Making Personas Sparkle Like Diamonds, Part 2

  |  February 4, 2005   |  Comments

Tools for creating your own customer personas. Part two of a two-part series.

Early in our company's life, persona development was largely an intuitive process. We wanted to develop a process we could use to train clients and partners in the persona development process. To do so, we delved into literature and film to understand character development.

Last week, we discussed what we learned from David Freeman's character diamonds and masks. This week, we study these, and their applications, in more depth. Here's more from David Freeman.

Address a Buyer's Mask When Selling to Him

BMW pushes its "Ultimate Driving Machine" to men who usually end up driving 40 mph in rush-hour traffic. Yet these men view themselves as mighty conquerors of a limitless asphalt horizon, roaring full throttle through life and leaving testosterone in their wake. BMW sells to these men's masks.

The full picture is actually a little more complicated. This persona's character diamond breaks out accordingly:

  • Views himself as powerful, a leader. He wants his car to reflect this. (He doesn't have to be a powerful leader, just see himself as one.)

  • Likes recognition for being rich and important. On some level, he feels he needs more recognition.

  • Likes to go his own way in the world -- not a follower.

  • Is intelligent.

Just as Ricky Fitts' mask is part true, part phony, so too are some BMW drivers' masks. Some drivers really are conquerors -- but not on the road.

The problem of being a world conqueror as you sit behind a desk and wield a mighty keyboard is no one knows you are one. Though you're not allowed set land speed records with your BMW, it still symbolizes you have the power to lay the opposition to waste.

Smoking out these complex persona aspects requires proper discovery. The character diamond is a key persona component. When you design a Web site or an ad campaign, you must address the character diamond of each persona you want to reach.

Some personas emphasize one character trait; others are more balanced. If the persona has a mask that is a critical portion of his identity, the mask must be addressed in the site or ad campaign.

Assume careful discovery reveals the above persona is one of BMW's main consumers. The persona remains more or less a cliché.

If you were to assign this persona to a copywriter, she could easily end up writing pretty trite copy. The copy would turn off even those consumers who embody this persona. What's the solution? To find out, we must clarify the masks.

Essentially, a mask is a form of phoniness. But for some, it's only partly phony. For our persona, one corner of the character diamond sees himself as powerful. That could be wholly or partly phony.

On closer inspection, we see various possible masks at work:

  • A person who truly is powerful. For him, the BMW isn't a mask. Yet it still may involve some interesting psychological issues.

  • A person who is powerful but doesn't feel powerful. The BMW symbol of power is a reminder.

  • A person who isn't powerful but works hard to be. The BMW symbolizes his professional ambition and may symbolize how he'd like to remold his personality.

  • A person who will likely never be powerful. The BMW helps him see himself as powerful.

Masks assume numerous forms. How do these variations dictate varying approaches in Web design or an ad campaign?

It's easy to imagine a copywriter not feeling empathy for this particular persona. Yet the copy must embody enough warmth to sell to the persona. What's the solution?

We must gain a better understanding of the persona's emotional problems, defense mechanisms, psychological compensation mechanisms, and his role in the selling process. Look at the persona's second trait: wanting recognition.

What kind of trait is this? What kind of recognition? Why does he want it?

This kind of trait is more robust than the simplistic attributes, such as happy, athletic, rational, or playful. It refers to a psychological or emotional "fear, limitation, block, or wound" (FLBW). The persona may be motivated by a fear of failure, perhaps he has physical limitations, and so forth.

Starting here gives you a more human, believable persona. That's much more useful than an average or primary persona.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 28-March 3.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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