Few people know that the most impactful aspect of marketing is consumer behavior, and yes, it has a lot to do with psychology and sociology. I was fortunate to learn from Prof. Werner Kroeber-Riel who translated this behavioral approach from research to marketing practice. It was Kroeber-Riel who developed the key image of the green-sailed ship for Beck’s, and his laws of communication still apply today, even for B2B, and especially in online marketing.
Why is this important? Because personas have become really a thing in the last years, not only in digital marketing, and … mostly they’re setup ridiculously wrong. They pretend to make descriptive statements about buyers or users, but do not live up to this claim in the slightest. In this bad way, they ruin more than they are able to help.
Have you heard this before? “The buyer persona Max Doe prefers a certain amount of variety and becomes dissatisfied when being limited by restrictions. He prides himself as an independent thinker and does not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.” If this sounds familiar, if you think you’ve read it in the persona PDF from some well-paid external research guys, you might as well be right. But actually, this statement is well-known in the community as an example of the Barnum effect – the tendency to regard a personality description as accurate when it is given in generic terms. P.T. Barnum, the American showman, believed in his mission to “always have a little something for everybody”. The Barnum effect is widely used not only in horoscopes, but also in the majority of personality test … and in persona descriptions, and this is where it gets tricky, this is where it gets dangerous. Why is that? Because with inaccurate persona descriptions, you mislead your sales team or your agencies with bogus accuracy. Yes, I understand, it is well-intentioned to try to make the acting personas transparent, but if this transparency is based on wrong assumptions, then it is better not to publish any personas at all.
An example: a company hired a marketing consultancy to develop buyer personas. Instead of determining these quantitatively with the help of their vast amount of customer data, they preferred to quickly set up focus groups, a nicely entertaining show for middle management. The inglorious – I almost said “result” – was as many as 10 personas, which was even more bizarre considering that fewer than 30 people took part in the focus groups. So with the faulty personas begins a chain of wrong decisions about how the sales team should pitch, which channels to choose, about communications and campaigns, in the end even in terms of new product development. A nightmare, so please don’t mess around with your personas.
Fortunately, there are marketing-savvy companies that take things seriously and rely on experts. Here you will never read that “Beatrice, 49, procurement lead, 2 children, likes to watch crime series in her spare time”. Instead, in properly developed personas you will find solidly derived statements about which arguments to use to convince this kind of person, precisely because he or she has certain perception and decision-making habits. And in this way, reliable statements can also be made about which wording, which imagery, and even which presentation style this persona prefers.
Do you find something like this in your personas? If not, we should talk.
Aah, the good old times, when the boss simply decided the new product’s branding on his own, and all the employees in the office and out in the field would simply follow like happy sheep. These times are over, and if you’re honest with yourself, these times weren’t good at all. Because in reality, not everyone followed, maybe not even the majority, and the rest would mock about the boss’s incompetence to harness the great experience of the staff to find a better solution.
After the rise of stakeholder management in IT, this discipline was discovered to work perfectly any other important strategic decision – especially when marketing and sales are involved.
How does stakeholder management work? You hire a guy like me, hand me key information about the issue and a list of colleagues, and I would interview every single one of them, one on one. With every interview, more puzzle pieces are added, people would share their ideas, their concerns, and maybe give some hints who else has to be interviewed.
This approach is imho much more effective than a workshop. In a workshop, the extroverted colleagues always (yes, always) lead the word, and the more silent, but often savvier colleagues step back. A workshop sometimes leads to unproductive alpha male battles, and, speaking of unproductive, it’s a horribly big investment in the company’s expensive work time. Yes, sorry, it is unproductive, as only one of the five or fifty participants can talk, and the others have to listen. And we’re not even talking of the difficulty of find a suitable time for everyone, and finally the most valued contributors would cancel, or they would just walk out to pick that call at the most important moment of the workshop.
Stakeholder interviews can be conducted via conference call, and it’s not only a gold mine for good ideas. The best side effect is that by contributing, the participants automatically turn into supporters of the solution that is presented to them at the end of the process. And don’t be scared that listening to your employees would only create a crazy chaotic cacophonia – you will be surprised that all the puzzle pieces can be put together perfectly. Why is that? Because your employers are a target group as well – and maybe your most important. Your employers not only mirror your market in a way, they also are your most effective multipliers. So get this right, and let them talk!
Let’s make an easy statement: usually target group descriptions are as worthless as the whole briefing template that your agency just sent to your overstressed product manager. Usually no one has really an idea who and where the target group is, they would just repeat what they always assume. Stop that! Everyone in your marketing team, every sales rep, everyone who has contact with the customer (existing, past or future), everyone needs to understand, needs to feel the customer’s personality, what he likes, how he thinks, what he does. To fully understand the customer, I will provide this transparency to you and all of your team – like I did it for Vodafone, where everyone from C-level down to customer care was involved in the process.
What is a bad target group description? “Students” for example is not suitable. Everyone who set their feet on university ground does know that there is no typical student – you have those that eagerly learn by heart, you have the promiscuous party people, you have the early entrepreneurs and so on, and maybe they would sit together in the seminar, but they would not be likely to share their preferences for food, activities, or brands.
That’s why any segmentation by age and gender is not helping, it is only limiting. Yes, it would needlessly cut off possible future customers from the process – don’t make it unnecessarily hard for your marketing and sales guys to attract new customers!
A good target group definition focuses primarily on their perception and decision-making habits, and if this sounds like too much psychology for you … then you’re right – but don’t worry, we will skip all the theory part when presenting to your sales guys – they will see all their prejudices about their customers confirmed and learn some new ones as well.
And if you think that something like innovation leadership is a proper positioning, I will convince you in the most polite way that you’re wrong.
Positioning a brand, a product, or a service as the one with the lowest price in the market will backfire on you if the competitors come up with a cheaper solution – and they will, as technology keeps evolving. Yes, you may use the low price as a sales argument, but it will not give your offer a personality, and without this you event don’t have to start to setup any communication. And yes, the product will not sell by itself, you will need to talk about it on your website, you need to train your sales team, and also your social media guys would probably need to know what to say, to whom, with which kind of tonality, and which pictures would fit. All these questions are answered by a proper positioning.
But isn’t “innovation leader” a proper positioning? No, it cannot be. Imagine a positioning literally. It’s a position your offer keeps on a map. With maybe two dimensions, it has an x position and a y position. Your brand (your product or whatever you offer) needs to find free position that is not taken by another brand within these two dimensions. If you choose “innovative” as one of them, it will be crowded there, because in the age of digitization, globalization and ubiquity, you will find no brand that wouldn’t claim its ability to innovate. So, positioning on innovation is just a sham positioning.
But … there is still the other axis! Why can’t I put “innovation” on the one axis, and something that would differentiate more on the other? Of course, you absolutely should use something particular on your second shot, but then … wouldn’t you rather double your chances and put something that’s really characteristic on BOTH axis?
Ok, did I convince you that you need to find out what’s characteristic for your offer? This evaluation is an important part of my work. If you seek for a positioning of a new offer, I will investigate what your brand stands for, what we could derive for the new service or product. I will also talk with all stakeholders in your company and study what your competition stands for. Combining all sources will also benefit you with an outlook on how this landscape could change in the future – as a positioning has to be forward-looking.
In my more than 15 years of work, I setup and refined my own positioning model that was used by renown brands like Vodafone, Deutsche Bahn or Deutsche Telekom. Benefit from this experience to easily position your brand, your product or service, and learn how to target your audience with the right message at the right time.