Pen portraits are a marketing technique for defining an audience that I believe everyone should get into the habit of making. They are not just useful in marketing for understanding your most-wanted customer, but in any communication where we want to be fully understood.
We are not always writing to our friends and peers so while I am a big fan of “listening to your gut”, it is well worth putting in the effort to completely empathize with your most wanted reader or buyer.
What is a Pen Portrait in Marketing
When we talk about a pen portrait in marketing we are talking about a written profile, literally a pen portrait meaning “a word picture”.
Pen Portrait Definition: A “pen portrait” refers to a written description of a person or a specific type of customer that provides a detailed profile that describes key characteristics, behaviors, preferences, demographics, psychographics, and other relevant details that help you communicate better with them.
Pen portraits can be based wholly or in part on actual data and research, or they might be hypothetical and aspirational.
When built from solid research, they’re often a key component of a user or customer persona. These descriptions help marketers, designers, and other professionals better understand their target audience, enabling them to create more effective and targeted campaigns, products, or services.
For example, a pen portrait might describe a typical user of a product in terms of age, occupation, hobbies, purchasing habits, online behaviors, pain points, goals, and so on.
This vivid depiction can then guide decisions related to your content, future advertising, user experience design, and more.
Why Are Pen Portrait Profiles Important?
Pen portraits are a way to get a handle on your target audience and how they might respond to your messaging or what they might be engaged by.
By creating a fictitious character that enables you to speak directly to them, you will understand their needs, their motivations, their communication style, their likes, and their dislikes.
The more fleshed out and based on reality this gestalt reader is then the more effective the tactic will be for you.
Creating Marketing Pen Portraits
To create this pen portrait for your marketing you simply have to imagine who they are, what they are like, and what really drives them.
Don’t sit at the surface level, go deep. Keep asking “why”.
For example, a health-conscious Mother could be following a recent trend, but how much more impactful will your copywriting and articles be if they correctly identify that feeding her kids well speaks to her fear of toxins and her need to protect and nurture them at all costs?
Keep adding and molding the picture until you are happy that you can almost hear them speak to you.
Anything you create afterward can be held up to scrutiny by this imaginary friend.
How to Write a Pen Portrait: What Do Pen Portraits Require for Marketing?
How to write a pen portrait right now? Follow this checklist!
- What are they called?
- Who do they think they are?
- Who are they really?
- Who do they want to be?
- Who do they like?
- Who don’t they like?
- Who is their peer group?
- Who do they not identify with?
- What are their beliefs?
- Where do they live?
- Where do they work?
- Where do they learn?
- Where do they want to be?
- What are their urgent needs as a group?
- How old are they?
- How youthful do they act?
- How conservative are they?
- What are their driving ambitions?
- What are their wants and needs, specifically?
- What are their pleasures?
- What are their pains?
- What do they love?
- What do they hate?
This checklist is not everything to think about – Your marketing pen portraits should incorporate anything that impacts your target audience’s decision-making or motivations.
Pen Portrait Example
What is a pen portrait marketing exercise without a detailed pen portrait marketing example?
Let’s take a look at the pen profile for readers of DogWheelChairLife, a website for people who care for paralyzed dogs. A real consumer pen portrait example of a real website that I aim to help.
What the site is about:
Learning that your puppy won’t walk again is scary so it is important there exists a trustworthy resource that serves their needs and helps these pet owners as much as possible turn sadness into happiness.
Dog Website Pen Portrait Marketing Example:
|What do we call people in this niche?
|Paralyzed dog owners
Paraplegic dog owners
|What do they love?
|What do they hate?
|Animal suffering and people who exploit them
|What are their wants and needs as a group?
|They want their doggo to live their best lives possible
|What are their pains?
|Their beloved fur baby can’t get around and there are a lot of places with bad advice and rip-off products
|What are their pleasures?
|Seeing their dog happy and enjoying life
|Who do they think they are?
|Their dog’s mom or dad
|How conservative are they?
|When it comes to their pets they are cautious but optimistic that a solution exists
|What are their needs right now?
|Information about certain conditions
Confirmation that a product or mitigation solution exists and what would work for their situation
Resources to help their dog get mobile and other advice
|Where do they learn?
|Who do they not identify with?
|Puppy mills and people who give up on their pets
|What are their beliefs?
|Dog lives have value and are worth saving
Successful Customer Pen Portraits
You will know when you have crafted the perfect customer pen portrait when your most-wanted customer responds favorably to your message.
Pen Portraits in Marketing are about empathy and serving the needs of your readers in the way they will most accept and benefit from your communication. Successful communication means you got your profile right, but you can always do better!
Bottom line, if we only ever do things how we would like and about things that interest us we can never grow into markets outside our own echo chamber.
We do not always have the benefit of writing to people who are just like us. In these cases, our creativity and imaginations are really put to the test and we almost must become chameleons.
Pen portraits can help keep us on track, but should always be validated against the real world.