Why Marketing Personas Are More Important Than Ever

Marketing personas are more important than ever, because people matter more than ever.

Any marketer with a pulse knows about the noise, the clutter, the fragmentation of media, the proliferations of devices, etc. Disruptions of various kinds continue to topple even the most well-fed sacred cows. Nothing and no one is safe.

The world turns and the notion of interrupting people and pushing a marketing message at them grows increasingly more difficult and less effective. Consider:

  • Google (which makes most of its money from advertising) is introducing a new service where web surfers can pay a nominal fee to block display ads from their favorite websites.
  • 34% of U.S. adults have “broken up” with a brand for sending annoying or irrelevant marketing messages, according to a Responsys study.
  • A recent Edelman Insights study found that 90% of people want brands to share and connect with them, and just 10% think brands are doing a good job of this.
  • Consumers continue to place little to moderate trust in advertising. Last year Forrester reported that just 10% of American consumers trust advertising. That number is even lower in Europe.

The way to manage the tectonic shift in marketing is simple. Spend less effort pushing messages and more effort giving people experiences and content worth seeking out. Instead of taking the old-school “interrupt media” approach, find avenues and moments when content from brands is welcome, and then deliver it in the form most likely to be appreciated.

Sounds simple, right? Well, there’s a catch. To stand up as effective marketing, content and experiences need to do two things:

  1. Promote a business outcome (i.e., sell something).
  2. Reach an audience at scale.

Those are two very tough jobs, and two monumental reasons why personas are so critical today.

What’s a marketing persona?

A persona is a characterization of a market segment based on analysis of data. Creating personas often involves gathering qualitative and quantitative data (i.e., interviewing people or gathering information through surveys, website analytics, customer databases, etc.), then filtering it into segments.

In this day and age, demographic-based segmentation has been surpassed by an approach focusing on consumers’ shared attitudes, motivations, challenges and worries. The best segmentation frameworks carve up audiences by who they are and how a particular product or services fulfills a want or need. Demographics come second.

How to get personas right

There’s a magic word to nailing marketing personas and using them effectively: relevance. Here’s a straightforward way to get there:

Objectively assess the market for your product or service.
Most often, this means engaging in a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. To get personas right, some degree of qualitative is a requirement. (Here are some thoughts from EMA’s Research Services Director John Richelsen on that subject).

With research-derived insights in hand, divide the market into segments.
There is no formula for this. It’s a moment where anaysis intuition and experience work hand-inhand.Based on research output, look for shared motivations and needs that are relevant to your offering and drive your desired outcome — more sales, greater brand loyalty, etc.

After segmentation is done, flesh out characterizations of your priority segments.
Give them names. Assign them a photograph that illustrates their character (and, yes, their demographic characteristics). Paint a picture of who they are, how they live, and how your products or services make their lives better. The trick here is to balance vividness with adherence to facts. It might be interesting to say that your persona has a pet boa named Popeye, but if you have no factual basis to make that assertion (e.g., “82% of the segment are large reptile owners”), it’s not a good choice.

Then what?

So you’ve got a solid segmentation framework and a strong set of target audience personas. What do you do? In short: keep them in mind. This is where the rubber meets the road — and where things get tricky.

As you complete marketing communications planning, flesh out strategies and launch tactics, and direct everything you do toward your target persona or personas. Would Bill the Techie Executive be intrigued by your campaign? Would he appreciate the content you’re creating? Would he read your ad?

Better yet, think about what Bill is trying to accomplish today. How can your brand help him achieve his goals? How can you earn his trust? Show him that you care about him? Offer him a pleasant surprise?

These are the questions that lead to breakthrough strategic and creative ideas in the post-push-media era. And effective answers often come courtesy of marketing personas. So take the time, make the effort and invest in personas. When you get them right, the payoff can be tremendous.