In order for any brand to successfully market itself, it must first understand who the key demographic is for their product(s.) While this may seem like an easy part of marketing, you'd be surprised how often this can be a struggle for brands of all sizes. With this in mind, it's crucial for brands to develop personas, or representations of their ideal marketing demographic base.
Last week, our CEO, Stacy Jones sat down with an expert in the field of developing personas to discuss the most and least successful methods to identifying a brand's persona. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded examines some of the best practices to developing a marketing persona for your brand from the expertise and experience of Susan Baier from Audience Audits.
A Little Background On Susan Baier
Almost a decade ago, Susan went out on her own and launched Audience Audit, a company that dives in to provide and make understandable, targeted customer data to help better focus marketing efforts grow revenue and profits. Susan spends her time helping organizations better understand the needs of their customers.
Susan is a stats and research woman, and loves to discuss audience segmentation. But what's fantastic, is that she makes it really easy to understand and her grasp on how to conduct research surveys and actually interpret that data is quite impressive.
Highlight Q&As From Marketing Mistakes Podcast
Stacy: So often, someone comes to the table with the idea of what they want to do, and is totally not going to be spot on for who's actually purchasing their products. And that's why I'm so excited to talk to you today, because people don't necessarily at brand and agencies, always quite understand the personas they're targeting to.
Susan: Yeah. No, that's exactly right. I'm always amazed when somebody that I'm working with on the clients side comes in with even their own sense of who that is. I think we all have a picture in our heads, but I think a lot of times at organizations, it just hasn't really been flushed out, it hasn't been shared. So there's not sort of a common understanding of who the best audiences are. And when I talk to small business and ask who their audiences are, guess what the number one question ... The answer I get is everyone. Everyone!
It's a common problem. I think that's the number one thing that I see organizations and quite frankly even agencies doing wrong with respect to personas is that they don't do that. And I know there are a lot of folks out there who think this is just sort of some made up exercise so that agencies can make more money off of their clients or something. But I don't think that's true. I think a lot of the negative feelings that people may have about personas is because they've had an experience with personas where they weren't helpful.
And that happens a lot. Clients spend a bunch of money, agencies spent a bunch of time developing personas that don't actually help, and of course in that situation, you're gonna kinda get a bad taste in your mouth about that work. It's like I do research all the time, and I pretty much go in assuming that everybody's had at least one bad experience with research because it wasn't helpful, it cost a bunch of money, it never got used. So of course they have that perception. And I think to some degree that's what happens with personas.
Stacy: It's taken some time for me to get on board and understand and sell into our clients when we're working with them, that importance of developing personas.
Susan: I think one of the fascinating things to me about personas is, how far they can go if they're done well, in telling you who you don't want. Which is something that a lot of clients really have trouble getting their head around. "What do you mean? There isn't anybody we don't want." But if you spend time with them and you talk about personas sort of in a different way with a different perspective, and I know we're gonna talk about that, I think it does show you that there are customers that you don't want. Which can be, I would argue, equally as valuable as identifying the ones that you do.
Stacy: So how do you do it right? What is the way?
Susan: Let's talk about how we do it wrong. And then, I'll talk about too, how I think we need to be doing it differently. So we talked about the first problem which is that people aren't doing them at all. So the issue with that is, it just assumes that everybody's the same and everybody isn't. Even everybody who buys something from you, is not the same. But if you start treating them all the same, you miss a lot of opportunities to really connect. Which is why I think people buy. You can't treat everyone the same and make them feel connected to you. And I think that's how all of us make purchase decisions. Is that we feel that a company or a brand understands us and has a product for us. And if you're treating everybody the same, that's not happening.
The second problem I think is that ... And I say this with the utmost regard for all of those marketers out there and folks working in agencies, I am one of you, and so I've done this myself. But we guess, we just guess.
We sit around, we get the team in the conference room for the new client, and we try to get some young people and some older people, we do the best we can sort of within the agency walls, and we sit around and brainstorm what we think the personas are for this particular client. And we're guessing.
And we're not listening, we're not exploring, we're not researching, we're just guessing. And the problem with that is that it may not work. And unfortunately, we're not back in Mad Men days, and now if it doesn't work, we can see it, the client can see it, they see the same dashboards from google that we have. And they see that their ads aren't working and their sales aren't climbing and then the agency gets fired, so that's not good. Guessing's not good.
One of the first questions your team is asking new clients is, "What is the demographic that you're targeting?" And there's this silence, and clients don't always know. And I think that's the wrong question. I think demographics are the wrong way to build a persona.
For a couple reasons. The first reason is, the demographics just don't explain why people are doing something. You can line up a bunch of people that look exactly the same on paper in terms of income and gender, or organizations that are in the same vertical and have roughly the same revenue, and people with the same title in those organizations, and they are making different purchase decisions because they have different stuff going on that's causing problems that they're trying to solve.
So demographics that are women, men, families, whatever, they don't tell us what we need to know as marketers. Which is, why people are doing things. So I think that demographics can be part of a strong persona, but my problem is, if you start with demographics, that's where most people stop. Right? Like it's box that people just check off and say, "Oh, good. I have my personas, tic. And they're just, "A woman, 25 to 49 with a Volvo or whatever."
...I like personas that are so easy to understand because we all know somebody. Think about the candle example. We all somebody that's one of those kinds of people, a fragrance person or a decorator person or a gifter person. We all have a friend like that. If you're in that company, and you're working with those personas, you understand those people. You can have incredibly productive brainstorming discussions about what those people would find appealing or resonant and what they wouldn't, what kinds of things you could offer them in terms of resources or new products, what kinds of messaging are going to appeal to them. Once you get into people's heads like that, they get it. They get it absolutely.
To learn more about the importance of understanding personas, you can listen to the full interview in our podcast.
What's Next For Your Brand?
To learn more about marketing practices that have been in some cases successful and in others, learning opportunities for brands, you can check also out these blog posts we've written on the topic...
- 4 Dos And Dont's Of Marketing To Gen Z
- 4 Reasons Why Every Brand Should Have An Inbound Marketing Program
- A Brand Marketing Expert Shares The History Of Product Placement
- How Brands Leverage Marketing Opportunities In Music Festivals
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