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Sep 18, 2006
Blog Post

My Shoe Fetish & Why Personas Are Invaluable for Marketing

SUMMARY: No summary available.
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

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Sep 18, 2006 - Shane Lennon of Ibis Consulting says:
It is great to see actual realizationa and execution of this type of approach to marketing - especially in the online world where it is easier to create this type of experience. I remember in several former lives pushing this approach at 3 previous companies over the last 10 years and the marketing/sales teams laughing at me, fighting tooth and nail topreserve their brochure driven product sites. Shane

Sep 18, 2006 - Marilou Barsam of TechTarget says:
I find this a fascinating subject Ann. However, I agree with your observation that personas are extremely tricky as they are very specifically targeted to a certain audience segment. Therefore, the persona selected must be marketable to the exact target personality it was created for. A good example of this are the stylized caricatures Micorsoft's been using in their most recent TV ad campaign "Where do you want to be today?" (or something to that effect). Their illustration of a multi-tasking individual busy with home and office situations is definitely a persona that hits home for people whose personal and professional lives are joined by needing support from an IT environment.Great set-up for Micorsoft to the rescue! I'll be sure to mention this subject on our blog as well-

Sep 18, 2006 - Pauline of Matrix Technologies Corp. says:
I love marketing, and how we can even marketing to ourselves. One of the top three rules: Know your audience. Persona marketing is merely speaking to your target audience in a way that is meaningful and will generate action. We are such chameleons - always keeping it fresh!

Sep 18, 2006 - Audrey of self says:
Cannot mention personas without mentioning Alan Cooper, design guru:

Sep 18, 2006 - Jamie Roche of Offermatica says:
We have experimented with Personas for the past six months and found some surprises. First, Personas are great for site designs and redesigns. They force the decision-makers to allow the users a seat at the decision-making table even if only virtually. The bigger surprise comes when trying to apply Persona planning to temporal events like marketing campaigns. In this case Persona Use Cases seem to work better. A PUC weighs what the Persona is trying to accomplish more heavily than the persona characteristics.

Sep 18, 2006 - Anthony Power of Power Consulting says:
While written about high-tech products, Alan Cooper's the "Inmates are Running the Asylum" might apply to marketing as well. Good personas reflect the goals of a single individual. This type of targeting allows creative ideas and features to be assessed from an external point of view: How would Josh respond and react?

Sep 18, 2006 - Adele Revella of Pragmatic Marketing says:
My favorite topic! Without personas, tech marketers have almost no defense against the latest "great idea" about the right messaging and program strategies or tactics. How'd you like to be able to respond to the next internal suggestion by saying that "your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant." What will reach your target audience? People who spend a little bit of energy on persona development aren't wasting so much time guessing the right answer.

Nov 25, 2008 - Nick Trendov of Scenario2 says:
Persona have been around since the dawn of time and quite simple maskes that a person can wear or discard at will. Each Persona mask has its own behaviours and stories. It is not the Persona behind the mask that is important in employing a Persona but rather the behaviours and stories associated to the Persona. The Persona concept is a tool and a Persona works brilliantly when applied to understanding future demand and synchronizing expertise internally to match external customer product acquisition. Persona are much more than a sales tool. Persona also will provide invaluable to the current BUYOLOGY fad where a person is given a taste test or asked to read a message and then immediately put into an MRI machine or plugged into an EEG machine, or both. The belief is that the subject will not tell the truth either by fact, ommission or volition. The MRI is used to determine which part of the cranium lights up to determine the real effect of the test. segmentation of the brain. Neverless, Persona constructs can complement any tool, including the brain mapping that is top of mind today.

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