Chapter 8: Audience Archetypes

What is an Audience Archetype?

Most communications strategies and activities begin by defining the target audience. Examples of target audiences could look like any of these:

  • First-time buyers of an organization’s product or service,
  • Donors to a non-profit organization,
  • Students at an educational institution, or
  • Constituents of a municipal government.

As you communicate on behalf of a client or employer, you’ll want to have a lot of clarity about the target audience groups you’re engaging with, and there may be multiple such audiences.

Assuming you have defined your target audiences, the next important step is creating data-driven audience archetypes (also known as “customer personas”). Simply defined, data-driven audience archetypes are semi-fictional representations that showcase the key traits of a segment of your target audience, based on data you have collected from research, analytics, and any other reliable information.

Here is a 9-minute video, How To Create A User Persona, that provides a nice summary of what customer personas are, as well as walks you through the process of building your own.

Now that you understand what audience archetypes are, let’s explore a few different types.

Types of Audience Archetype

There are a few different approaches to developing your customer personas:

  • Data-driven and Proto/Ad hoc/Lean Archetypes
  • Initiatives-based vs. Close-up Archetypes

Data-Driven vs. Proto/Ad hoc/Lean Archetypes

The main difference between “data-driven” audience archetypes and “proto, adhoc, or lean” archetypes has to do with how the personas are created. In an ideal world, you start with a blank sheet of paper, make no assumptions, and conduct extensive audience research. You talk to lots of real-world people and use the data collected to construct archetypes. This is the data-driven approach, and it is how archetypes should ideally be created.

That said, many organizations do not have the time, budget, nor desire to do this level of research. So, rather than stall the audience archetype process or have no archetypes at all, you can use a different approach: proto or ad hoc audience archetypes.

Proto, ad hoc, or lean personas normally are not created by doing extensive external audience research, but rather by collecting information primarily from within an organization. For example, you might hold a workshop or meeting with various stakeholders and ask them to describe your target audience. Based on everyone’s input and/or experience, you can start building some “rough” personas.

The critical point to note is that these rough personas are not research-led and, therefore, contain assumptions or biases that may or may not be true. While such lean archetypes can be useful tools, treat them with caution and verify them with research, even if that research happens well after you have created your rough personas. A good approach is to start with a few ad hoc personas to get the process rolling and to get stakeholder buy-in. Then, over time, conduct research to verify and validate their accuracy and refine them as you gain more audience insights and gather more audience data.

High-level Segmentation vs. Initiatives-based vs. Close-up Customer Personas

High-level Segmentation vs Initiatives-based vs Close-up Customer Personas

Another way to approach your audience archetypes is by exploring how broad or narrow you want your personas to be. Below we present three common options along this spectrum.

  • High-level segmentation provides marketers and communicators with a bird’s eye view of their target audience. Since there is limited segmentation, the data driving this type of persona is quite broad and this persona will represent the largest/broadest segment you may want to target. For organizations that have not created personas, this is a suggested first step. However, to ensure better targeting and maximize your effectiveness, you should further segment your target audience and create more defined and narrower personas as time and other resources permit.
  • Initiatives-based archetypes identify audience groups who have a moderate to high interest in a specific initiative. These are often seen with cause-based non-profits, where the target audiences are particularly interested in a specific, cause-based initiative. These personas often represent a subset of the high-level segmentation target audience, but do not represent those audience segments at the lowest possible level(s).
  • Close-up personas highlight audiences who are generally interested in a specific product, service, program, or action/activity. For example, close-up customer personas might represent “customers most likely to leave.” These personas tend to be narrower and, as a result, represent a smaller audience segment. However, because of the narrow focus, these personas are easier to target and have more in common with other members of that audience segment.

Now, let’s explore how to develop data-driven customer personas.

How to Build a Data-driven Audience Archetype

Below is a framework that will cover all the foundational aspects of an audience archetype. However, please keep in mind that all personas should incorporate multiple viewpoints, i.e., if a customer persona is being developed by a single person, with only one viewpoint in mind, for only one purpose, and/or for only one stage of your customer journey, your persona may not support your organization as a whole. So, try to include a variety of audience viewpoints in the following process because it will make your customer personas much stronger and applicable to the entire organization.

  1. Conduct Audience Research
    To get a deeper understanding of your target audience, start by seeking out the answers to the following questions:
    • Who are your customers/donors/voters/stakeholders?
    • How do they behave?
    • What are they interested in?
    • What kind of challenges do they face?

More specifically, here are several research data points that you may want to collect and document:

Audience Research Data Points
Category Examples Sources
Name, birthplace, family history, childhood memories, first job, location CRM, Public records, social media analytics
Personal life Marital status, family size, pets, diet and fitness habits Public records, social media
Career Industry, job title, experience level, retirement plans CRM, LinkedIn, online forums, Google
Personality traits Introvert/extrovert, right brain/left brain, optimistic/pessimistic Social media, customer surveys, interviews, List of 14 free personality tests, online comments[2]
Online behaviour Favorite social media platforms, search engines, mobile devices Social media activities, online groups, forums, comments
Purchasing behaviour Favorite online retailers, payment methods, spending habits Google Analytics, Tag Manager, remarketing / retargeting tools, previous campaign analytics
Goals and challenges Dream job, customer service experiences, regrettable purchases CRM, customer service database, customer surveys, feedback, focus groups, online comments
Objections Communication issues, product features, purchasing methods CRM, customer support database, customer surveys, interviews, focus groups

For some more ideas, you may also want to consider Hubspot’s list of what you should consider when defining buyer personas.

  1. Identify Audience Pain Points
    Either through surveys, interviews, or social listening, you will want to identify the key pain points your audiences have, e.g,:
    • What problems or hassles are they trying to solve?
    • What’s holding them back from success?
    • What barriers do they face in reaching their goals?
  1. Identify Audience Goals
    This is the flip side of pain points. Pain points are problems your potential audience members are trying to solve. Goals or aspirations are positive outcomes they want to achieve. Depending on the kinds of products and services you offer, these goals might be personal or professional. Similar to above, this information can be acquired through customer surveys, interviews, or social listening.
  1. Understand How You Can Help
    Now that you understand your audiences’ pain points and goals, it’s time to create a really clear picture of how your client or employer can help. Stop thinking about their brand in terms of features and dig deep to analyze the benefits you offer audiences. Consider your products and services from the audience’s point of view. And, keep in mind the following three questions:
    • How can we help?
    • What are your audience’s main action barriers?
    • How can you help audiences overcome any barriers/pain points and achieve their goals?
  1. Define and Name Your Audience Archetypes
    Define and name these audience segments. Start looking for common characteristics and patterns. As you group those characteristics together, you’ll have the basis for your unique personas. Take your collection of characteristics and turn them into a persona that you can identify with and speak to. Give your persona a name, a job title, a home, and other defining characteristics. You want your persona to seem like a real person.

Customer Persona Analysis Exercises

Let’s look at a sample customer persona:

Tanvi Kaur B2B Customer PersonaHere we have Marketing Manager, Tanvi Kaur, a business-to-business (B2B) persona. We can see her goals and aspirations, and even the experience she’s seeking when looking for products and services. It’s interesting that we also have a mix of bulleted statements, as well as quotes from Tanvi herself. It’s beneficial to let your personas speak for themselves. This little touch goes a long way towards showing the individual’s personality and can also provide cues to the type of language the persona uses and what messaging might resonate with them.

Looking at Tanvi’s customer persona above, how would you answer the following questions:

  1. What additional details might be useful for this customer persona?
  2. If you were a software company, how might you target Tanvi?

Pros and Cons of Audience Archetypes

Audience archetypes can be an important strategic and tactical tool. However, it is helpful to review some of the common “pros and cons.”


  • Significant Time and Effort
    To be done well, audience archetypes take time and effort. Organizations may not be willing or able to commit to create truly data-driven personas. As a result, personas may be based on stereotypes instead of observed behaviours or researched audience data. This can defeat the purpose of audience archetypes, as they will not be valid representations of an audience group.
  • Poor Research Practices
    Those conducting the audience research may not have advanced research skills. Given that data-driven personas are based on data and the research collected, the personas may be built on faulty, inadequate, or biased data.
  • Just Fictional Stories
    Some argue that personas are all made up of stories and our perceptions. However, with the amount of data available to organizations today, audience archetypes can be based on observed data and reflect the reality of what is happening. That said, be careful in how interpretations of the data can enter into personas. Make sure personas are based on real data. Even then, consider personas as supportive data and not the only source of customer insights. This is why customer personas require testing, validation, and updating because, with an iterative approach, you can identify and counter false assumptions or interpretations.
  • Outdated
    Because changes are happening quickly, some audience archetypes become outdated (such as the stereotypical senior citizen who can’t use a computer—that person almost stopped existing during the pandemic). Measure real-time data as much as possible to see if your personas match the audiences you are attracting and engaging with. If not, there is a mismatch, and your personas need to be updated. Remember the audience archetype process is ongoing and each archetype needs occasional refreshing (or discarding).


There are quite a few ways that audience archetypes can help an organization communicate more effectively.

Audience archetypes assist marketers in knowing what to promote, to whom, when, and through which channels. With digital marketing on the rise and more and more channels available to marketers and communicators, making sure you spend your time and money on the appropriate channels and activities can define your organization’s success or failure.

A relatable persona can help sales staff and customer service representatives better visualize customers during the training process and can help them anticipate needs and support customers during interactions. Indeed, the sales staff and CSRs can better relate and connect with their audience, improving the organization’s relationship to this audience.

These audience archetypes are also used heavily in product development and technical design. Engineers and programmers can’t design products and social media apps and websites for engineers and technical designers; they need to design the products and software for end users. Archetypes help them visualize those people and keep their needs first.

Please note that any tool and any type of audience research can result in faulty insights. The key is to choose the proper tool and use it correctly. Bottom line: the identified issues are not inherent flaws in audience archetypes, but rather flaws in implementing personas. These flaws can be fixed by proper management, real customer data, and regular updating of personas.

Media Attributions

  1. 14 Free Personality Tests That’ll Help You Figure Yourself Out
  2. 20 Questions to Ask When Creating Buyer Personas [Free Template]


This chapter was adapted from Foundations in Digital Marketing: Building Meaningful Customer Relationships and Engaged Audiences by Rochelle Grayson, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Social Media & Reputation Management Copyright © 2023 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book