Many of our clients follow up our attitudinal segmentation findings by crafting personas for their clients, summarizing the segments we have identified in the research. While personas can be a terrific tool for disseminating valuable information about your audiences throughout an organization, putting a face on attitudinal segments can do more harm than good.
Personas bring an audience segment to life. Typically incorporating various aspects of an audience’s profile, personas can be a very helpful tool in ensuring that a common understanding of target customers is shared throughout the organization, so that everyone from sales representatives to customer service folks to product developers knows who they’re really working for.
Unfortunately, many of us have been trained to slap a photograph of a smiling person on each persona. This works fine if you’re stuck using demographic segmentation, which may require you to guess about the true motivations behind your best opportunities. But in the case of attitudinal segmentation, photos can create problems in helping your clients to better understand their target segments.
Why? Because attitudinal segments are defined by motivation and need, NOT by demographics. While occasionally we find strong demographic associations with a particular segment, the majority of the time we find that attitudinal differentiators cross age, income, company size and other demographic indicators.
So if you use a woman’s image to indicate a segment, you’re automatically giving the impression to your client and members of their organization that people in that segment are women — or predominantly so. Or Caucasian. Or young. Or whatever. But members of that attitudinal segment may be just as likely to be men, or Latino, or 75. Having a picture in their heads can mean that your client misses opportunities to reach other demographic groups in that same attitudinal segment effectively, or that they automatically assume the person across the counter is in a particular segment — simply because they look like the picture on the persona.
Instead, we recommend identifying attitudinal segment personas with icons that represent the driving motivations of each group — a gift box for those motivated to purchase for others, or a handshake for those who are predominantly relationship-driven. Icons like these can be just as effective as photographs in serving as a “shorthand” reference for those who need to keep target audiences in mind (which, basically, is all of us) — without the bias introduced by using a photo of an individual.