This Is Why Your Personas Suck And How You Can Prepare Them For The 2020s

Consumers have high expectations that marketers get personalization right, but are increasingly stingy about giving up data. So what do we do about it? In this episode of Marketing is Broken, we explore personas on a level that will make most marketers queasy. You’ll learn what makes a good persona, why most of them suck, and how you can create personas that marketing teams will be using as the standard of the 2020’s.
09/06/2018

Welcome to marketing is broken, the weekly series where we show you what’s wrong with marketing and how you can fix it. Let’s go to the news…

A startling find for you today: 3 in 4 Americans want to be be treated like a human being.  Who would have thought?

In a new study by Selligent, 77 percent of U.S. consumers said that they expect companies to “treat me as an individual,” not as a member of some segment like ‘millennials’ or ‘suburban mothers’.

This comes in an era of GDPR and growing privacy concerns where customers are increasingly leery of providing information about themselves.

Selligent went on to report that only 1 in 5 consumers are willing to provide data to brands up-front in order to improve their experience.

In fact, if a brand’s request for data is deemed ‘too much,’ nearly 30 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to abandon the brand altogether.

So if asking for data can be a turn off but consumers expect you to know them deeply already, what do you do?

That brings us to this week’s topic: personas.

What Are Marketing Personas?

Personas are a tool for helping software developers, product designers, and marketing professionals build what customers want without having to ask those pesky customers all the time. 

Personas range widely in depth, and style and appearance but often look a bit like a baseball card or placemat.

In this version, a playful name and photo of a person best though to represent to the persona are placed alongside their key attributes, wants and needs.

Some personas are more minimalist and may include just a name and a defining quote. 

And finally there’s my favorite yet seldomly used Pointillism personas which use itty bitty little dots.

How Are Personas Broken?

While personas are universally put into place as a way to get closer to the customer and deliver better brand experiences, they can often end up having the entirely opposite effect.

Take, for example, this thought from Merci Victoria Grace, the former Director of Product at Slack. 

She says, “I can’t think of a more common offender than personas in creating a shield between companies and their customers. Personas are facsimiles of your real customers — ones that fit in tidy, psychographic boxes. Each step that you take away from the harsh, messy reality of your customer is dangerous.”

Powerful words. And she isn’t alone in the industry by any means. 

According to Nielsen Norman Group’s Kim Flaherty, personas can be counter-productive in a few ways:

One: They are not used. Many companies aspire to use them but get tripped up and never roll them. You have to use personas if they’re going to work.

Two: They lack leadership buy-in. Company executives will choose revenue over things that build the brand when given the choice, so why make them choose?

Personas that don’t help drive real business value never gain or eventually end up losing executive support.

Three: Personas fail when they’re are imposed on people.

Personas can be like religions where each department of the company believes that they are the CEO’s chosen people and the only ones that will every truly understand “Small Business Barb.”

Creating personas should be a collaborative and cross-departmental process that takes input from all areas of the company versus being handed down from on high. 

But the biggest reason personas fail? They are not based in reality.

All too often, personas are only based on assumptions instead of actual input from customers. When this happens, you’re doomed to fail.

So how do you fix personas? Easy. Get customers involved. 

Fix Your Personas By Getting Customers Involved

Start by finding real people and ask them to take surveys or participate in interviews.

Consumers want to be in control of their personal information but are often willing to share it if they understand how it will benefit them. Or if you pay them.

If you’re just starting out, you might only be able to interview a handful of potential or new customers and write down what you find. 

If you already have some customers, invite them through email to take a survey to help improve your product or service.

Or… if you really want to get awesome. Take your best Google or Facebook audience that you think most directly maps to your entire potential market for your product or service and then recruit several hundred people using advertising to participate in a survey that you host on your website. 

This is super nerdy but I’d be more than happy to show you how to do it. Just reach out to @brandishinsight in a tweet using the hashtag #audiencebasedpersonas

So you found some people willing to take your survey. What do you ask them in order to create useful personas? 

In his Think With Google Blog Post, Schema Strategy Founder, Santiago Castillo suggests a textbook set of questions and process for building personas with surveys:

Ask them about their job, their team, and their company.

Ask them about their personalities, professional ambitions, and what scares them. How will they get a raise or what would they have to do to get fired?

Ask them about their typical day at work and what occupies their time and minds.

Lastly, ask them how products or services in your category could help make their life better and what problems brands like your might be able to help them solve. 

After you’ve collected your responses, analyze the data to look for patterns. Consumers who answer questions similarly will stand out in clusters and can be assigned to their respective persona type.

There isn’t a set limit to how many personas you can create and larger organizations can often have a handful of personas in each of countless divisions.

That said, one-to-five personas are typically the most useful for teams of a given product or brand.

Once you have your data and decided on how many personas you have, then it’s time to create your actual persona deliverable. 

Have your designer Google the many different types of “baseball-card” like designs out there and create a layout that best suits your company, brand, and your persona details.

Include insights from the customer’s journey which are all the the major points where your brand could interact with each persona.

Really think and empathize with their motivations and fears at each stage. Include these details in your persona document and how your brand will help them, too. 

Lastly, create a formal communications plan to roll out your personas. Make sure you involve cross-functional team members to get the whole company on board and then ask your leadership team to help lead the rollout and communicate the importance of the personas company-wide.

If your personas are successful, you’ll be able to create products, services, content and advertising that helps people solve their problems at each step of their journey in a way that matters to them on a real and meaningful level.

Personas can help companies get here but it does take effort.

If you succeed, you’ll move from annoying consumers by trying to personalize your marketing efforts to making your marketing more personable..

This is how marketers can make consumers feel like people and coincidentally, how you can build a market-leading brand.

And that’s … how you can fix marketing. We’ll see you next time.

Author: Josh Braaten

CEO - Brandish Insights

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