Personas Rise Again in Support of 1:1 Personalization

Personas are back, if not from the dead, then at least from the dark corner where they have lived the past few years when many marketers abandoned them as low-tech and old-fashioned in favor of dynamic personalization. Now that campaign management has become just as much a content curation mission as it is a segmentation opportunity, personas are being used again to help content marketers develop offers and experiences that meet the need of key groups of customers and prospects.

For most marketers, personas are fictional representations of different types of customers based on market research and real data. The Buyer Persona Institute says that the best personas are “built from the real words of real buyers […] the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective customers to choose you, your competitor or the status quo.”

Most personas provide structure and insight for marketing, product development and lead generation by setting the tone, identifying the right topics and understanding where buyers find and consume information. They also help define the various emotional and often irrational forces behind customer choices at each stage of the buyer journey. They have become particularly useful again as a way to determine what kind of content is needed.

As the use of campaign automation, programmatic media buying and personalization technology grows, the need for more types and variety of content has increased exponentially. I was in a meeting recently when a marketer said that it was just too hard to create all the different content needed for a personalized campaign, and so she preferred to just send a generic message. That sort of fatigue – even to the point of diluting the power of the campaign itself – is common.

Personas can help. While most marketers don’t use them for actual segmentation – campaign management tools can get more precise and actionable results based on database attributes – they can be used to inform the types of creative needed to customize a campaign. For one hospitality company, this means that certain types of decisions can utilize common creative assets across various personas. That streamlines the assembly and delivery of campaigns and maintains broader brand impact.

A healthcare marketing team has begun to refine personas from being demographic and clinical-based to include behavioral factors as well. The messaging to remind someone living with asthma to get a check-up is different for those people who regularly get check-ups than for those who have not done so in a few years, even if both types of patient are in the same persona group. This layering of data to include sub-segments within a persona allows a hyper-personalization of content for the most critical types of messages.

A good place to start is to map out the buyer journey and see where there are widely divergent choices (paths). For each event in the journey, identify the questions that buyers ask; these questions will start to separate people with different mindsets and needs. For each question, look at the problems these people are trying to solve and how those problems relate to your products and solutions.

If you already have buyer personas developed, consider improving them for the highest value customers by including behavior and past response data – all of which should be in your campaign management solution (segmentation engine) or marketing database. Concentrate on the behaviors that are linked to conversion events, since those will have the most immediate impact.

If you do not have personas, or if you’ve relegated them to the archives, take another look at your creative development process and see where this kind of guidance can help your teams be more efficient and effective in content customization and curation. A headline or image does make a difference, even if it’s the only thing that changes.

Are you using personas more strategically in your content marketing, or have you become focused entirely on data personalization? 

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