A doctor, a lawyer and a cop walk into a bar… This classic joke opener is a sure bet because it offers up three different “types” of people that we are likely to recognize or will be able relate to. You could call these characters personas.

In working with marketing, BI and sales teams over the years, I've noticed a regular misuse of the terms segments and personas. Although often used in complementary ways, they are not one and the same. Here’s how I would differentiate:

Market Segments

The purpose of market segmentation is to identify groups of customers (or potential customers) within a market. Markets tend to be geographical or a particular industry vertical.  Once identified, these groups are referred to as segments and allows the organizations to then target particular products, services or marketing messages to those segments over time.

Photo by  Jens Johnsson  on  Unsplash tation

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplashtation

Customer Segments

Customer segments are created primarily to be able to manage and measure marketing performance. Typically they are formed and analyzed on the basis of revenue and profit potential.

Segments are often created based on purchase behaviour and buying patterns, clearly identifying what they are buying but not how or why they are buying it. This is where personas come in.

Segments should be data driven and used in business planning and forecasting. The benefits of creating customer segments are to:

  • Clearly break down prospecting activity and messaging and deliver tailored messages at the right time in the buying cycle (from awareness to retention)
  • Measure or forecast the growth of particular customer groups based on buying patterns
  • Measure and track macro-level customer trends
  • Align business processes to customer trends and buying habits


Personas on the other hand are used to further understand customers on a personal level. They tend to be more qualitative than segments to include socio-demographic, psychographic and behavioural data. Through third party research, surveys or interviews with real people, marketers can construct character profiles that share similar beliefs, values, attitudes etc. Web design teams in particular use personas to gain a deeper understanding of whom they are designing for as well as the wants, needs and motivations of various types of visitors. An important point here is that personas can cross across segments. The benefits of creating personas are to:

  • Describe your customer with stories, anecdotes and/or scenarios in order to humanize them and relate to them based on needs
  • Capture customer goals and motivations as well as possible pain points in particular during the purchasing process or other interactions with the brand
  • Further refine your value proposition and differentiation for key personas
  • Improve product planning or include the "voice of the customer" in research and development
  • Supplement quantitative market data with qualitative insights
  • Improve customer-centricity
Photo by  BBH Singapore  on  Unsplash

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

What to use when?

Both segments and personas are tools to help us "sort" customers and prospects but used together, they paint a comprehensive picture of how a business should market to its customers.  For example, personas used in isolation can be inaccurate from a behavioral perspective, as there is often a significant difference between what customers state as preferences and what they actually do in reality.  We all say we are healthy eaters but we purchase ice cream every week. (I’m not lying, you’re lying).

In short, personas help us to understand the emotional needs of our customers, while segments help to forecast whether specific products or services will resonate in the marketplace.

As I was saying, a doctor, a lawyer and a cop walk into a bar…

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club. Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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