The customer persona: When to use it and when not

One of the hot emerging tools in the marketing world is the concept of the persona.  The idea behind a persona is to take a clearly definable segment of your customer base and invent a prototypical member of that segment.  You detail that member in quite a bit of depth.  (“Here is Roger.  He’s 27 years old and has an IT degree from San Jose State.”)  Your persona should contain the key information about what drives purchase decisions.  These data include:

  • Roger’s key motivators at work
  • His key objectives
  • His important worries
  • His connection to the budgeting process
  • And the like.

You write it all up in a crisp document – some people include a picture – and circulate it for everyone in your organization to see, so that they know what this meaningful segment of our customer base looks like.

Do bear in mind that Roger is not a real person.  I didn’t find a customer and detail him.  What I did was use my knowledge of many customers in this segment to create a composite who was the most accurate representation of what is typical among this segment.  Your persona should not be an outlier on any meaningful quality of the segment.  If the majority of your buyers in this segment have MBAs, then give Roger an MBA.  If the majority are male, make Roger male.

Also note that personas need to be fact-based.  You need to take genuine knowledge of the customer and use it to answer these questions.  If you don’t have genuine knowledge (and if the questions matter), then go get it.  Otherwise you’re not disseminating customer knowledge, you’re just engaged in MSU.

MSU = Making Shit Up

Some people are persona die-hards.  Many people never use them.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  I believe the extent and nature of my use of personae is directly connected to the needs of my company.

When to use personae

  • When you have clearly defined segments that differ from each other in meaningful, actionable ways.
  • When you have enough facts at your disposal to be confident that your personae are accurate.
  • When this knowledge is not already ubiquitous or second nature to a large number of people in the organization.
  • When more compelling facts are not available to govern your decision making instead.
  • When the company is positioned to take advantage of increased customer understanding.

And of course you wouldn’t use them when circumstances are more or less the opposite.  To wit,

When not to use personae

  • When you don’t really understand who your target customers are.  Under these circumstances personae can make speculation into gospel and stifle learning and innovation.
  • When you lack a relatively small number of clearly defined segments who would warrant changes in your approach to them.  If there’s only one meaningful segment (as I once read is true of premium wine buyers), then the persona is less important.
  • When everyone in the organization already has a deep appreciation for the facts that govern purchasing behavior among your customers.  In this case personae can just turn into busy work,
  • When more indicative data (such as metrics and statistical behaviors) are available to drive decision making instead.  Many e-commerce businesses, for example, have clear factual understanding of how consumers behave in different circumstances.  This knowledge is more compelling in making appropriate decisions than a persona would be.
  • When the company can’t apply them.  Sometimes it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.  Or the high priority initiatives are so crystal clear that your actual behavior won’t change based on personae.  In this case they again turn into a distraction from the real goals and are best omitted until you have a chance to use them properly.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>