Are You Treating All Your Market Segments the Same?

Time to Rethink Persona Development

It's been said that marketing exists to generate future demand with a specific group of people. As a marketer, you know that the customers within that group are not exactly the same, so you segment your market into smaller subgroups, for example roles such as "entrepreneurs" and "corporate executives."

But that's not enough. Everyone in the broad market you've identified has the need and the purchasing power for your product or service; however, the subgroups you want to target are going to have specific challenges and needs you need to be aware of and navigate if you want to get them to care about your offerings. This is where the concept of a buyer persona comes into play.

You can only get so far with your messaging if you don't create personas – your research will help you craft a message that appeals to your market, but developing personas allows you to do it better. To create messaging that empathizes and resonates with your target market. Yes, there will be overlap in your messaging for your personas, but the personalized variations you incorporate into each will help your customers feel like you are speaking directly to their needs. It will also help you select the right places to land your messaging. We’ll have more on that in our next article – Persona Buyer Journey Mapping.

The importance of personas applies both to discrete broad campaigns and larger, automated highly targeted programmatic campaign executions.

In the Movie Brexit, Dominic Cummings, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, first performs research to understand the specific needs of his intended audience, deeply. He then uses these messages to feed into the microtargeting process to reach the personas at a highly accurate, granular level based on data.

Accurate personas help shape both and ensure your message resonates no matter what method you used to get in front of them.

What is a buyer persona?

When you're think about who your audience is, there are a few different levels you can consider. You can start at the broad market level (for instance, "B2B technology users") and drill all the way down to individual customers ("Customer #467: John Smith, Chief Technical Officer at The Sample Company").

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In between those two points on the spectrum are a couple of other levels, including buyer personas, that help you take your "everyone" and pare that population down into more specific subgroups. The hierarchy is as follows:

Markets -> Segments -> Roles -> Personas -> Individual Customers

Segments and roles can help you narrow down groups within your target market by looking at the general needs and pain points of the people you want to use your product (if you've been following this blog series, you'll recall defining these needs and pains in your value proposition exercise). But what's missing before the "persona" level is an understanding of what makes people tick.

To truly connect with your customers, you must go beyond the functional aspects of your audience and dig deeper into some key psychographic aspects of specific types of buyers. This may include their motivators, decision-making approaches, and potential cultural influences that shape the way they understand, seek out, research, and buy products. It is these psychographic factors that separates your personas and makes each group unique.

Let's consider generational marketing as an example. We all know that Millennials and Generation Z are two distinct groups within the modern workforce and consumer population. There's certainly a lot of overlap between the two: Both groups are considered "digital natives" who have had access to advanced technology since childhood. Both are generally driven more by purpose, passion, and career growth opportunities, rather than a big paycheck. Many from both groups witnessed the lasting economic impact of the Great Recession of 2008.

But when you dig a little further, Millennials and Gen Z-ers were also shaped by global, cultural, and technological developments unique to their respective generations. For instance, older Millennials grew up alongside modern technology and watched the development and rise of cell phones and the internet. Young Gen Z-ers, on the other hand, were simply born into a world where the majority of people had smartphones and social media accounts. This difference alone plays an enormous role in the way they respond to marketing tactics.

This article by The Work Crowd sums it up nicely:

"Millennials were the 'guinea pig' generation, given total and unfettered access to the web before we were aware of the dangers lurking in cyberspace. We're (a bit) wiser now, meaning that Gen Z have been brought up with more caution around social media postings. While Millennials will still splash themselves around in the public spaces of Facebook and Twitter, Gen Z are more likely to go 'underground,' using private Whatsapp groups and Snapchat to check in with their mates."

The article goes on to explain that, because Millennials still engage with public online spaces, conventional social media marketing will reach them. However, Gen Z's proclivity for "underground" conversations and consuming content directly from social media personalities means that influencer marketing is a better way to reach them.

In your own marketing efforts, how would you find out which spaces your specific personas are engaging in, and what types of content they're most receptive to? You simply need to ask them.

How to develop a buyer persona

Research is an essential part of persona development. In some cases, you may have existing research that can inform the development of personas. In other cases, you may need to run focus groups and surveys to gather qualitative and quantitative information about your personas.

Your research should explore your chosen personas' relationships with the market and its associated products. Likewise, it should explore what any given persona needs to move from a state of unstructured awareness of a problem, to a decision to invest in you and your company. Here are a few important questions your research should aim to answer about each persona:

  1. How familiar are they with the markets and technologies?

  2. How comfortable are they in dealing with your product category?

  3. How do they approach decision-making?

  4. Who else they might involve or consult with before they make a final purchase decision?

  5. What sources of information do they trust to inform their decision-making process?

In thinking about these psychographic factors, make sure you are focusing on areas that directly relate to how people that align to this persona engage in the market in terms of learning, purchasing, and support activities that are relevant to your product. For example, in some cases, it may be relevant to call out certain aspects of the persona's lifestyle, such as the car they drive or the type of neighborhood that they live in.

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Proceed with caution when delving into these elements, though: This can be a slippery slope. You are not looking to build a highly detailed caricature of a particular person. Stay focused on the prize at the end of the rope. For each piece of data you want to include when building your personas, ask yourself the question, "Does knowledge about this particular element of psychographics help me better understand how to approach, position and message to people that align to this persona in a way that moves them forward on the customer journey?" If the answer is no, throw it out.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to researching personas is to start with quantitative methods to identify trends and clustering and then use qualitative approaches to understand the motivators that drive the quant findings. A side benefit of taking this approach to your research is that you can more easily and clearly understand where deficiencies and gaps manifest in how you serve your markets.

Why do I need to define and develop personas?

By developing personas, you are employing due diligence in your efforts to accurately understand and engage with your audiences. Taking the time to go through this process will allow you to build on your previous strategic messaging activities and help you develop a more nuanced, targeted approach when marketing to each of your customer groups.

The importance of this is illustrated in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007). Authors Chip and Dan Heath explain what it takes to make a lasting impact in the market. There are a few different elements required to make that happen (which they call the "six principles of sticky ideas"):

  1. Simple – The core message behind the idea is clear, concise, and easy to spot.

  2. Unexpected – The idea breaks the status quo and entices people to discover the outcome.

  3. Concrete – The idea is grounded in sensory information and its details can be interpreted similarly by everyone in your audience group.

  4. Credible – Your audience group believes in your idea based on the evidence provided.

  5. Emotions – The idea strikes a chord with the audience group by appealing to their emotionally-driven hopes and dreams.

  6. Stories – The idea is presented in such a way that helps the audience group put themselves at the center of your "brand story" and absorb its morals (our favorite principle!).

Each of these principles is completely subjective to your audience's interpretation. For instance, the emotional drivers and desires a "small business owner" persona might look completely different from that of a "parent" persona. That's why the act of thinking about people you're communicating with is so fundamental to any marketing initiative.

To that end, the most important thing your buyer persona accomplishes is feeding you the insights you need to create the right kind of content for your distinct audience groups. In previous blog post on this topic, I listed out some key "buying insights" for a hypothetical persona:

  • Experienced and highly technical decision maker (e.g., a CTO)

  • Builds expertise in the area of technology you sell

  • Educates themselves on all key vendors prior to meeting

  • Challenges colleagues to stress test demos and questions how features meet corporate needs

  • Delegates to subordinates to take part in online communities to triangulate competitive information and get sense for how various technologies are landing in market

Ultimately, these insights are tools you can leverage in personalizing the marketing content you publish for the real people represented by your personas.

And, in case you were wondering, no – you do not have to create loads of brand-new content for each persona. In fact, in the 2015 book Buyer Personas (which I highly recommend, by the way), author Adele Revella writes:

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With well-developed personas, you can become a master of curating and creating the right kinds of content for your buyers, with the right themes and messages, delivered through the right medium or vehicle. Personas will help you tell marketing stories that speak to your buyers' individual decision-making processes while remaining aligned with your overarching brand narrative. You can drill down on what each of your core audience groups cares about, and develop or curate content that takes them through the customer journey with your brand.

Next steps: The ever-evolving customer journey

The tricky thing about buyer personas and their respective customer journeys is that they must constantly be updated and revisited if you want your brand to stay relevant. Geoffrey Colon's book Disruptive Marketing reminds us that customer journeys are not linear – there are any number of different paths that a persona might take to work their way toward a desired action, and those paths may evolve over time.

"If you still follow the blueprint that marketing is a linear journey visualized as a funnel that inexorably leads to a sale, you’ve misunderstood how people behave and misbehave in our nomadic fast-paced interconnected culture," Colon said in an interview with Forbes about his book. "Also, just because people behave one way in one country or culture doesn't mean they will behave that way in another."

Colon's primary argument is that markets are constantly changing, and in order to be disruptive, brands must be willing and able to listen and adapt to meet the demands of their consumers, in the context of the world right now. Going back to our generational examples, marketing to a 30-year-old engineer (a millennial) today looks a whole lot different than marketing to someone represented by that exact same persona 20 years ago (a Gen X).

Remember, the people you're marketing to – and the culture they belong to – change over time based on the latest technologies, economic shifts, and global events. If your personas and journeys don't change with them, you'll be left behind.

Ready to start developing buyer personas for your brand? We can help. Let's chat.

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