I used to work in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, down the street from a store that advertised itself as a Superhero Supply Company. Along with capes and bottled superpowers like flight and invisibility, they sold secret identities. There was Andrew Larson, a high school sophomore from La Jolla, CA who mowed lawns on the weekends to save up for either a car, a tattoo, or a set of nunchucks; and Bunny Lipton, a retired church secretary from Naples, FL who played mahjong with the girls every Tuesday after Survivor.

Whenever I think about traveler personas, known more broadly as buyer personas, I think about those secret identities. Traveler personas, like secret identities, are fictional personalities you create to help achieve a specific goal. But where secret identities help superheros blend in with mere mortals, traveler personas help you gain a better understanding of your target audience, allowing you to speak directly to your ideal traveler's needs and making your calls to action irresistible.

Why do traveler personas work so well? The secret lies in how they let us relate to our target audience on an authentic, human level. Data from Stackla shows 86 percent of people rate authenticity as important when deciding which brands they like. In a survey from Infosys, 59 percent of respondents said personalized marketing messages influence their purchasing decisions. And 66 percent of respondents to a recent Marketo survey said they were "highly annoyed" by brands who blast the same generic marketing messaging to them over and over.

How to Create an Effective Traveler Persona

The most important detail to remember is, your traveler personas should not be based on guesses, but should instead be firmly grounded in facts and research. The good news is, there are several ways to gather the facts you need.

Audience surveys are one great way to gather data for traveler personas. You could send out a survey about travel preferences to your email list. Or, you could create a fun quiz for your website that gathers intelligence about your web visitors before recommending a personalized itinerary for them.

Analytics are another excellent and easy way to collect intel about your target audience. Using a tool like Google Analytics, you can see where your visitors came from, which search keywords they used to get there, which pages they visited, and for how long. You'll also be able to gather demographics like age and gender. And, if you notice there's been a sudden uptick in 25-34-year-old women spending a lot of time on your winter activities pages, take note. That sort of pattern will prove invaluable when you start writing up your traveler personas.

Industry research is a valuable resource for your traveler personas. Don't worry, you don't have to commission an expensive industry-wide survey to get access to this data. A simple web search for something like "recent travel industry research" is sure to bring up more than one helpful report. Take this American Multi-Generational Travel Trends report from Expedia as an example; a quick scan of the findings reveals that baby boomers travel to visit family while millennials just want to relax and see the sights.

Components of a Successful Traveler Persona

Now that you've gathered your data, it's time to organize it into cohesive traveler personas. These can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be. Some people insist you should give your personas names in order to fully humanize them. In my experience, traveler personas work well for PPC ads as long as they have the following simple components:

Demographics: Data like traveler age or income can help you take advantage of generational travel industry research (see above), or help segment your messaging by luxury and budget offerings.

Motivation: What drives your ideal traveler to travel? Work? Family? #YOLO? Whatever it is, you should have a clear sense of it when writing PPC ads and other content.

Challenges: What part of the travel booking process do each of your travel personas struggle with the most? Do they have a hard time picking a destination? Are they anxious to find truly family friendly amenities? The more you can zero in on specific pain points, the better your PPC ad copy will be.

Goals: The travel goals of a single, YOLO-obsessed 20-something aren't the same as those of a retired boomer who takes the same trip to the same place to visit the same family members at the same time every year. The way you talk to these personas has to be different too.

Using Buyer Personas to Power Your PPC Ads

Once you've finished your personas, you're ready to tackle your PPC ad copy. When I do this, I find it helpful to keep the buyer persona description open in front of me, and ask myself, "What does this person want and how can I help them get it?"

Say you have a traveler persona you're calling Amanda. Amanda is 28 and recently married. She likes romantic, relaxing, all-inclusive vacations, and winter is her favorite season to travel. She wishes she and her husband could travel more, but they're a young couple and money is sometimes tight, so Amanda is always looking for a deal.

Here's how you might translate that into an effective PPC Ad:

  • Your Romantic Winter Getaway
  • Browse Our All-Inclusive Deals
  • Discover Why Simpletown is the Ultimate Destination for Romance and Relaxation!
  • www.yoursite.com/romance

Once you've written a few more versions, don't forget to test your new ads. Be sure to try them out in an ad group that's getting plenty of clicks. A good rule of thumb is to test one ad for every 100 clicks an ad group gets. This way, you'll be able to gather concrete data about what works and what doesn't. Then apply what you learn across all ads targeted at that particular traveler persona.

Now that you know how to gather data about your target audience and arrange that data into effective traveler personas, you can channel what you've learned about your ideal customers into not just PPC ads but blog posts, email campaigns, and social media content. As long as you make sure to keep split testing and refining your strategy, you'll be seeing improved key performance indicator results in no time.