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How (and Why) You Need to Create Behavioral Personas

minute read

Quick Definition: Behavioral Personas are semi-fictional representations of a group of your customers, based on how they behave or interact with your brand. 

Table of Contents:

  • What is a Behavioral Persona?
  • How are Behavioral Personas different from a traditional personas?
  • How to create a behavioral persona
  • What are the pros and cons of behavioral and traditional personas?
  • The bottom line

If you want to grow your business or create meaningful marketing, you have to know what makes your buyers tick. A persona is a great tool that can help you not only figure out who your customers are (based on how they’re interacting with your brand), but what they want and need.

A persona is a semi-fictional representation of a group of your customers, boiled down into one representative character. Personas bring your customers to life through both demographic and psychographic details. Based on research and data from your existing customers, a persona acts as a mental shortcut to understand an important segment of your buyers.

In the past, personas looked something like the example below - a demographic and psychographic profile of an “average” customer that didn’t really exist and didn’t tell us too much about who this person really was or how they behaved: 

Please don't make or use personas like this.

But given what we now know about customer behavior and decision-making from Behavioral Science and Marketing Psychology, a new approach to Personas is needed - the behavioral persona.  

What is a Behavioral Persona?

A behavioral persona focuses on the actions of customers. Unlike traditional personas, which usually lean heavily on demographic information and hypothetical characteristics, behavioral personas are created from what people are doing. They explore patterns in purchase, engagement, interactions with products or services, and the triggers that lead to those interactions.

The key difference between a behavioral persona and a traditional persona lies in how the persona groups - or segments - are created. Traditional demographic personas provide a snapshot of who we think our ideal customers might be, including basic demographic details and surface-level insights like, “They get inspiration from Pinterest!”. 

How to Create a Behavioral Persona

Behavioral Personas can seem intimidating if you've never created one, but here's a high-level overview of the process: 

  • Collect Behavioral Data: Use analytics tools like HotJar and Google Analytics and your proprietary behavioral data, customer feedback, and purchase data to gather information on customer behaviors.
  • Identify Patterns: Look for common behaviors, preferences, and pain points that emerge from the data. A great way to do this using cluster analysis. Without getting too deep into the data side of things, basically you pick an attribute like “How often do our customers shop at our stores?”. Then run this through a cluster analysis which will spit out an image that looks something like this:

You can see that your customers have clustered around a few points - let’s say for the sake of example this data answers how often your customers shop at Target every month. These clusters are “.5 times on average a month” “4 times a month” and “10+ times a month.” Target’s customers could then be grouped into behavioral personas like “Infrequent shoppers,” “weekly shoppers,” and “power users.”

You can also perform a “multivariate clustering analysis” which is just a complicated way of saying you shake up a bunch of customer attributes or points of behavioral data to see if you can find commonalities across multiple dimensions. 

In a multivariate approach you might find that you get clusters  around “frequency of store visits” and “frequency of shopping online.” That means you might discover that while there are three clusters of behavior around shopping in-store, there’s two more clusters around people who also shop online - a group who shop at Target.com 1x a month in addition to shopping in the store 2x a month, and another group who only shop online at Target.com 2x a year but who visit the store 1x a week.

  • Detail Each Persona: Now that you have your clusters, start seeing what else these folks have in common. Maybe your Power Users are mostly families or moms shopping by themselves. Maybe your Infrequent Shoppers are students or people who pop in for a specific item or on a specific day. Flesh out each persona with specific behavioral traits, motivations, and goals.
  • Perform Deeper Research: Now that you have three personas based on in-store shopping frequency, you can start interviewing folks in each of these groups to see what else they have in common. 

Because behavioral personas are based on actual behaviors and not imaginary customer profiles, they give you a data-based and dynamic view of real customers, providing richer, more actionable insights. 

Now instead of trying to create marketing for a bland persona like Sally Shopper, you can create personalized email campaigns with a Starbucks buy-one-get-one-free coupon for Power User who you've discovered also buy Starbucks 65% of the time they visit a Target store and 50% of their Starbucks visits happen inside a Target. 

How to Decide Which Behavioral Data to Use

The great thing about these types of personas is that you can pretty easily line up behaviors with business goals. If your goal as Target, in this example, is to increase shopping frequency, you can now target your infrequent and weekly shoppers with promotions, coupons, email campaigns, and in-store experiences that better suit how, when, and where they like to shop. 

You can also sub-segment these people. For example, maybe your weekly shoppers only come into the store once a week, but they also order using Drive Up six times a year. That might change how you approach this business goal - maybe it’s easier to increase their frequency of purchase using Drive Up and the Target app instead of trying to get them to come into the store 5 times a month instead of 4. 

Drive up spots for a Target store pickup; clsdesign - stock.adobe.com

Pros and Cons of Behavioral Personas

Using behavioral personas, like any other framework or model, aren't perfect. Here are some pros and cons you need to know before deciding to create them: 


  • Observable Insights: Behavioral personas offer a clearer picture of what customers are actually doing, without their behavior going through a mental filter before they share it with you (for example, if you asked a customer how many times they visit Target a month, they might get embarrassed that it’s 4x a week, and tell you “once or twice a week, I think.” But behavioral data will tell you exactly how many times they come in, without shame or embarrassment - they’re just facts)
  • Based on Actual Data, Not a Hunch: Too often traditional personas are created “from the gut” by people in marketing organizations (or the consultancies and agencies hired to create them). Sure, they do some qualitative research. But they often take creative license to craft the final personas. 
  • Clear Ties to Business Objectives: Most business objectives are ultimately about increasing sales - a clear customer behavior. When you know what behavior you want to drive (increased store visits) and can clearly measure and observe it, it’s easier to create strategies to increase this behavior.


  • Resource Intensive: Behavioral personas can require more detailed data collection and analysis, which depending on your company’s resources might take some time. 
  • Data Can Be Intimidating: To be frank, many brand and comms professionals are uncomfortable dealing with data analysis and hard numbers. Getting a trustworthy data partner is key in teams where people are less comfortable dealing with things like multivariate cluster analysis.

3 Common Behavioral Persona Mistakes

Behavioral personas, like any design, research, or marketing tool, can be misused pretty easily. Here's a few common mistakes I've seen clients and fellow consultants make: 

  • Overgeneralization: Failing to capture the nuances of different customer segments can put us back in traditional persona territory - too generalized to inspire specific marketing changes or communications. 
  • Never Updating or Not Updating Frequently Enough: Customer behaviors can, and do, change over time. Personas need regular updates to sense-check and keep them relevant. 
  • No One Uses Them: If the team that creates the behavioral personas doesn’t take time to sell them in across the organization and with agency or consultancy partners, they will get thrown in a drawer, forgotten, and die. 



The Bottom Line

Behavioral personas give you powerful insight into what you customers are actually doing. By focusing on behaviors, businesses can craft more personalized, engaging, and effective strategies that resonate with their audience. While they may require more effort to create and maintain than traditional personas, the benefits they offer are invaluable. 

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About the author

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA

Hi 👋 I'm Jen Clinehens (MS, MBA) the founder and Managing Director of Choice Hacking.

I started Choice Hacking in 2021 to help marketers and entrepreneurs figure out what makes buyers tick, and elevate their work using behavioral science, marketing psychology, and AI.

If you want to learn more, check out links to my newsletter, podcast, YouTube channel and other free resources below 👇


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