Persona non grata: Five marketing personas pitfalls to avoid

 Persona non grata: Five pitfalls to marketing personas and how to avoid them

Most marketers are no strangers to the idea of applying “personas” to their customer segments in order to deliver more relevant, personalized messages that can drive improved engagement and response. While personas can create huge advantages in the efficiency and effectiveness of the marketing message, many companies still struggle to unlock the value of their persona-based campaigns. Here are five top reasons why personas fail and steps you can take to avoid them:

  1. Motivation: An effective persona needs to provide a platform for a distinct and personalized narrative. This goes beyond basing a message on a customer’s demographics (“who” they are) to answering “why” they are motivated to purchase. Motivation-based personas for HomeDepot might include “homeowner who wants to do a small home projects,” or “family undertaking a major home project,” or “contractor who needs supplies early in the morning.” 

Next Steps: To get to the “why,” use the “jobs to be done” framework of user-centered design: “As a [persona], I want to [perform a task], so I can [fulfill a user need]. Example: “As a homeowner, I want to add a bathroom to my home, so I can increase its resale value.” Define a list of the top reasons why customers buy your product or service and prioritize these based on your offerings and market potential. Integrate these “why” statements with your existing personas.

  1. Matching: The next pitfall is the failure to validate the needs of actual customers and aligning those needs with specific personas. One of my past clients, a for-profit university, asked their sales agents to validate its personas based on verbal customer response on the first call. Since not all prospects speak with agents and not all agents effectively capture the true motivation, this approach was an unreliable way to confirm the university’s assumptions about its users. In this case, the University added the motivation-based question on their introductory prospect email, increasing capture, accuracy, and funnel conversion.

Next Steps: If you don’t match at least 75 percent of prospects with a persona, there’s an opportunity to rethink the capture process. Don’t be afraid to ask the prospect directly.  Heavy users of look-alike models should consistently test and refine the model’s accuracy. 

  1. Message: Many companies can barely handle the content and copy for one messaging narrative, so creating 4-5 persona-specific narratives is a huge challenge for content and creative teams. Most put forth a mediocre effort, tailoring a few images and copy lines within core templates.     

Next Steps: Go back to the customer motivation and the shared value. Position the message to fulfill the motivation: “Why do I need this product?”  For the university mentioned earlier, it was to advance a career, remain qualified in a career, change a career, and for self-fulfillment. Now wrap that motivation with shared values and benefits (e.g. price, convenience, quality, social responsibility, etc.) when coming up with messaging.

  1. Medium: One of the most valuable insights into a persona is learning where and when they are open to considering your product. Alas, many persona engagement models focus on display advertising and email, missing phone, social media and other channels to best match the persona’s purchase and repurchase consideration process.

Next Steps: Expand your current message narrative into a “choose your own adventure” journey across several channels, including phone, email, web, social and paid media. Map out each channel along the purchase journey, the required actions, messaging, and frequency. The goal is a more natural and compelling experience, rather than just increasing the volume of channels and messages.

  1. Measure: Dive deep into the rich tapestry of user behaviors to get a clear picture of your customers and personas they are aligned to. Collecting and analyzing data for comprehension involves effort, but it’s time well spent. 

Next Steps: Set your expectations on the value and frequency of persona-based reporting. Depending on the required effort and pace of change, select a monthly or quarterly frequency to report and discuss persona-based measures.  One caveat: More frequent reporting is required wherever personas are used to allocate paid media and content development resources.

Adopting personas is a terrific way to better connect with your customers on their purchase motivations and sources of shared value. But realizing the value from your investment takes time and careful management of these five pitfalls.