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Targeting broad stroke customer segments isn’t effective. It is also the reason why both over-stereotyped or too-plain ‘vanilla’ personas don’t work. Effective Personas will evoke empathy and truly represent the needs and buying journeys of your customers’ decision-making styles.

So, what are Personas and why do you need them?

Every competent marketer strives to understand the needs of their customers, so it is natural that marketers have taken to using personas. But are they really meant to be all that useful?

Personas are one of the least understood and most misused tools in marketing today. There are some good ones and we’ve also seen many that are not fit for purpose.

A Persona is a fictional character that represents one of your target customer groups, but it is not a list of demographic features. They have a name, a personal life, fears, ambitions, motivators and emotions – just like all of us. For effective marketing use, Personas are the representative stand-ins for the journeys people could take through their engagement with your business. They should allow you to make crucial decisions for how your marketing should take shape, such as:

  • Decision Making: In order for me to sell to you, I need to understand how you buy.
  • Address Personality Differences: Two segments may require similar information from you before they are ready to buy – but approach their buying in completely different ways and demand to be treated separately in their journey.
  • Experience and Flow: Personas should inform you about problems or opportunities in your current customers’ experiences and inform the design of stronger UX.
  • Conversions: They should help you create a more effective marketing strategy that will help persuade far more of your prospects to become customers.
  • Focus: Escape the most common marketing mistake – planning your activity for the “average user”. They don’t exist, there is no such thing and trying to target them will leave the vast majority of your prospects high and dry.
  • Clarity: Personas will give your copy and creative much more direction, you can write like you have an audience of one and that clarity can turn your ordinary copy into a persuasive masterpiece.

Some very interesting examples:

Did you know that Stephen King writes all of his novels to one person, his wife. He calls her his ‘ideal reader’, and encourages writers to have one of their own. 
King is well aware that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people will read his latest book. But he also knows he can’t think about impressing all of them at the same time, so instead he focuses exclusively on his ideal reader. He knows her well, knows her tastes, her preferences, he adores her and ceaselessly wants to impress her with his writing prowess.

Sure, it’s very romantic, but that’s not why he does it. He does it because it’s a sure-fire recipe for powerful, brilliant writing that sells a tonne of books.

Here’s another powerful example of how focusing on one person, delivers better results:

NPR’s Shankar Vedantam writes about Paul Slovic, a researcher for the University of Oregon, and his recent findings:
In one study, Slovic told volunteers about a young girl suffering from starvation and then measured how much the volunteers were willing to donate to help her. He presented another group of volunteers with the same story of the starving little girl — but this time, also told them about the millions of others suffering from starvation.
On a rational level, the volunteers in this second group should be just as likely to help the little girl, or even more likely, because the statistics clearly established the seriousness of the problem.
“What we found was just the opposite,” Slovic says. “People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl.”
Slovic initially thought it was just the difference between heart and head. A story about an individual victim affects us emotionally. But a million people in need speaks to our head, not our heart. “As the numbers grow,” he explains, “We sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need.”

It seems that human beings can truly empathize with only one person at a time. That’s what your marketing needs to do – speak to one person at a time and focus on their wants, their needs, their buying behaviour.

The most powerful marketing hones in and focuses on an audience of one.

No tool will serve a marketer better in overcoming the information overload we all suffer from in these days of multiple analytics platforms and “big data” than brilliant Personas.

How can we use Personas to make more money?

As we’ve established above, research reports and spreadsheets of data can never bring a marketer the deeper emotional understanding needed to truly touch a nerve in your prospects and convince them to open their wallets.

A good website should have a conversion rate of 15%+. Yes, that’s about triple the amount that the vast majority are achieving, but that’s because most websites are still catering to the “average user” and not targeted Personas with a defined plan of action. All of the websites I've worked on are now achieving at least 15% and many are doing much more than that.

Every visitor to your site or person that engages with your brand will have an issue/ desire/ fear/ want that they need to conquer. They will have questions and natural reservations about whether what you offer will help them meet their need. Personas and their user journeys give companies the tools to focus on the needs, wants, preferences, and motivations of a single person(a) at a time, and then tell the story of how they should be engaging with your brand to reach their optimum point of persuasion.

Tell them the RIGHT story...​ (for them - not you!)

There has been a lot of talk about storytelling in marketing recently and with good reason – it works as a tool to engage your audience. Try putting yourself in your Personas shoes and walk through your website “story” (and offline sales/ marketing) honestly and without prejudice. Do you really feel that your needs as that Persona are being met? Do you really understand how your product/ service meets your exact needs? Are your CTA’s resonating with you still? Have you built up enough confidence and trust in what you’ve read to part with your own money?

You probably answered “No” to several of those questions if you were being really objective about your own site. Well, your other users will feel the same - and that’s why they haven’t converted.

That is why Personas, coupled with a sensible action plan, are explosive in the hands of a good marketer. It’s why we have focused so much of our working lives on creating the absolute best Personas and implementation strategies for our clients.

It’s also why those same clients are now getting off-the-chart results as standard.

They got us a 49.8% conversion rate from cold prospects. Just think about that for a second - half of all our visitors to the campaign site bought a holiday thanks to Phil and his PSM Methodology. What else can I say to persuade you that you need to listen to these guys?

Dave Etherington
Head of Ecommerce, Club la Costa

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About Phil Cave Founder, PSM

Phil Cave is the founder of People Shaped Marketing. He helps companies like Samsung, BBC, Ricoh, RBS, Virgin, Lloyds, Stagecoach and Ferrari grow their profits through his unique methodologies. He has been repeatedly labelled as one of the "Top Digital Experts in Europe" and "One of the World's leading minds in Persona-driven Marketing". He has worked at some of the biggest agencies in London before owning, running and eventually selling his own successful digital marketing consultancy.

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