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The power and plight of personas

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Human identity has always been a fluid and complex commodity, but never more so than in the age of technology which allows for digital connectedness and extreme mobility. Businesses face an uphill battle when it comes to accurately reflecting target audiences within marketing objectives. And, when created without a combination of data and qualitative research, personas can be overgeneralized and inaccurate. 

Finding, and building, a loyal customer base is a formidable challenge for organizations. Brands must strive to think beyond consumers in clusters and groups, and do their best to embrace them in all their uniqueness while demonstrating a real connection.

The power of accurate personas

Personas can provide a scalable and useful guide for brands to pinpoint, understand, and create personalized products and services that appeal to the thoughts, feelings and motivators of their core customer segments. Brands that get it right will certainly benefit. In fact, research shows personalization can increase loyalty,  reduce customer acquisition costs by up to 50%, increase revenue by up to 15%, and boost marketing spend efficiency by up to 30%.

The plight of personas

While ideal, the construction of personas can too often be imperfect and overgeneralized. They might be built based solely from primary survey research, created from enterprise data by exploring sales data and shopping patterns, or even in analyzing online behavioral data. When all of these inputs are not strategically integrated, a brand may be building personas with only a piece of the puzzle. Even worse, they might be banking on erroneous compasses that steer brands away from providing the true products, experiences, or services that customers desire.  

The right recipe for creating accurate personas

So, we know personas are a helpful tool for marketers when done well, the question then becomes: what should brands be doing to ensure they are diversifying their personas to create stronger connections with customers? Below are three tips for brands to build more accurate personas and stronger customer connections to set themselves up for mutual gain:

  1. Create a right connection for understanding: Business leaders can better internalize learning by putting themselves in their customer’s shoes. This builds empathy and understanding about the customers’ motivations and needs. It also promotes a foundation of connections and deepens a reciprocal understanding with customer segments that are beyond the stereotypical personas. Brands looking for loyal customers (and every brand is) need to embrace the customer as an individual who has their own expectations and purchasing motivations. Companies would do well to move past placing customers into “buckets” and groups and presenting offers that aren’t contextually relevant to the individual.

There are material benefits for brands that cater to investing in understanding the customer journey first-hand before building personas. How does the customer move from considering the brand to making an actual purchase? What tools do they use through the decision-making process? What touchpoints matter most to them? What incentives are likely to make them return and continue to do so? Answering these questions requires brands to invest in research, thereby giving them actionable context about what customers want...and their journey to getting there.

  1. Collect and use the right data: Building accurate personas requires multiple research methodologies working in tandem. This involves brands blending what customers ‘say’ they do (via asking them through surveys and online research communities), with what they ‘actually’ do (through permissible behavioral data).

Brands can also improve engagement by building and encouraging co-creation. A classic example of the benefits of co-creation can be found with Lego, a company that encourages people to become Lego engineers. Customers are given the chance to submit building ideas to fellow fans, and an internal review board determines if the builder’s proposed idea should move into production. Using co-creation techniques creates connection and can also provide brands with invaluable data to help craft personas to guide meaningful products and services. This methodology is used by multiple brands, including toolmaker DeWalt that offers a user community for product development and refinements.  Such engagements give brands a deeper understanding of their customer’s motivations, which should then inform the brand’s subsequent messaging and content.

Another powerful example to consider is Starbucks’ usage of permissible data. The coffee giant captures data from its database of 20 million loyalty program members every month. The firm’s loyalty program is so successful, it serves as a model for countless other brands. The company utilizes their loyalty program data to better understand their customer behaviors as well as identify areas for expansion.

  1. Be cognizant of current events and strategic in timing: In addition to getting to know targets through more accurate personas, deploying the right message or the right offer at the right time can provide critical triggers to prompt consumer action. While personas can be a good indicator of customer behaviors and motivators, it is also important to consider what environmental factors weigh into their decision-making process.

Starbucks represents a “master class” in offer presentation. The brand uses algorithms to present millions of different offers every week, designed for cross-selling, upselling, and encouraging users to purchase from other categories (muffins, seasonal offerings, etc.). The loyalty app shows users’ their rewards status in real time along with their unique offers which can come through push notifications. The company attributes a significant portion of sales to timely promotions.

Creating long-term, meaningful relationships 

Brands that want to truly understand and resonate with their customers can no longer rely on simple ask-answer data to build accurate personas. Knowing the audience’s age, typical purchasing habits and gender might serve some purpose, but they don’t scratch the surface when it comes to digging into customers’ true motivations and behaviors. By blending primary research and online behavioral data brands can create meaningful personas to better understand their customers, treat them as individuals, and present them with timely personalized offers. Doing all of this allows brands to engage and maintain a long-term meaningful relationships with their customers.  

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