Customer personas have a real Marmite quality with content marketers. But that’s only because of the quality of the insight, analysis and production values that are used to bring these customers to life.

Pen portraits, personas and typologies are divisive marketing devices.

Some marketers love having pithy summaries of their target audience and personas can play a key role in helping to effectively tailor communications to different customers.  An understanding of customer needs and how an audience differs in attitude from its peers can help determine the correct Tone of Voice to deploy within communications.

However, other marketers are more cynical of what they see as the ‘clichés’ involved in collectively grouping together customers in conveniently alliterative titles, such as Aspiring Achievers or Striving Survivors.

“A broad-brush, one-page persona summary that is based on demographic and affluence levels is unlikely to be inspiring.”

In our view, personas are only as good as the quality of the insight, analysis and production values that are used to bring them to life. Assembling information based on secondary research sources and producing broad-brush, one-page summaries using demographic and affluence levels is unlikely to be inspiring.

But at the other end of the scale, a proper robust segmentation that combines both qualitative and quantitative research can be expensive. Moreover, how widely it can be disseminated and applied within an organisation is ultimately restricted by the capabilities to segment data within antiquated internal IT legacy systems. On top of this, segmentations can quickly change and become obsolete as they fail to reflect developments in ever-evolving consumer trends and behaviour.

However, we feel there is still a role for personas that are based on customer needs, attitudes and behaviours and are brought to life with film, print or digital collateral. Crucially, we would always recommend actually talking to customers and using their real-life experiences as the basis for any descriptions of their mindset and mentalities.

Primary qualitative research, such as focus groups and/or depth interviews, ideally with an element of observational or longitudinal research where we can truly get under the skin of what makes a person tick, are the most effective way of understanding customers.

However, this exercise doesn’t need to involve an expensive insight programme. At the smaller and more discreet end, focus groups of a small number of customers and your frontline teams sharing their experience can be a great way to get to the truth of a persona.

The optimum methodology would be to select a group of individuals encompassing your intended personas, e.g. Young Professionals, and then getting to know the shades of grey that exist between that stereotype.

Insight that generates both a broad and deep understanding of the differences between people enables you to identify the ‘bullseye’ of your target audience.  These are the individuals that embody that group, and you can create your definitions and descriptions specifically around them.

Even more critically is how you then bring your persona to life.

“However, personas that are based on customer needs, attitudes and behaviours and are brought to life with film have the power to captivate.”

PowerPoint slides around key headings with a smattering of verbatim quotes are unlikely to inspire, inform or influence content creation. However, in-home or in-office film footage that shows the person in their environment, talking in their own terminology and demonstrating their needs, pain points and concerns will undoubtedly bring personas to life.  These can be accompanied by printed or digital collateral that provides the level of detail that is required to embed that persona within an organisation.

The reason that persona have a ‘bad rep’ is only because of the paucity of information they are based upon and a lack of an activation strategy.  Personas based on compelling insights and vividly visualised are still an invaluable tool for content marketers.

Steve

BY Steve Banks

Steve is an Insight specialist and has spent the last 15 years working for different brand consultancies and research agencies. His endless sense of curiosity means that he loves talking to people to understand what makes them tick.