in late 2018 I had the pleasure of spending a few days with more than 75 agency owners at the Agency Management Institute All AMI Conference during which I hosted two roundtable discussions about persona development.
When I asked the agency owners if they were developing personas in their work for clients, virtually all said they were.
But when I asked them about any challenges they were having with persona development, I consistently heard one of the following:
- “Our personas aren’t very helpful when it comes to things like messaging and content development.”
- “We don’t have much data to work with for persona development. Often we just have to rely on the client’s perspective about their ideal customers.”
- “Clients are reluctant to pay for persona development.”
Let’s take a look at each one of these common issues, and my thoughts as to how agencies can overcome or mitigate them.
Many agencies recognize the importance of personas when crafting marketing strategy, messaging, automation and content. But often they find personas frustratingly unhelpful when trying to use them for those purposes.
Often, the issue boils down to how personas are developed and which characteristics are included.
Most B2C personas I see include a mix of demographics and “lifestyle” characteristics — age, income, what type of car they drive, how they use social media, etc. On the B2B front, personas often align with industry vertical, organization size, or someone’s role or title.
Once these personas are finished, the agency turns to incorporating them into marketing, messaging and content strategy. But often it becomes clear that characteristics such as age and income don’t shed light on the most important questions that marketers need to answer about their target audiences:
- What problem are they trying to solve?
- Why haven’t they solved it already?
- Do they think our product or service might be able to help? Why or why not?
- What is most important to them when choosing between their options?
The answers to these questions don’t lie in demographics. They lie in the attitudes that audience members have — attitudes about the problem they’re trying to solve, about how well-equipped they feel to solve it, and about the kinds of solutions they should be seeking.
- Ignore demographics at first. Focus on answering the questions above. After that, see if demographics are still relevant in describing your target customers.
- Create personas for the prospects your client DOESN’T want. This can help clarify aspects of those they do want to attract.
- Include the competitive set that each persona would identify your client with. People solving different problems often see competition differently — if someone is trying to find a great gift, your client could be compared to everything from chocolate to spa gift cards.
- Include a message that would get them interested, and one that would turn them away. Again, this helps clarify the things that matter to them.
- Don’t use pictures of people for your attitudinal personas! Instead, choose an icon that represents the defining attitudes of each group.
Unfortunately, there really is no substitute for having reliable data to inform your persona development process. Without data, we’re all making assumptions about which attitudes are really driving substantial numbers of prospective customers, and risk missing something important.
In our work developing attitudinal segmentation research for our agencies and their clients, we often find segments which surprise both us and the client — segments motivated by something completely different than we would have expected, and motivations the client assumed were prevalent that simply aren’t.
Getting quality attitudinal segmentation insight might not be as costly or as difficult as you think. I’m always happen to discuss feasibility and pricing with agencies — just set up some time on my calendar.
Client Reluctance to Pay
Given that clients probably expect demographically-based personas (which they probably think they already know) and that their agency doesn’t have any better information than they do, why are we surprised that client’s don’t see the value in personas and are reluctant to pay for them?
They can’t imagine how dressing up the segments would be helpful or worth the expense. They can’t imagine how personas will help their agency offer fresh ideas about their target audiences or generate more engaging content and messaging.
They’re not thinking about how different attitudes can drive people to view a product or service provider very differently — how it can change who they’re comparing us to, and the kind of information they’d find helpful and compelling.
- Talk with your client about how different their messaging might be to someone who knows exactly what they want vs. someone who isn’t even sure they’re asking the right questions.
- Or the kind of content someone might want if they plan to use their product or service themselves, vs. if they’re buying for someone else.
- Or how they might interest someone who thinks this purchase is important, vs. someone who thinks of it just as another thing they need to get out of the way.
- Or how someone with other people to convince before purchasing (who may even be resistant) might need different information and resources than someone who will make the choice themselves based on solely their own preferences.
These types of examples and discussions have been very productive in helping clients understand how transformative attitudinal personas can be, and how developing them is well worth the effort.