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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 as fast as lightening, fearing even an intake of 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 backpack Terry was wearing. To make that backpack, she had to understand outdoor photographers and their needs. Terry is an audience persona – a visual representation of the primary person a business is trying to get to interact with them. Ministries struggle in determining their audience, mostly because they’re afraid of excluding people and would prefer to not think of themselves as a business. But not having an audience persona may be preventing you from understanding your congregation, donors, or whoever you’re serving and working with. I’m going to give you three steps to creating your ministry’s audience persona.

Step 1: The Person

First, grab a pen and paper, and create two columns. On the left column, start writing down names of fictious people (three to eight). They can’t be people you know, so get creative.

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.

Step 2: The Problem

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 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’m so sorry. I can sympathize. I’m part of a ministry 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.

Step 3: 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. Hopefully, they did this exercise, too (separately). Now you guys can compare your findings. Talk about the real people that come to your ministry. Make the description of the character you chose to help fuller. 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 fear? Take everyone’s suggestions and write them on a whiteboard. Step back when you’re done. You’ve just created your audience persona.

Now ask yourself – if you could only choose one person to help, who would it be? That’s your primary audience.

Who’s Your Terry?

Terry’s 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. 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, it does give you an edge over other ministries that don’t use these types of tools because it provides you a clear picture of who you’re trying to help. Who does most of your attention need to be on? Who’s your Terry? That’s who you base your audience persona on.

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