Historically, data on populations and their segmentation was the backbone of decision making, seeking insight into future markets or growth strategies. Data was king! Unfortunately, data also has its shortfalls.
Demographic and psychographic research is predominately historic in nature. It is not living, evolving information: it is based on a cycle of census data that is collected every ten years. By the time data is categorized and segmented into markets, the results could already be ten years old by the time the new data is available for use.
Another issue facing data? It inherently becomes stereotypical information. There are assumptions that demographic and psychographic data produce. Data is sorted in pre-defined categories. These categories are limited sets of stereotypes of comparable data. Stereotyping begins when creating possible consumer snapshots into who they are, how they act, what they do, and more.
For instance, two people exist in the same demographic categories: equal income, education, family size, and same community. One is a current consumer at a specific financial institution, but not the other. Why? Both match all the data, yet the second may never be a consumer at the same provider.
There is more than meets the eye. What the data cannot show is that the two have completely different behaviors and motivations behind their spending. One may tend to be a movie watcher and spend a majority of his income on entertainment, while the other is a weekend craftsman who spends his income on tools and making furniture. When it comes to your business, your perceived value aligns while the other does not.
This is a high-level example of how data does not see the person themselves, but only a basic categorization of people. Data creates stereotypes of what could be a match, and still falls short of what consumers could be compatible. Like demographics, data, is good to identify clusters in a specific location, yet a different methodology is needed to get a clearer picture of the true market.
Enter persona profiling. Similar to demographic data, personae are grouped. That’s where data and persona similarities end. Unlike demographic data, personae are unique characteristics of human behavior versus historic grouped data points. Personae are created from observations of consumer interaction and intention inquiries. Always evolving, persona knowledge is current insights about real people, not an assumption of universal consumers.
The challenge? Avoiding the tendency to use data to help identify distinguishable characteristics of a persona. A persona is a representation, a character created from a person’s behavioral DNA. Any hard data blended with a pure persona becomes a hybrid stereotype. Many firms have incorporated data with the idea of persona. Data criteria such as age, gender, and education are commonly used.
Pure persona mapping focuses on the human behavior versus the assumption of similarity in data. Personae are characteristics of observation and investigation. The other challenge is that humans can possess multiple personae at any given moment. We have many facets and are not just one persona all the time, but rather a collection of personae.
A Pure Persona
Personae do not create fictional characters we call consumers. Personae are unique combinations of behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and intentions. These are the core elements that define a persona, rather than simple demographic or psychographic categorization profiles.
Surprisingly, we use persona constructs every day. Personae carry inherent information about a person that others can quickly relate to. Typically, personae bubble to the surface in a social atmosphere. For example, there might be a person who stands at the office coffee machine waiting for others to get coffee. The person uses this positioning to command attention. Let’s label them as “Coffee Commando.” Every office has one! The ‘Coffee Commando’ spends most of their morning trying to engage others in conversations. Depending on the intention of this character, others may make attempts to either avoid or fully engage given their connection or capability.
A few more common personae that can be identified in the office are ones like ‘Eaves Droppers,’ ‘Go Getters,’ and ‘Busy Bodies.’ The list can be extensive given the conditions of the environment. Each of these have unique and distinctive behavioral characteristics that make them stand out.
Besides these office humor examples, many businesses can use this knowledge to enhance growth, strengthen their brand, or stand out from the competition. To understand how to use this process of persona profiles, a shift needs to happen. Where segmentation stereotypes find potential consumers or locations in new markets and play the percentages, persona profiles are about leveraging similar characteristics of current consumers and shaping a business around them. It focuses on a deeper understanding of current customers, and uses that insight to target new consumers and deepen the relationship with current consumers.
By understanding what drives a persona, a business can modify their interactions, communication, and even the environment to entice other similar personae to engage with their business.
Knowing consumer behavior and intention has a far deeper impact on product offerings, brand communications, environmental design, and staffing procedures. By identifying consumers as unique versus a collection of data, businesses can better communicate to attract similar consumers, or refocus on additional consumer personae that may be a better fit.
For years, the tourism industry has relied on traditional market methods anchored in demographic or psychographic profiles. Advertising distinguished one company from another. Then, a few shifted from demographic data to persona design to improve market penetration, differentiate themselves, and better connect with their consumers. The better connection also increased consumers’ perceived value, making them willing to spend a little more because they believed the company knew them better.
American Express was one of these companies who employed persona mapping to improve their travel programs. By creating travel personas based upon information they had acquired over the years, special packages could be designed that spoke to each persona they wanted to attract. These packages were custom travel packages that even if the consumer was not sure where they may travel to, they still knew that the package would be a perfect fit for them.
Language is a critical element in communication of a business’ message. Identifying the persona that a company wishes to connect with, language can be reshaped to speak directly to that persona instead of blasting a broad message that may not connect strongly with any particular consumer. By shaping a narrative to a persona, a company can tailor their communications.
In this age of digital channels and social media, finding and acquiring the attention of consumers is much more complicated. With a unique voice that connects to a single consumer by leveraging a persona profile, a company can focus its communication to its target consumers and spread awareness about the company and its offering. Persona profiles make the communication more personable.
The most powerful channel of a company’s message is through the consumer’s voice. As the adage goes, ‘I’m like you. I like you.’ This connection creates more interest and eventually increases interactions, boosting ROI.
To complement the conversation, companies can use the persona profile to address the environments where the consumer and the company interact. Just as the type of language used in a conversation is unique, the environmental elements can also reflect that connection. Different color palettes, furniture style, artwork, décor, and even conversation sitting configurations can greatly impact the relationship with the consumer.
Imagine if the target persona liked movies. The space could incorporate elements of a movie theater. Adding a popcorn machine in the lobby or the waiting area reflects a bit of a cinematic look. Using cues from the top personae can help establish a place that is inviting and they are comfortable being in. The options blend the persona’s likes and the company’s brand together physically. The more you connect with the subtle notes attached to a persona, the greater chance of enhancing the relationship and increasing the perceived value to the consumer.
Positive and Negative Personae
One final aspect of persona profiling is the culture for staff and consumer interaction modifiers. Eventually, a staff member may be engaged with a negative persona that is the “O-Please Please” or the “Fist Pounder” because of an issue they have encountered.
Agitated and upset, these consumers create uncomfortable and unwanted engagements between the staff and themselves. These types of interactions usually occur in public spaces where others can witness. No company wants that! The power of persona allows a company to develop a series of behavior modification tactics to help take the “Fist Pounder” and transform them back to a persona that is more positive.
By knowing the behavior and motivation of both negative and positive personae, consumer engagement tactics can be established in advance to help guide the staff to resolve the problem. Once resolved, further tactics can be established to transform the consumer from a negative persona to the desired positive persona.