The Persona Building Game - Why Traditional Marketers Are Losing | DMA

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The Persona Building Game - Why Traditional Marketers Are Losing


Experienced marketers all know what a persona is and generally, why and how we go about creating them. But more often than not, that process is flawed and ultimately useless when it comes to properly creating personas in the digital age.

What is a persona?

A persona is a representation of a target customer, typically based on real consumer insights and built using research into user demographics, goals, needs, and interests. These fictional characters are then used as a model to target marketing strategies and even UX design.

Personas are a great way to get an idea of who a brand’s target audience is, how you should go about marketing to them and how you are designing for them. However, in the ever-evolving digital age - where digital infiltrates every part of our daily lives - marketers need to change their way of thinking when it comes to every part of the persona process. This means changing the way we as marketers research personas, how we categories them and ultimately, how we design for them and market to them.

The Biggest Mistakes Marketers Make When Building Personas

The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one. The biggest mistake that brands make in tackling persona-building is failing to evolve their thinking - if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it…right?

1. The biggest barrier to success in creating successful personas is a failure to change. This is most often due to senior marketers who are stuck in a time warp.

Marketers - especially those at the c-suite - need to start fundamentally changing they way they approach the way they research consumers and how they build strategies to market for them.

One brand getting it right is The Clorox Company, whose CMO Eric Reynolds told Forbes exactly why they needed to change their thinking to keep up in the digital world:

“It’s even more critical now that we are no longer “mass marketers” that on a meta level we communicate meaningful, relevant stories about our brands to consumers. This led us to revisit how we were organized in marketing, what our roles are and how we can work in new ways to optimize and thrive in this brave new world.”

2. Marketers focus on the wrong data.

Brands spend millions of pounds researching their current and potential customers in order to create a segment of the consumer population that best fits their ‘target persona’. This sounds like a brilliant strategy, but marketers tend to focus on the wrong data. If you target customers based solely on demographics, income and the socio-economic demographic of your sales history, you begin to lose sight of the fact that similar people buy the same thing - but for wildly different reasons.

By researching personas based purely on demographics and numbers, your marketing department will naturally segment consumers into categories that may look good on paper, but in reality, aren’t very effective. What is missing here are the individual motivators to purchase, consumer emotions and buying habits - the things that really matter when it comes to pleasing current customers and attracting new ones.

3. Marketers are asking the wrong questions.

Building personas and defining a brand’s target consumers has become far too much of a tick-box exercise. Where do you live? How old are you? What is your household income?

We can segment consumers until we are blue in the face, but none of that will be any good until marketers start asking the really important question…. Why?! Why do consumers do what they do?

Instead of categorising personas based on demographics and data, why not segment them based on their motivations, their personalities and their emotional motivators? This is a far more successful way to market, especially when you consider that emotion trumps logic every time when it comes to purchasing.

4. Marketers are too focused on the user.

Consumers are emotional and irrational human beings - not faceless users and numbers. So marketers need to start thinking of consumers as humans, not the results of market research, and highlight the emotional drivers at play.

The sooner you can change the way your brand starts thinking about consumers, the sooner you can start effectively marketing to them and design for them.

5. Marketers take emotion out of the equation.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make when segmenting consumers is forgetting to put consumer emotions into context. They forget about a consumer’s values, motives, and behaviours in terms of contextual processes, emotional processes and rational processes.

They forget that consumers can have fundamentally different motives within one segment of a target audience.

For example, a major UK property company had previously segmented first time home buyers and first time renters into the same category simply because they have the same demographics. But after changing the way they thought about consumers - by thinking about their emotions and motivators throughout the customer journey - the same property company saw that the intrinsic motivations of first time home buyers were entirely different than first time renters. That company immediately changed the way they categorized their consumers, how they built their personas and the messaging followed suit.

So, now what?

As marketers, the best thing we can do for our brands is to step out of the box and stop relying on old models. Remember that consumers aren’t as predictable as we used to think - they are sophisticated, emotionally-driven individuals who will be loyal to the brands who start treating them as such.

There are a range of emotional drivers at play, so in order to stay in the game - start including research into psychology and emotions into your persona-building exercise and marketing strategy.

Neuromarketing provides fantastic tools to start changing your brand’s persona-building model and marketing strategy, so either educate your marketing team on how to use neuromarketing principles or hire an agency who specialises in it.

Trust us, the brands with a better understanding of human behaviour are the brands that are currently and will continue to lead their industries.

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