September 18, 2006
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MarketingSherpa 2006 research shows B-to-B marketers' use of personas is far higher than expected. In fact, 40% of business technology hardware marketers use personas for their marketing. (That compares to 22% of software marketers and 19% of professional services marketers.)
I have to admit, until a few years ago I'd never heard of personas at all. To hear at least 1/5th of marketers now swear by them was startling. Can personas really be all that useful?
Then, I thought back to a balmy Saturday night this summer when my husband and I were sitting on a sidewalk bench in Newport, RI, watching the world go by.
Saturday night in Newport is date night. Hundreds of visiting couples from all over the world strolled by us. I amused myself by forming theories about women's shoes. The higher the heel, I figured, the less secure she was in the relationship. Women in flats seemed ultra comfortable, in more ways than one.
I turned to my husband to share this revelation only to find he was staring in a completely different direction. Turns out gangs of small boys were rocketing down a hill a few feet from us on skateboards -- in heavy two-lane traffic.
One of them, going roughly 30 MPH while crossing lanes, actually answered his ringing cell phone at the same time and yelled, "Don't call me now, Mom, I'm busy." I can only imagine the heart attack the mother would have had had she known precisely what he was doing when she called.
Anyway, it was at that moment that the incredible usefulness of persona-based marketing was brought home to me.
There we were -- two people watching the world go by from the exact same park bench. But for one of us, it was a thrilling shoe-fashion show, and for the other an exciting sporting event.
If that park bench instead were a marketing communication (or Web site) and you tried to create an "average" message to attract the "average" of us two, you would have completely, utterly failed.
Our attentions were simply too different. You can't average-out separate passions into one general message to please both.
And that's what persona marketing is. You create research-based characters each matching one of the very distinct groups of folks who visit your site or view your marcom. And then you make sure there's distinct content on that site or marcom specifically created to please each of them.
No one general message will ever work well because there are no average people.
Now, I'm asking for your help. Several Sherpa readers have written in asking if we could share useful instructions on creating personas that really work. Especially how to avoid creating personas based on internal assumptions that may not be true in reality.
So, we're putting together a special report on the topic to be published here shortly. Got a real-life story or lesson of your own on how your organization created personas that worked? (Or didn't.) Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org