Customer centricity, Positioning

Elaborating tangible personas

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.