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An intro to personas and why they are critical

No, the persona is not dead! It is very much alive and critical to the success of your business.

The first step to creating a successful marketing campaign is developing an understanding of your audience. The best way to develop this is to create customer personas.

In marketing, a persona is a semi-fictional, detailed representation of the ideal customer for your product or service. Despite being critical for the development of products and services and the creation of a targeted marketing strategy, many businesses skip this step. While most companies have formulated a rough idea of their target audience, critical decisions are frequently made based on opinion and not facts.

Whether you're a small business, a start-up building your first product, or an established enterprise, you can benefit from developing and maintaining a library of personas.


A Case Study: J.C. Penny

In June 2011, J.C. Penny announced they had hired Ron Johnson, a former Apple executive as CEO, as part of a modernization plan. The goal was to eliminate the reliance on promotional based pricing, modernize the stores to have a trendy, younger feel, and provide more upscale merchandise.

What J.C. Penny failed to understand was the chasm between their existing customer base, and the new customers they wanted to pursue, was too broad. The new direction of being trendy alienated current customers. The new pricing structure hurt the perceived value, and top-selling merchandise disappeared from the shelves. Worse, the changes didn't convince the new target personas that J.C. Penny could meet their wants and needs. Johnson was fired less than two years later when same-store sales plummeted, and inventory piled up.

J.C. Penny tried to find a new audience without first understanding their existing brand perception. With more due diligence, they would have identified that their current clientele and their target clientele would not exist concurrently. J.C. Penny switched back to promotional based pricing in November 2013 but waited far too long to pivot. Coupled with other market forces, they continue to struggle in 2019.


How Do Personas Benefit You

A detailed and validated persona library can have a significant impact on your marketing strategy. Knowing the age, education level, and gender of your target audience will impact where you advertise, what messaging to use, and design elements that will appeal to your audience. When you identify and document your personas perfect day, reward system, and fears, it enables you to create convincing marketing content focused on the right audience.

It may be time-consuming to develop personas initially. Still, they provide intense focus and become time savers by taking away the guesswork of marketing. As an example, the buyer persona for an Xbox console is going to be different from the buyer persona for Microsoft Azure SQL. Each persona is handled differently by marketing, making it critical to understand their unique needs.

Once you've created your personas, what do you do with them? The personas should become your North Star for everything your business does!

Are you creating a new brand or product? Consult your personas for insights on what will make your target audience respond. Do you need to build a social media strategy? Consult your personas to determine the best channels, the best time of day to post, and what kind of content to create. Are you redesigning your website? Consult your personas to determine what design elements will provide better usability for your customers. How about when you add significant new features to a product or service? Consult your personas to determine if the new features solve the critical needs of your target audience.

Your engineering teams, development leads, and Scrum Masters should use your personas every day. They should ask themselves, "Are we creating something our personas will use, and will it fulfill their needs." It isn't just a nice to have; it is a core tenet of Agile methodology.

Well thought out and validated personas enable you to create a road map on how your audience thinks and what messaging causes a positive response. From there, you can draw conclusions based on facts on how they'll react and what is the most critical problem they want you to help solve.

Don't Make the Biggest Mistake

A surprising number of companies that develop personas treat the effort as a one and done exercise. The mantra of "evolve or die" has never been more critical in the history of modern business. Personas should be treated as living documents to be refined and revalidated if they are to be effective.

Outside of making a significant pivot in your business strategy or product mix, your initial personas should remain very similar over time. However, technology is continually creating new marketing channels, and macro events can change your buyer's motivations.

Another mistake that companies make is going through the process of developing buyer personas but never socializing them. Without connecting them to your company mission and values, your employees won't have the detailed insights to ask the question, "will our buyer persona respond positively to this?"


It can be tempting to skip this vital first step, and convince yourself, "I know who my customers are." A buyer persona is much more than a concept or an outline in your head. They are a must-have tool vital to strategic decision making.


How Do I Create Personas

The Badon Hill Group has written a playbook, Creating Buyer Personas, developed for those who are new to the concept, or are not in a marketing role. This playbook outlines our 8 step process that goes into creating, validating, and socializing buyer personas.



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