The Many Faces of Your Customers
“Broadly speaking, I think the state of the industry — when it comes to marketers creating personas — is that they guess,” Wareham says. “They guess what they think will work, or they guess what they think a certain persona will do and the business outcomes that could arise as a result. While there are very few who are using data science tools to make this better, the few that are can derive meaningful benefits from doing so.
“By leveraging machine learning,” he continues, “it’s possible to look across data sets to see what sorts of customer traits and behaviors result in certain types of favorable (or unfavorable) business outcomes. Rather than guessing that a particular landing page will work well for ‘outdoorsy males on the West Coast,’ you can run algorithms to find out which characteristics convert best for your highest margin products, or result in the highest lifetime value, or who most quickly takes down inventory that goes on clearance. It would be easy to guess incorrectly if you tried to do so by starting at the persona, as opposed to starting with the business outcome and letting the machine tell you which personas are doing what.”
ESS knew it wanted customers who’d reserved storage spaces to come move in, so the company designed personas around creating messaging that would get those groups to convert.
Kevin Bobowski, CMO of Act-On Software, makes it clear that the objective of its personas is to sell its solutions to clients and for clients paying for personas to succeed at selling their products and services.
“We go about building our personas in much the same way our users do at our instruction,” he says, “identifying, for a start, the distinct responsibility groups we intend to engage: coordinator, manager, executive. We then pose of every group the same series of questions, about their business backgrounds, their specific responsibilities, the challenges that keep them up at night, the solutions that allow them to be successful.
“From there,” Bobowski continues, “we’re able to build profiles of each potential buyer and tailor our messages accordingly. A coordinator on the hunt for technology, for instance, is likely to care primarily about a platform’s ease of use and speed; her manager, in turn, will want metrics to show to higher-ups; the C-suite, finally, will focus on the ROI, to validate the investment — crucial distinctions to consider if we’re to offer content that resonates in each role.”
So the messaging Act-On advocates addresses customer pain points.
“But for personas like these to go the distance,” he says, “it’s important for businesses to map out their buyer journeys.
“For us, this often unfolds in five stages: A buyer needs more sales-ready leads. She sets about searching for solutions. She compiles a shortlist of potential marketing automation vendors. She identifies the criteria that will help her prioritize one vendor above another. She decides finally on a platform and makes a purchase.
“Our content bends to a similar arc, accordingly,” Bobowski adds, “starting with social media and advertising that draws buyers in and speaks directly to their needs (sales-ready leads, say); salting landing pages with attractive, early stage content that a buyer might fill a form to receive; nurturing buyers now in the funnel with content that differentiates us from other vendors; providing pricing and spec sheets as their lead scores rise; finally, offering … training and loyalty material for on-boarding purposes.”
Christopher Foster, VP of business development at Carlsbad, Calif.-based Modern Postcard, speaks in the capacity of a B-to-B marketer here, rather than as a vendor.
“With the variety and complexity of our customer types (small businesses of all kinds, mid-market companies, national brands, a mix of B-to-B and B-to-C),” he says, “we’ve learned that our personas are more focused on what our customers value than who they are or what kind or size of business they’re in.
“We tried grouping them into classic personas like ‘The Small Business, Many-Hat-Wearer,’ represented by Jennifer, a 30- to 40-something small business owner who works with us as a partner,” Foster continues. “‘[She] wears many hats and has a part-time assistant to help. [She] relies on our expertise to help her create a mailing list.”
Another possibility he mentions is “The Millennial Marketer,” Juno, a younger-than-30 marketing manager, new to direct mail but a digital marketing native. Juno is at a mid-market brand and needs to learn the differences between digital marketing and direct mail, as well as the appropriate timing of sends and the strengths and weaknesses of direct mail.
“But, after learning more, we realized that it was a misnomer to group them into customer types,” Foster says. “They weren’t types, [they] were customers. So, now were looking at what they actually care about — turnaround time, quality, making it easy, a pro-active and consultative service, insights, list development and the like. This … helps inform our messaging and approach.”
In the era of Big Data, though, marketers who once had six to eight personas can now have hundreds and address customers “at a more individual level,” he says.
Levey says personas are more for marketers to understand their customers than they are for customers to feel truly understood through the attempt at general personalized messaging.
“Personas can be a tool for insights into how to address groups within batch-targeted marketing campaigns,” he says, “but once a prospect begins interacting with the marketers, the personas have to take a backseat to the individual.”
Consumers or, worse yet, customers, shouldn’t know about the personas, Levey says.
“If a consumer gets a sense that he or she is being looked at as an ‘S1,’ or an ‘INFJ,’ or a ‘Hermione,’ or whatever internal label the consumer falls into,” he explains, “the consumer may be turned-off at not being treated as an individual … even if, as an individual, that consumer exhibits 99 44/100ths of the traits of an ‘INFJ Hermione.’”
A similar segment name appears shortly.
Cesar Melgoza, CEO and founder of Geoscape, says his company offers custom and off-the-shelf customer segmentation
options to marketers who want to target Asian and Hispanic consumers.
“Within that framework, we utilize our proprietary data metrics referred to as CultureCodes,” he says. “Our segments are defined by an alphanumeric code, as well as names.
Related story: The Persona Path Starts With Segments