Sunday, February 21, 2016

Social Marketing 101: Effective Marketing with Personae, Part 1

(Next in Janusian Gallery's ongoing series on social media marketing.)

The concept of personae (archetypal users of a particular product or service) is familiar to anyone who has been involved in software development at any time during the past 30-35 years or so. However, the usefulness of personae extends far past simply making computers more properly serve humans.

As a designer of print-on-demand products, I use personae to help me select which stores to open, which collections to make, which products to create, and how to better market the products I create. This article -- first in a series on the use of personae -- explains the history of personae and provides some examples. Future installments in this series will describe in greater detail how personae can be used effectively to create and sell better products/services and why the use of personae is so much more than just "making pretend."


But First, a Short History

The earliest reported use of personas as a software design tool dates back to the early 1980s and is credited to Alan Cooper of Cooper, a leading design consultancy. At that time, Cooper was writing a project management program. As part of the development process, he imagined himself as a typical user interacting with the program. Cooper found that wht we would call "play-acting" allowed him to prioritize user requirements and decide what was necessary to include in the program. Later, as a consultant, he incorporated the idea of personae into all his company's projects. While some encouraged him to keep the concept of personae a secret, he knew it would be inevitable that others would discover the technique. He disclosed what he knew about personae in a book he published in 1998, reportedly so that he could contribute meaningfully to an industry about which he was passionate. (Source.)

Today, the Cooper website serves as an example of not only technological excellence, but also marketing superiority. Its web site is crisp and written in an understandable, consistent manner. Graphics are used in a spare, meaningful manner, not just as "eye candy." Its weblog is seamlessly integrated into its web site. Blog entries are seemingly made only when there is something important to say, rather than daily/weekly. (Take that, social media pundits who insist that daily/hourly updates are the only way to go.) Rather than asking questions at the end of each entry, Cooper merely includes a comments section and states that it's trying to "advance the conversation." (Take that again, social media mavens who seem to think that readers won't "engage" unless prodded with an obvious prompt question.) The company's e-mail addresses are engaging and casual ("hello@", etc.) It is clear that Cooper values and respects its customers. And importantly, more than 30 years after first using personae, the company still evangelizes about them. Long after marketers realize that consumers don't want companies to be their friends any more than teenagers want their parents to be their "besties", savvy creatives will continue to use personae to design, market, and sell products.


Analysis of a Persona

At its essence, using a persona is the process getting out of your own preconceptions, so that you avoid the trap of creating and marketing products only to someone just like you. You put yourself in someone else's shoes and learn / discover what motivates them. And the more you know about that someone else, the easier this is to do. For example, which of the following fact patterns do you think would be more useful in helping you design a new refrigerator?


SUZIE HOMEMAKER. DOB: 1/25/1986. M. HH income: $110K/yr. 1 car. New England.


ELIZABETH LOUISE BARRETT . Elizabeth is a 30-year old mother of three active young boys. She lives with her husband Steven in a Georgian colonial in Fairfield, Connecticut. She and Steven met in graduate school and both have significant outstanding student debt. Both come from large families and love to entertain friends and loved ones at home when they have the opportunity. While in college, Elizabeth hurt herself playing women's rugby and has lingering back pain making it difficult for her to bend down. The family is living off Stephen's income until the boys are old enough to go to school, at which time Elizabeth plants to re-enter the work force. Steven works long hours and leaves all the household purchasing decisions (including appliance purchases) to Elizabeth. Elizabeth studied nutrition in school and prides herself on creating nourishing meals. She buys groceries every few days, selecting only the freshest organic produce. She dreams of totally redoing her small kitchen (perhaps opening up the entire first floor), but knows that current finances won't allow it. So she creates several Pinterest boards with her ideas and reads every article she can find on Houzz about kitchens. Her old refrigerator is on its last legs and she knows they'll have to buy a new one soon. Because she's already done her homework, she has a very good idea of what she wants and won't compromise when it comes to feeding her family.


Persona #2 is far more useful and not just because it's longer. First, the name of the fictional user is more realistic. Her backstory is also comprehensive enough that the designer should know that "Elizabeth" likely won't buy a refrigerator with a bottom freezer (due to her bad back.) She is a knowledgeable buyer who loves kitchen design (as evidenced by her use of Pinterest and Houzz), so a low-quality, ugly refrigerator isn't going to cut it, even though she's on a budget. We also know that "Elizabeth" would probably love an advanced crisper (to keep the veggies she buys every few days farm-fresh.) Because they entertain often, a design that holds large serving platters and pans is a plus. And because Elizabeth's three young sons will become three ravenous teenage boys within the life of the refrigerator, the design should be rugged and spacious. During the design and marketing process, it's much easier to imagine what "Elizabeth" might think about a suggested feature or price point. By thinking about the needs of a fictious person, companies can better understand what real people need.

Personae help designers and marketers figure out why someone would want to buy/use a particular product or service. But as with real-life customers, personae can have different, sometimes conflicting needs. For instance, consider these other potential refrigerator buyers:


JUSTIN ALEXANDER CONROY. Justin is single and in his late 20s. He works in the high-tech industry and makes $75K a year. He lives on the third floor of a historic brownstone with an elevator, narrow stairs, and obsolete wiring. He doesn't like to cook: never learned how and doesn't want to learn now. He eats most meals at trendy restaurants that he selects more for the atmosphere than the food. He never brings the extras home. Justin goes to the gym four or five times a week, usally after work and before dinner. He keeps 3-4 frozen dinners in the freezer, in case he's too tired to go out. Most of them have freezer burn, but he hasn't noticed yet. When he grocery shops, Justin never uses a list and mostly buys items like cheese, crackers, and grapes to serve with the wines he started collecting a few years ago. He also keeps a few breakfast items in the place, just in case he has an unexpected overnight visitor.


MARVIN AND PHYLLIS WHITTAKER. Marvin and Phyllis are both in their mid-60s and have been relatively happiliy married for more than 40 years. Even though they never had children, Phyllis never worked outside the home. They bought their first refrigerator together as newlyweds and two more after that. They are snowbirds and spend November through mid-April at their condominium in Florida. Marvin is a "gadgets" kind of guy and surprisingly tech-savvy. Many of the features in their home can be controlled by his smartphone. Phyllis, on the other hand is technology-adverse and likes things "simple." She doesn't like having to ask Marvin to turn on the hall lights with his computer. She also thinks things were made much better 20-30 years ago and prefers to fix things than replace them.

Clearly, the needs and wants of these individuals differ, even though they'll all be in the market soon for a new refrigerator. So how does a smart marketer reconcile and leverage this understanding of his or her target consumers? Stop again soon and find out....

- Lynne Guimond Sabean

Personae photos provided under a Creative Commons license by Pixabay.

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1 comment:

  1. The concept of personae a secret, he knew it would be inevitable that others would discover the technique.Elizabeth