Personas Become Key to Successful Marketing
As companies come under increasing customer pressure to personalize their interactions, personas are becoming a popular way to translate anonymous data into living prototypes. They add depth to the flat customer profiles on which organizations relied for so long. But, while offering many potential gains, these emerging marketing tools also require a great deal of work and thought to deliver on their promise.
Customer profiles, a marketing and sales cornerstone for decades, typically present generic demographic data, like name, age, address, and income level. Personas, on the other hand, do not contain individual customer information; instead, they rely on a fictional representation of a person resembling the most typical clients. They go a few steps further and add personal data, like the number of children, where they get their news, which social media platforms they use, how they spend their time, and which hobbies they might enjoy. They become a mashup of behavioral characteristics, like their buying habits, motives, attitudes, and positive and negative trigger points. The goal is to create a character in a book, someone who has depth, strengths, and flaws.
“A best practice is to create a story around your customer persona,” says Lihi Pinto Fryman, cofounder and chief marketing officer at Syte, a provider of artificial technology for visual search, product recommendations, and deep tagging for retail. “Not only does it make it more relatable but also encourages you to easily modify your persona when you gather new insights.”
Companies sometimes even give names to the fictional characters they create so that they spring to life. For instance, HubSpot developed the buyer persona Marketing Mary, a mid-level executive at a typical small to midsize company, and even came up with key attributes, like her goals, challenges, and why she would love HubSpot. Among her attributes, Mary manages a team that has fewer than five members; she has an MBA, is 42 years old, is married, and has two kids.
The company uses this information to create content that’s going to be relevant to Mary at each stage of her buying cycle. The content, it hopes, will attract Mary to its site and help her evaluate its software based on her unique goals and challenges. The purpose is to make sure that Marketing Mary has everything she needs to feel confident in purchasing HubSpot’s products.
Personas need to be dynamic, living, and malleable objects, so companies need to hone them. Upon further review, HubSpot added Marketing Michelle as another persona. Michelle works at a larger company than Marketing Mary and has a more sophisticated set of needs. Other personas in HubSpot’s stable include Owner Ollie, the founder and president of a small company, and Enterprise Erin, the chief marketing officer at a large firm with more than 2,000 employees.
MarketPoint CRM found two personas among its customers, according to Peter Gillett, its CEO. The young, often-stressed event planner races from one task to another and replies in nanoseconds. Texting is the best channel to use when interacting with her. The event manager, who has about 20 years of experience, has a more structured workday and prefers a phone call.
Creating personas like these starts with collecting and consolidating customer information. In most cases, companies already have some data about where clients live, what they’ve ordered in the past, when they placed those orders, and how much they spent. They then typically supplement that information with insights from other sources. If, for example, the customer accessed corporate websites, personal information is captured in tools like Google Analytics, which divides audience information by location and available demographics and interests. Companies then add on third-party data. Email lists provide additional customer information. Research helps fortify and add richness to personas. Surveys and polls can be helpful and have become more affordable.
“You can spend as little as $500 to $1,000 on a survey and get a full dataset,” says Gary Nealon, founder of Nealon Solutions, a marketing consulting services provider for e-commerce organizations.
Short cuts are available if budgeting is tight. “If you do not have the budget for a big survey, try to talk to five to 10 customers along their customer journey and gather their input,” recommends Jon Dick, vice president of marketing at HubSpot.
The persona-building process provides companies with an opportunity for self-reflection, allowing them to take a closer look at the following:
• customers’ needs and how to solve them better;
• whether their content appeals to different demographics in their target audience;
• how they can personalize messaging to reach the right buyer;
• whether their content covers every stage of the buyer’s journey; and
• how a consumer came to use a product or a service—for instance, if they buy home improvement magazines, the enterprise can determine which ones.