buddy and pouring their heart out. What are they talking about? Maybe one of them is admitting to relapsing after months of sobriety. Now he’s at risk of losing his kid. Maybe the other is recovering from a traumatic church experience, and she’s questioning if the God she was raised to believe in is even real. Pretend getting up and walking over to one of them. You gently introduce yourself and say, “I couldn’t help but overhear you. I just wanted to say, I’m so sorry and I understand. I’m part of a ministry that I think can help you.” Now ask yourself – if you could only choose one person to help, who would it be? That’s your primary audience.

The Priority

You just discovered your ministry’s priority focus. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about anyone else, but now you can build an audience persona based on the person your ministry is best suited and equipped to serve. It’s time to gather your team around. If they haven't done the exercise you just did, explain it and send them out to do the same. Come back together and can compare your findings. Talk about the real people that come to your ministry. Make the description of the character you chose to focus on. What’s this person’s family like, and what do they do for fun? What are their hopes and dreams, and what’s their biggest fears? Take everyone’s suggestions and write them on a whiteboard. Step back when you’re done. You’ve just created your audience persona.

Who’s Your Terry?

Terry is outside a lot, so his backpack needs to be waterproof. He walks up and down forests and trails all day long, so it also needs to be light. The animals he captures are fast, so he should be able to grab whatever he needs for his camera as quickly as possible. They're also sensitive to sound, so it needs to account for that. Hillary didn’t make a backpack perfect for camping or school. She made one specifically for outdoor photographers like Terry. Businesses constantly refine their audiences because it doesn’t make sense to sell services and products to everyone. They optimize for a particular customer. While an audience persona will not answer everything because it provides you a clear picture of who PRIMARILY you're trying to help. Who does most of your attention need to be on? Who’s your Terry?