Posted: March 08, 2012
Know your audience
How personas can help your bottom lineBy Brett Johnson
Most companies that are taking even the most basic steps in market research have formulated some sort of segments. From rudimentary demographic profiles based on ages, incomes and geographic location to complex representative classifications based on algorithms that also include product use and life outlook, segmentation gives sales and marketing teams a blueprint of the customer and helps them identify key targets.
While this quantitative research is very valuable and commonly used, personas are also very important because they focus more on qualitative and differ from the former in many ways:
Personas take on a different character. Though they may be coined with catchy names like segments, ‘Savvy Saver’ or ‘Meticulous Mavens,’ personas also have specific names such as Carlos Ramon or Marnie Cogswell. When implemented properly, they are referenced as real people in meetings, particularly brainstorm or planning session. Personas have defined needs, problems and behaviors that work for or against them. They can tell you in an intimate way how they feel and approach certain situations. In addition, personas also communicate on specific channels about specific topics. They each use the web and their mobile phone in a unique manner, and are capable of sharing – or not sharing – the things they discover; sometimes with an OMG and a few extra exclamation points “!!!!”.
Personas possess such strong personalities because of the ways in which they are created. Segmentation is typically a more clinical approach; draft a survey and/or comb a database to get responses to specific questions about age, location, income, who is in the family, what products they use or buy, how they are used, etc. While there are great segmentation studies that can be conducted, they are simplistic question and answer responses, or even a rear view mirror look at the audience. It does not entail a conversation with individual people.
If done correctly, personas should answer the “why” behind behaviors and attitudes. During a recent persona project for the California Avocado Commission, the lion's share of segments sought healthy, nutritious foods. But it was during in-depth, one-hour interviews using a discussion guide that the answers the marketing team didn’t have questions for began to reveal themselves. It became clear that dietary restrictions were a primary motivator driving choices. Ultimately, those inclinations led to the formulation of a complete persona, Carol Morrow, who has clear needs, budgetary parameters, shopping habits and product expectations.
During persona questions, marketers can talk about the channels people use to communicate for different types of information. Are they using Facebook? If so, for what? Do they check status updates on their smart phone? Who do they follow on Twitter and why? What do they tweet? Interviewees can freely tell you the sources they use for gathering information or entertainment. Not that this isn’t done with segments, but spontaneous questions and insights can’t be explored in the same way. Now take this into a marketer’s approach. If you’re not aware that your target is a vegetarian, your advertising could go horribly wrong. Clarifying your message across specific channels and discovering new ways to improve your products and services are the two best reasons to do personas.
So how can segments line up with personas? They probably won’t. When you’re working on discovering the habits, attitudes and behaviors as they pertain to specific communication channels, the ingredients are often left out of segmentation, so answers may not always align. You may find you have a 65-year old female that uses her cell phone like a 15-year old, or two 30-year old males with similar incomes from the same city that are drastically at odds when it comes to using social media. However, having recently experienced an almost direct correlation between segments and personas, it really depends on the depth of your segments. If they have life outlook, behaviors and attitudes, there may be a match. If your segments are primarily based on demographic profiles, you’ll probably need to rethink your approach at the end of the study.
In most cases, personas make the perfect supplement to a segmentation study. If you know the demographics of your audience, you can screen the persona interviewees making sure you have a balanced quota. The more you know about your audience, the more likely it is that you’ll uncover key trends across age groups and financial ranges. Segmentation is a necessity for any company trying to better understand their audience because they provide a very clinical look at the fabric of an audience. However, personas take on a human approach and are more personalized, animated and allow your audience to share their needs and problems. All you have to do is be there to provide the solution. No sweat.
Brett Johnson is the Senior Strategist at Red Door Interactive, a strategic partner with offices in Denver, San Diego and Carlsbad, that is dedicated to ensuring businesses acquire, convert, retain and engage their customers wherever they are. The firm holds more than a decade of expertise in successfully developing and executing communications initiatives across all touch points to deliver real, measureable results. Clients include The California Avocado Commission, Cricket Communications, CND (Shellac), Rubio’s Restaurants, Inc. and Charlotte Russe. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.