- A persona is a fictitious person we use to represent a larger audience.
- Personas make up the second actionable component of Iterative Marketing.
- When a persona is documented, it creates shared vocabulary among multiple departments in the organization and with external vendors.
- Organizations can target multiple personas with the goal of corresponding each piece of marketing collateral to one of those personas.
Charity of the Week:
REINS Therapeutic Horsemanship Program
Six Actionable Components are the actions we take as marketers to implement Iterative Marketing. They don’t have to be implemented all at once. They are:
- Brand Discovery: Uncover how your buying audience feels about your product or service and how they rationalize the decision to buy.
- Persona Discovery: Document the individuals involved in the buying process in a way that allows us to empathize with them in a consistent way.
- Journey Mapping: Plot the stages and paths of the persona lifecycle, documenting each persona’s unique state of mind, needs and concerns at each stage.
- Channel and Content Alignment: Align every piece of content and marketing channel/activity to a primary persona and primary marketing stage, identifying new channels and content needs where opportunities exist.
- Experimentation and Optimization: Conduct thoughtful experiments designed to produce statistically significant business insights and apply the results to optimize performance.
- Reporting and Feedback: Report and review data and insights to drive decisions in content and strategy, as well as information to be used by the organization as a whole.
We hope you want to join us on our journey. Find us on IterativeMarketing.net, the hub for the methodology and community. Email us at [email protected], follow us on twitter at @iter8ive or join The Iterative Marketing Community LinkedIn group.
The Iterative Marketing Podcast is a production of Brilliant Metrics, a consultancy helping brands and agencies rid the world of marketing waste.
Producer: Heather Ohlman
Transcription: Emily Bechtel
Music: SeaStock Audio
Onward and upward
Steve Robinson: Hello, Iterative Marketers! Welcome to the Iterative Marketing Podcast, where each week, we give marketers and entrepreneurs actionable ideas, techniques and examples to improve your marketing results. If you want notes and links to the resources discussed on the show, sign up to get them emailed to you each week at iterativemarketing.net. There, you’ll also find the Iterative Marketing blog and our community LinkedIn group, where you can share ideas and ask questions of your fellow iterative marketers. Now let’s dive into the show!
Welcome to the Iterative Marketing Podcast, I’m your host, Steve Robinson, and with me as always is Elizabeth Earin. Elizabeth, how are you doing today?
Elizabeth Earin: I’m good. How are you Steve?
Steve Robinson: I’m doing great. So, today the topic for our podcast is personas. I think we should probably start out with a definition. What do you think?
Elizabeth Earin: I think that’s always a good place to start.
Steve Robinson: Not everybody uses personas exactly the same way. So when we talk about personas, we’re really talking about a fictitious person that we use to hold up to represent a larger audience. So when we, as marketers, have to segment our audience, one of the ways we can do that is to segment that around shared understandings, shared world views, shared understanding of the world, so shared experiences that our audience members may hold. And when we do that, we create a persona to represent that group of people, and it’s one individual person that we can keep top of mind as we do our work. Is that a fair definition?
Elizabeth Earin: It is, it is. And I think it’s important to note that this is very important to the Iterative Marketing methodology. And actually, this makes up the second actionable component which is persona discovery.
Steve Robinson: What would you say the biggest benefit of having solid personas is?
Elizabeth Earin: I don’t know if I could pick the biggest benefit. I think…
Steve Robinson: Why don’t we both come up with two? How does that sound?
Elizabeth Earin: Okay, that sounds great then. I think it has to start with shared vocabulary that builds consensus in the organization and with external vendors. And it’s nice because it allows personas to be — let me back up. I think that a lot of people think that personas are a marketing tool, but it extends way beyond that, and that’s where it really ties into becoming a tool that the entire organization and your external vendors can all use. When you document and you communicate that persona, you’re creating a shared vocabulary within your organization and it’s a lot easier to get on the same page about an operational change or a marketing initiative when everyone involved in the discussion is visualizing the same person.
Steve Robinson: And so is that both external vendors and different departments within the organization?
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah definitely, definitely. I think it’s a great example of how that works is if you’re working with an outside agency. Yes, within the organization, you’re working with your customers each and every day so you have a very clear vision, but your agency or creative agency may not have that same insight. And so documenting and sharing that persona with them gives them the ability to visualize who it is that they’re creating the creative for and writing marketing messages for and placing advertising for. So just all things to help ensure that you guys are on the same page.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, I think you touched on a great point about helping that agency better understand who it is that the collateral or creative or the media should be focused at, because when I think about the benefits of personas, the first thing that comes to my mind is that sharpened focus, the ability to take and use the attributes of that persona to better understand who you’re going to target an individual piece of collateral at, who you’re trying to reach with a given media channel. You can sort of do that with the target audience, but the big difference here is the ability to empathize or almost stand in the shoes of the audience that you’re trying to represent as you’re focusing and targeting your media.
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think it helps combat this impression out there that creating a persona really limits your potential audience. But in reality, like you said, you’re sharpening your marketing focus. And when you develop that persona, you are giving yourself and the rest of the people in your organization a tool that allows you to focus on the customer most likely to buy from you. Which, in turn, as you spoke to, helps to create marketing materials that speak to the direct needs which makes it more likely that they’re actually going to buy from you.
Steve Robinson: Once you have that focus in that segment — and you know, all the organizations we work with and here at Brilliant Metrics, too, we’ve got multiple personas that we target. It’s not just one. It’s several, but the goal is to get each piece of collateral you produce, each item you’re creating to correspond to one of those. And as you do that, you’re able to really empathize with that persona as either you as the creator is creating that collateral or as your agency or creative team or even as your media buying team is working to figure out where to buy and place media. They can step inside the head of the persona to make those decisions. And so, I think the key benefit of personas is to help facilitate those decisions. It’s to help make that decision-making easier because, now, you’re doing it from the standpoint of the persona, not from the standpoint of me, marketer, or me, media buyer, or me, creative, right?
Elizabeth Earin: And it makes me think of — I’ve told you this before, so this is not a shock to you, but I’m a bit of a Broadway fan. And one of my favorite shows is Will Rogers Follies. So I don’t know if Will Rogers actually said this or if it’s more of just something that was written into the script, but in that show, there is a quote that says ‘You must never judge a man when you’re facing him. You have to go around behind him and see what he’s looking at. Only then can you have an idea of who he is.” And that is what personas do for marketers. It gives us insight into where the persona is coming from, what’s motivating them and what’s frustrating them, so that we can put ourselves in their own shoes and truly understand.
Steve Robinson: And along with that understanding, allows us to personalize. It lets us create collateral that is uniquely tailored to a segment of our audience, because we know what their experiences are, we know what their impressions of the world are, how they think, how they feel, what they respond to, what their interests are. And so, we’re able to cater specifically to them. And if we align our audiences with our personas, now we’re able to introduce a much higher level of personalization.
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah, you’re exactly right. It really sets us up for personalization and marketing automation in the future. And with the personas acting more or less like a bucket to put your customers into, and now we just, like you said, have to figure out how that experience is going to differ from persona to persona.
Steve Robinson: I think we have talked a fair amount about definitions and benefits and before we get into, really, the actionable part of how do you go about creating these, how do you apply them, why don’t we take a moment and help some people?
Elizabeth Earin: Sounds good. Before we continue, I’d like to take a quick moment to ask you iterative marketers a small but meaningful favor. We don’t have sponsors for this podcast. Instead of asking you to get a free digital scale or enter some code for 10% off your website, we ask that you give a few dollars to a charity that’s important to one of our own. This week’s charitable cause was sent in by Ami Nishi of Oak Tree Events in Fallbrook, California. Amy asks that you make a contribution to REINS, a therapeutic riding program serving children and adults with disabilities. Your donation will go towards providing quality equine-assisted activities to nearly 200 children and adults dealing with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges, to find strength and independence through the power of the horse. Learn more at reinsprogram.org or visit the link in the show notes. If you would like to submit your cause for consideration for our next podcast, please visit iterativemarketing.net/podcast and click the “Share a Cause” button. We want to support what’s important to you.
And we’re back! Before the break, we had talked about what a persona is and why you should use it. And now we’re going to talk about how you can get started doing this. I think the best place to do that is to really define what your persona represents, if it’s business-to-business or it’s a business-to-consumer persona. Steve, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are the differences between a consumer focus or a business focus when you’re creating your personas.
Steve Robinson: I think there are really two key focuses. When you’re – or two key differences. When you’re creating a persona for a B2C environment where you’re really targeting consumers, you’re most concerned about that individual’s life and experiences and feelings and approach and affinities as it pertains to their life holistically. And you probably don’t care as much about what their job title is or where they work or their decision-making process at work, the size of company, etc. When you’re creating a B2B persona, that’s when those things come into play because the dynamics of the work relationship can make a big difference in, (a) the shared experience of that audience, because if you’re targeting middle-level managers in a certain department, they’re all going to have roughly similar career experiences to date and so those become part of the story, part of the narrative, and then also the decision-making process. The other thing that I found is particularly unique when you look at B2B audiences versus B2C audiences is how different personas share in the decision-making process. So in B2B, you usually have multiple stakeholders, you have one key decision maker and a number of influencers. And understanding the interplay between them to the point where we’ve had personas that actually referred to other personas names within the same document, and you don’t see that as much in the B2C side with the exception being some major considered purchases like cars and stuff, where you have maybe a husband and wife or maybe husband and wife and college student daughter all playing in the same decision.
Elizabeth Earin: So, I want to make sure I understand. The business-to-consumer isn’t necessarily taking in those workplace considerations, but does your business-to-business factor in more of your lifestyle choices? Because I know that my workday can be influenced by what my morning was like at home. So how does that get factored into the persona development?
Steve Robinson: I think you have to be a little bit careful that you don’t try to make too many generalizations about this given persona, because the key is what’s shared. And just because you happen to be a middle-level manager in a sales department doesn’t mean that you share a whole lot on the personal side. You have to give this person a gender, so you can make a generalization there, but beyond that, all different walks of life can end up in a given job. So here you’re looking at what is going to be shared. If I am in sales I have certain personality characteristics that make me successful in sales, so those are going to come out in the persona. And probably of a certain age if I am at a certain seniority level within that career track, so we can make some assumptions and fill out the narrative there, but when you get into what is my morning routine like, that’s kind of questionable. Am I a sports person? Maybe, maybe not. Am I athletic? Am I healthy? All of those sorts of things don’t really play as much on the B2B side, but they could very well on the B2C I would think.
Elizabeth Earin: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. All right. So now we’ve identified if we have a business-to-business or a business-to-consumer persona. The next step is starting our research. And so I think, really, the first thing to do is to get the right people in the room and identify who your best fit clients are. Not necessarily who your ideal clients are, but really taking a look at your current client roster and saying, “If I had two or three more of this exact client, I would be golden.” Those are really the people that you want to build your personas around.
Steve Robinson: Exactly. It’s not an aspirational sort of thing. Your persona shouldn’t be representing where you want to be or the type of client that you want to acquire because, (a), research will be really hard and, (b), you don’t know for a fact that those people resonate with your product line as it sits right now. So I think you make a great point. Now my question to you is: Once you’ve identified that, where do you go next? Where do you actually go to get this information for the research that you’re doing?
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah, and that’s exactly where the traditional research starts. And I know we’ve had a lot of luck, when we’ve built our personas, LinkedIn has been a phenomenal resource. It’s easy to find like-size companies, like-size positions and really get a feel for them. On the consumer side, Facebook is a really great place and even on the business side as well, but Facebook is another great resource. You can also take a look at your analytics straight from your website, what some of the basic demographic information of, again, your current customers and who’s coming to your site. And I think once you’ve compiled that information, you’ve got sort of a baseline. And now it’s time to go back and talk to either your customers that you’re interacting with yourselves, or if you’re not personally interacting with them, that’s a great time to get the sales team involved.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, sales team or customer service. Basically whoever is on that frontline that’s interacting with these customers day in day out. That’s who you want in the room as you’re starting to throw things against the wall to try and build this picture of this persona.
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah. And in some cases we’ve actually brought the sales team or customer service agents into our initial sort of audience definition meeting, and other times, we’ve kind of started with some key players and then put some things down on paper and then let them tear them apart, and honestly both have worked. I think it just kind of depends on your organization and how big of a structure you’ve got sort of built in there. Because I think one thing you do want to avoid is having too many people in the room when you start that process out.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, if it’s only a couple of people, it’s not a big deal. If you’ve got a whole lot, then that’s a different story. And I think what you talked about, having those key frontline people look at the persona to kind of test it, that’s kind of the first step. But there’s a lot of other ways you can go about testing your persona. You can actually show that persona back to the customers themselves and see how they react. Sometimes that can be a little bit dangerous, depending on how far you got into the psychographics of why they select your service, but it can be really helpful to get some of that first-hand feedback. And then the other thing that I think is really important is that you understand that this is not a fixed document. Once you create it, it’s not cast in stone. It’s something that is meant to be tested. It’s meant to be poked and prodded at and played with and updated and modified as you learn more, as you get to understand these characters better.
Elizabeth Earin: I think that’s a great point. I think, you know, another thing to sort of note on that is: As you’re doing your research and talking to the people that are interacting with your customers, there are going to be some gaps in what you’ve put together. And it’s important to fill those gaps in. And in some cases, you’re going to have to make some assumptions, and that’s okay, because, to your point, this is a living document. So as you move forward and as you get a chance to test these, either through split testing or through market research or focus groups or however it is that you are trying to figure out if this feels right to you, those are areas that you can test. But you said this the other day and I thought it was a really great point and I actually wrote it down, but you said, a complete picture that is inaccurate is better than an inaccurate picture.
Steve Robinson: Yeah, I think that it’s far better to be able to use a persona for what it’s good for, and that is really that empathy that — establishing that deep connection with your target audience that you are only able to do by jumping inside their heads. And in order to do that, you have to feel like there’s an actual person on the other side. If your persona is incomplete because you can’t fill in the gaps, then it becomes impossible for you to embody that other person as you’re making decisions. And so it’s far better to have a complete persona that allows you to embody them and make decisions than it is to have an incomplete one where it doesn’t serve its core purpose. You can always, as you, I guess, make a mistake here or there or as you experiment or test things, you’re going to learn more and you can fill in the gaps later. But if it’s not going to work out of the box, then it’s not worth the effort of putting it together.
Elizabeth Earin: So let me ask you, when it does come time to put that together, are there any best practices that our listeners can keep in mind when they’re creating their personas?
Steve Robinson: The biggest challenge that I’ve seen, and you can throw out what challenges or hiccups or gotchas you found, but the biggest one I found is: How do you decide where does one persona start, where does the next one begin? Where does one end and where does next one begin? How do you bucket your target audience? How many personas do you need? Do you need three and you’re fine with putting everybody in these three broad buckets or do you need fifteen and now we’re getting really narrow. And the best advice I have on that front is: Less is more. Start with fewer. It’s really easy to go and split one out later. It’s really hard to go and combine two later in the game. And so if you err on the side of fewer personas. What about you? Where would you find one of the biggest tips or gotchas or suggestions?
Elizabeth Earin: Yeah, before I touch on that, I think I just want to hit on something you said in that. And you said starting small, and that’s really staying true to the Iterative Marketing methodology. You do want to start small. And starting small keeps you from being overwhelmed, both in terms of set-up and implementation, and I know that when I’ve been on the front end, the starting point of an audience definition meeting and we had a client who we identified twenty personas in one meeting. And my heart definitely skipped a few beats when I thought about, goodness, implementing, researching and putting together and then implementing twenty personas can be overwhelming. So to your point, starting small I think is really important, and I think that leads into the next area where I often see clients getting hung up, and that is really dialing it in at the right altitude. Remember, persona should provide just enough information to put yourself in their shoes, but not so much that you start to exclude your audience. And you touched on this a little bit earlier, but you really want to avoid getting caught up in creating these true-life snapshots. If we start detailing what our personas are eating for breakfast or the fact that they have twelve cats, we’ve really nailed that niche so far that we’re not speaking to that broad representation of our target audience. We’re speaking to a very narrow focus, and now we’ve put ourselves in a position where we do need to create multiple personas.
Steve Robinson: However, you can take that too far, as well. And if you could swing that pendulum too far to the other side, you end up with a persona that doesn’t have enough background. It doesn’t have enough color. It’s not a character in a book that you feel like you can truly understand. It’s not someone you can empathize with. And so, it’s really important that you had enough of that color, the hometown, or the name of the fictitious company they work for or a little bit about age and where they went to school and what they studied and some of those details that do relate. And you can generalize based on the bucket that you’ve put together that do give you – do paint that full picture of that background, because not enough doesn’t allow you to really get inside their heads.
Elizabeth Earin: So, is there a way to go too far? I guess where I’m going with this is: Is how does the product or your service, your specific service, how does that factor into the persona?
Steve Robinson: A persona really is designed to give you a clear understanding of how that person thinks and feels. It’s not necessarily how they think and feel specifically about model number XY247. It’s really about how do they make decisions and what life experiences and what is their context and how is all that going to play into the creative that you’re creating and the media that you’re buying and your marketing messages, and how they’re going to be received. I think you have to be very careful when you start getting into the territory of, well, this particular persona is going to like these three models and they’re going to like this model for these features and benefit reasons. They are going to like this model for these feature and benefit reasons. I’ve seen entire personas filled up with a bunch of basically just bucketing people based on what they buy, which is not the objective.
Elizabeth Earin: Well I think that goes against the organization being able to use it as a whole. How can your product development team use it if you’ve targeted to products that are already there? It doesn’t really open up that conversation. Which I think that final last point, or not last point, but sort of last cautionary tale as you move forward is: Your persona is only as good as how often you use it. And it’s great that you put the work into it, but it’s not an exercise. It’s something you have to use continually moving forward. They can’t just sit in your desk drawer and collect dust. You have to share it and test it and update it. And if you do that, it’s going to become one of your most powerful tools.
Steve Robinson: I know you, Elizabeth, you have an entire wall of personas just taped up, because you’ve got to keep personas for every single one of our clients. But if it’s not in your face, it’s really hard to consistently refer back to and make sure that you’re taking the time to empathize with your personas.
I think we’re coming up to an end here, so before we wrap up though, next week, we’re going to be talking about customer journeys. And it would be really helpful, if you don’t have personas at this point, if you would go through the effort of just trying to put one together roughly. And there’s tons of examples on the web, if you Google “personas,” you’ll find lots of examples. I know we’re going to be publishing some in a week or two here as well, some more detailed how-tos, but in the meantime, it would be really beneficial if you did put together a persona before you refer to our next podcast, because there, we are going to be talking about the customer journey and it’s very closely related. And if you haven’t had a chance to create the persona, it’s going to be really hard to — it will be more challenging to follow along for the customer journey discussions.
Elizabeth Earin: I think that’s a great point, Steve. And I also think that that is a wrap for this week. I want to thank you guys for joining Steve and I on today’s episode of the Iterative Marketing Podcast. If you’re not already using personas, we hope that today gave you the inspiration to incorporate them into your strategy and drive your organization forward. And if you are using personas or just getting started, we’d love to hear about your successes and challenges. You can be part of the discussion by joining the Iterative Marketing community on LinkedIn or on Twitter @iter8ive. We also encourage you to join us on our journey by subscribing to our podcast through iterativemarketing.net or anywhere you find podcasts plus YouTube. Until next week…
Steve Robinson and Elizabeth Earin: Onward and upward!
The Iterative Marketing Podcast is a production of Brilliant Metrics, a consultancy helping brands and agencies rid the world of marketing waste. Our producer is Heather Ohlman with transcription assistance from Emily Bechtel. Our music is by SeaStock Audio, Music Production and Sound Design. You can check them out at seastockaudio.com. If you haven’t already be sure to subscribe to the podcast on YouTube on your favorite podcast directory. Visit iterativemarketing.net for more Iterative Marketing goodness. We will see you next week. Until then, onward and upward!
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