The Many Faces of Your Customers
Americans who use storage spaces are just random citizens who want to dump spare junk somewhere and forget it, right? Wrong, says Jennifer Stamper, the interactive marketing manager at Salt Lake City-based Extra Space Storage (ESS).
There are four kinds of storage space users.
First, there’s tall, dark and handsome Disney character “Gaston.” He’s a logical, fast-paced reserved-space holder who is competitive, direct and goal-oriented.
“Will Ferrell” is spontaneous about getting his spot. He’s fast, emotional and lives in the moment, so Stamper
can persuade him with a good deal or a promotion.
Logical “Mr. Spock” takes his time and is methodical about making his storage space decision.
Then there’s “Mother Teresa,” who is slow like Spock, but is humanistic and emotional, which means ESS customer reviews may sway her.
These personas were the thrust of the ESS content marketing effort Stamper helped begin in October 2013 by hiring Redwood City, Calif.-based StrongView. The vendor, which has since merged with Belgium-based Selligent, built the ESS mobile site and helped optimize the email program.
The emails with the four personas created by Melissa Burdon, ESS marketing optimization director, were converting 50 percent more customers by April 2014 than they had the year before with the non-persona messaging.
That brand perspective demonstrates what HubSpot asserts: That marketers need personas because they help brands find where their best customers are and target them with relevant content, as well as helping guide product and service development so marketers can help customers “reach their goals and overcome their challenges.”
Target Marketing reached out to brands including ESS, vendors and consultants who all said the same thing — using personas aids in marketing efforts.
Stamper says the persona-based messaging is helping ESS continue to convert the Gastons, Ferrells, Spocks and Mother Teresas of the United States.
“The personas have helped us remain agile and speak to all different personality types and drive different purchasing behaviors while having one experience,” she says. “When we build out our pages and emails, we make sure we have specific elements that speak to each of the different personas in our sales funnel, because we know each persona will have different drivers for converting. We work to create these unique experiences in one so we’re giving each persona the ideal purchasing experience for them.”
“We took behavioral data and cross-tabbed it with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator to identify four distinct personas that represent our different customers,” Stamper says.
She explains that ESS used vendors to help create the personas and deploy the content marketing.
That’s where the agreement about how to create personas ends.
The thought leaders Target Marketing contacted for this cover story agree that personas are essential to marketing, but their opinions about the necessary level of human involvement in interpreting the data vary widely.
“The most important comment on personas is that marketers should not fall in love with them,” says Richard H. Levey, a New York-based trade writer. “Personas can be great internal shorthand for initial attempts at addressing groups of consumers, but there’s a very real risk of a marketer getting so wrapped up in what the models show characteristics should be that the marketer ends up ignoring expressed consumer behavior or preferences.”
However, Chris Wareham, senior director of product management at Adobe Analytics, thinks machine-learning can get it right. Marketers just have to use the tool correctly.
“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.
“For example,” he continues, “our ‘Hispanicity CultureCode HA2’ is what we also refer to as ‘Nueva Latina,’ representing a person of Hispanic origin who was born in the U.S. and is generally the second or third generation of their family. This person still identifies with Hispanic culture, but is English-dominant (speaking some English but not fluent). Marketers can still utilize Hispanic cultural cues (such as values, holidays, imagery, art) even if consumers communicate primarily in the English language. If they want to further understand socioeconomics, lifestyle, buying behavior and media consumption, we can drill down further into the data to reveal those characteristics.”
How Well Are Marketers Using Personas?
As specific as Melgoza gets about the data he provides to clients, he notices most marketers don’t take advantage of that type of insight — or even half of it.
Most personas are “passive descriptions” of a brand’s customers that help marketers guide creative development, but aren’t based on data.
“They have a weak foundation and are not grounded in truth,” Melgoza says.
Bobowski thinks marketers should get even more specific about their data than “Hispanicity CultureCode HA2.”
“If we’re really to do great things with the personas we create, it’s imperative we look at things from an account level,” Bobowski says, “drawing on the behavioral data our marketing automation systems afford us to deliver personalized, well-timed experiences based on contacts’ specific roles in accounts and respective stages in the buying cycle.”
Foster says personas should help marketers understand customers better so that they can help more, which will result in conversions and sales.
“Persona development is simply a marketing tactic to try and get the most relevant messaging, timing, offer, imagery, etc. to the users,” he says. “With the advent of marketing automation and drip campaigns, dynamic Web banner ads and changeable Web text, cross-platform messaging, etc., it opens up an imaginative and exciting time for marketers who enjoy testing how well they think they know the personalities of their customers.”
So don’t just dump personas on customers like belongings in a storage space and not revisit them. After all, new data comes in all of the time and can change predictive models which should, therefore, change personas.
“These days,” says Melgoza, “[it’s] all about growth and all about data-driven decision-making.”
Related story: The Persona Path Starts With Segments