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Customer Personas: Practical or Pointless?

Jul 19, 2023Campaigns, Content Creation, Copywriting, Email Marketing, Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized

Customer personas have been a valuable marketing tool since developer Alan Cooper came up with the idea in 1983. He used data from specific users—aka personas—to design software interfaces for user segments. Over time, other industries adopted the idea of personas as a way to represent audience segments. Fast forward to today, and personas have become so rote—at least in marketing—that some people are saying they’re over it.

What Are Customer Personas?

Back up a minute! Before we debate the merits of personas, let’s talk about what they are. A customer persona, also called a buyer persona, is a data-centric profile of a singular person who represents a segment of your audience. Almost all personas include basic demographics like age, gender, geographic location, income, etc.

Beyond that, companies select which data to include based on their industry and offerings. A pool service company might include the persona’s comfort level monitoring their pool chemicals. A stock broker might include the persona’s risk aversion or affinity. Marketers often include things like the social media platforms they might use or if they are a decisionmaker in their company.

You Can’t Rely on Quantitative Data Alone

Part of the issue with personas is that you have to build them effectively with accurate data. Fortunately, businesses now have access to large amounts of information. “Big data” refers to massive databases of user analytics, like the data you can access by advertising on social media channels.

But basic demographics aren’t enough to accurately represent a segment of your audience. I mean, take a look at this meme if you need convincing that quantitative data is potentially unhelpful:

meme about customer personas

Courtesy of The Marketing Millennials

The key here is the last line of the meme. The persona means nothing unless you include a person’s behaviors, preferences, and pain points. You must take qualitative data into consideration to get a complete picture of your audience segment.

Today’s digital environment provides access to real time behavioral data. Not to mention that customers’ diverse interests and preferences may be clearer when they feel like no one is looking! Marketers can get a broader understanding of our audience than ever before—thanks again to readily available Big Data. By combining qualitative and quantitative data, we’re poised for success.

How Do You Use Customer Personas?

But how do we use personas successfully? Once you’ve built each persona, the real work begins. The main idea here, at least in marketing, is to treat the persona like a real person and then create strategic content for that specific person. This segmentation of your audience allows you to reach people more effectively based on their preferences. When you “speak their language,” you’re much more likely to engage your audience.

When done right, using personas to develop content for your segments can result in communications that feel personal to them. And consumers engage most with brands who give them custom experiences. Personas are the best way to give a custom-feeling experience to a larger group of people without personalizing it one-to-one. This saves you time—and money.

Some companies post up their personas on the wall so that everyone can see them and reference them. They’re reminders of who the audience is and what each segment needs to hear from the brand. Other companies pay a lot of money for a consultant to create personas for them—and then never look at them again. Obviously, the first example is a better use of the hard work and research that goes into developing customer personas.

Persona creation isn’t a one-and-done kind of process, though. Your strategy should allow for consistently updating your personas based on real-time data. That way, your messaging remains relevant and reflective of your audience’s evolving characteristics.

Final Answer: Personas Are Practical

When developed correctly, personas can be a hugely beneficial part of your marketing strategy. But like everything, they have to be done well AND you have to actually use them!

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