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Personas are the least understood and most misused tool in marketing today. There are some good ones and we’ve also seen many that are not so good. It is no wonder there are mixed results when it comes to the use of personas in marketing.

This post starts with a basic review of personas and ends with a quick recipe to create ad-hoc personas you can use immediately in a Buyer Legend. There are lots of additional  links to other articles about personas; follow all the links and you will gain a thorough foundation in creating personas.

Are your existing personas doing their job?

Do you know how good your personas are? Do you know what to look for?

Personas should inform you about problems or opportunities in your current customers’ experiences and inform the design of fresh customer experiences. They should help you create a content marketing strategy and your overall marketing approach. No tool will serve a marketer better in overcoming the “curse of knowledge”  we all suffer from.

A quick way to test personas for their ability to inform decisions is by taking your personas and walking them through your existing customer experiences. Go ahead and try this experiment on your website experience. Act as if you are the persona, then proceed to buy the way you think they would. If you find yourself at a loss trying to imagine what your persona would do in many stages of their buying journey, then you need to have your personas reworked. Be careful. If those personas are making decisions similarly to the way you make decisions, that’s a red flag.

Don’t be surprised by the results of your experiment. Clients have shared personas that represented six-figure investments but were not useful in decision making. We have also used ad-hoc personas constructed in under an hour in order to inform effective and profitable campaigns.

To summarize, from an article “The Stepford Personas: What Lies Beneath?” we wrote:

Personas by themselves can only evoke empathy and understanding, a vital and noble goal, but without an action plan those personas are handicapped. Personas without an action plan are like exercise equipment bought with the best of intentions.

Improving Existing Personas

In an article from 2004 we defined personas this way;

Personas created for a persuasive experience must initially be defined by completely understanding customers’ needs. Their needs lead into character biographies that represent and convey their world view, attitude, personality, and behavior. Personas are constructed from research that describes their demographics, psychographics, and topographics, related to how they approach the buying-decision process for the products or services offered.

Where most personas fail is in their ability to evoke an empathetic response. Personas are presented in lots of interesting ways. Your challenge is to present data-rich deliverables so that they are impressive and attractive. However, the indispensable part of any persona presentation needs to be a narrative that tells the persona’s story. That narrative needs to supply insight to make it easy to imagine how that persona might behave and what his or her needs and preferences are. You can add value with more data and even visuals but be careful not to use them in place of more compelling narrative. The more believable the persona, the more powerful a tool it will be for putting yourself in your customer’s place.

Be specific in your persona; use a real name and provide details, even some that may be unrelated to their buying journey but inform you about their character. These details add to the believability of the persona. I will share more about that later in this article.

How an Effective Ad-Hoc Persona Can Help Create Customer Experiences

In the last installment of the Buyer Legends Recipe Series, on Persuasive Momentum, I introduced you to Marshall. Here is Marshall’s ad-hoc persona and a simple narrative:

Persona for: Mall Sunglass Kiosk

Name: Marshall Thomlinson

Profession: Regional sales manager for a Medical Supply Company in Denver, CO

Age: 36

Buying style: Makes fast, emotional decisions. Impulsive but picky.

Purpose: To keep stylish and trendy to project image of success with clients and everyone else.

Objective: To run errands at the mall; was planning on waiting until late spring to buy new shades.

Goal for Sunglass Kiosk: To sell Marshall a pair of shades.

Challenge: Marshall is supposed to be running errands, not shopping for sunglasses.

Marshall is getting tired of his sunglass collection. He wears his shades a lot, especially when driving around town and meeting with clients. He has a few nice pairs, but thinks he might be due for a new pair before summer hits. As a salesman, it is important for Marshall to keep up appearances and he loves to dress to impress. He never tires of the ladies complimenting his shoes or belt or ties. Marshall thinks of himself as a GQ man. Marshall is smooth and suave and tells himself that he is good with money even though he easily finds justifications for big ticket purchases. Two summers ago, he bought a 4-wheeler on a whim and took it out only a few times since he’s owned it. Fortunately, his income as a commissioned salesman should be $85,000-$110,000 this year, so it allows him some wiggle room.

Here are a few excerpts from the reverse chronology for Marshall’s experience with the Sunglass Kiosk. Notice how these particular events in the outline were informed by his personas and helped us plan a better experience:

  • Marshall still thinks the glasses may be a little too pricey for his taste, but the no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee puts him over the edge, and he decides to pull the trigger.
  • “Hard to find” appeals to Marshall’s need to be one step ahead of everyone, not to mention that the glasses match his personal style.
  • The kiosk associate notices the style that Marshall has fixated on and explains that the brand is taking off in the U.K., and are hard to find.
  • The kiosk associate also tells him that particular style is available with brown tint, which is best for driving (kiosk associate is presenting a new value).
  • Marshall checks the price but doubles back. The price is more than he has ever spent on just sunglasses.
  • The kiosk associate is helping another customer, but the booth has plenty of mirrors, with sunglasses displayed and arranged neatly, a fun sign inviting customers to try on, and even take a selfie to share on social media for a modest discount.
  • Marshall notices a new Sunglass Kiosk. He has been itching for a new pair, thinking he would wait until spring, but the styles look interesting so he stops to browse.

Here is another example of how an ad-hoc persona can be used in an e-commerce setting;

Persona for: Bob’s Online Appliance Outlet

Name: Marcy Douglas

Profession: Medical Billing Specialist, works from home in Elko, NV

Age: 29

Buying style: Makes deliberate and logical decisions. She is thorough and detail oriented.

Purpose: To find the best value, getting the most out of every dollar.

Objective: To replace a broken microwave.

Goal for Bob’s Online Appliance Outlet: To sell Marcy a microwave.

Challenge: Marcy will search extensively for the lowest price on the model she wants.

Marcy lives in Elko, NV, an isolated small town in the northeastern part of the state. She shops online for almost everything except for staple groceries. Her microwave stopped working a few days ago, and she put replacing it on her to-do list. Marcy wants to buy a microwave that will last at least ten years and she will be meticulous in her research. She is not afraid to spend up to $500 but her decision will be made on quality, durability, and features that matter to her. Once Marcy decides what model she wants, she will shop for the best possible combination of price and reliable vendor.

Now here is a partial reverse chronology that outlines Marcy’s experience at Bob’s Online Appliance Outlet.

  • Marcy smiles and thinks this was a fun experience. She got the exact microwave she wanted, free shipping, and a price $49 dollars lower than she expected.
  • The confirmation page congratulates and informs her that her price offer has been accepted. It informs her that her order will ship today and asks her how she would like to be notified when her order ships and provides a form that lets her choose if she wants a text, an email, or both.
  • Marcy presses Buy to submit her offer price.
  • Marcy knows she was being a little greedy enters a price $49 lower than the Best Buy Price. Marcy believes that this price represents a sizeable discount but she thinks she has a shot at getting accepted.
  • A page comes up to inform Marcy that her price offer was too low, but encourages her to try again.
  • Marcy decides to go for broke and enters a price that is exactly $100 lower than the Best Buy price.
  • Marcy decides she wants to try and order from Bob’s and test the price offer feature.
  • Marcy also reads through several of the reviews to see if they are any different or new information that she didn’t get when reading reviews on other sites. She is satisfied with what she reads, nothing new. This confirms that this is the microwave she wants.
  • Marcy is impressed that unlike the Best Buy and other sites that offer price match, Bob’s offers her a box below the price to enter a price offer herself and doesn’t require her to call a phone number and hassle with proving a lower price.
  • As she arrives on the product page she reads that this item qualifies for free shipping. She also reads the product specs just to be sure it is the right microwave. She also notices that the price is $9 more than the lowest price she has found so far.
  • She enters the model number into the search box.
  • The site’s homepage has a banner saying that certain items qualify for free shipping, she also notices something in the top right corner of the page that challenges them to make a price offer and Bob’s will try to match it.
  • Marcy arrives at Bob’s Online Appliance Outlet site knowing exactly what she wants.

I’ve provided B2C retail and ecommerce examples but, of course, this is exactly what you would do for lead generation, registrations or any other complex or B2B sale. You can read about those in other articles in this series.

You don’t have personas?

Paul Slovic, a researcher for the University of Oregon, recently conducted a study;

In one study, Slovic told volunteers about a young girl suffering from starvation and then measured how much the volunteers were willing to donate to help her. He presented another group of volunteers with the same story of the starving little girl — but this time, also told them about the millions of others suffering from starvation.

On a rational level, the volunteers in this second group should be just as likely to help the little girl, or even more likely, because the statistics clearly established the seriousness of the problem.

“What we found was just the opposite,” Slovic says. “People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl.”

Slovic initially thought it was just the difference between heart and head. A story about an individual victim affects us emotionally. But a million people in need speaks to our head, not our heart. “As the numbers grow,” he explains, “we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need.”

This is why targeting broad stroke customer segments isn’t effective . It is also the reason why stereotyped personas and too-plain vanilla personas don’t work. We encourage large corporations with large customer audiences to take time and create a set of personas (3-7 personas per line of business) that both evoke empathy and truly represent the needs and buying styles representing a majority of their customers’ decision-making styles.

Nevertheless, simple ad-hoc personas can get you more than halfway there if you don’t have the time and/or budget for more robust personas. Your personas need not be precise (the more precise the more time and money is required), but they need to be directionally accurate about how customers behave when engaged in their buying process.

Create ad-hoc personas

In Buyer Legends – The Executive Storyteller’s Guide, we shared how to create ad-hoc personas for your Buyer Legends.

Select your perspective:

  1. Whose story (or legend) is this? Start with basic demographics, which should be representative of your typical customers, when possible. If you have a broad base of customers, don’t worry about representing everyone for now, simply select a common type or segment to get you started. Begin to list the traits of your customer and be sure to name him or her. It helps to be specific in your list of traits, as you want to end up with something that sounds like a real individual rather than a generalized stand-in. Start with a name and then give them an exact age, a career, a title, even an income if it is relevant to the story. The goal is to make your customer come alive in the reader’s mind. While all this may seem a tad superfluous, names and specifics will help you and your readers imagine the persona as an actual person, which in turn, will inspire empathy. Adding a picture of your persona/customer using an image search is also helpful. You can image search using your selected name or career, for example.
  2. Next, consider the buying style of your customer. While there are several buying styles people use, your persona will primarily tend towards one style within the context of this one Buyer Legend. When in doubt, we’ve found that selecting a deliberate buying style provides the best results for a first-time use. A customer with a deliberate and detail-oriented buying style will, by design, ask the most questions and, because of their penchant for being thorough, will at some time in their journey reflect many of the other buying styles. This detailed-and-deliberate buying style most fears making the wrong decision, and as a result, will ask the most questions. They want to know how it works, why they would benefit from a specific feature, what it can do for them, and what happens if they aren’t satisfied? It is likely that your company has dealt with these buyers, so get familiar with their needs and questions and integrate them into your legend. Additionally, imagine this customer in the early-buying stage, early enough where they are not even aware of your service and/or product as a possible solution for them.
  3. Next, define your conversion goal. Think of this as the destination for this customer’s journey. What is the end of the story? Did they buy something? Become a lead? Complete a task? Write it all down.

In section B of the book excerpt we touched on only one buying type, the methodical buyer. And if you don’t have the time or resources to create more than one persona make it a methodical persona. But here are the four types as Bryan described here.

  • Competitive. Fast-paced decision-making, logically oriented
  • Spontaneous. Fast-paced decision-making, emotionally oriented
  • Humanistic. Slow-paced decision-making, emotionally oriented
  • Methodical. Slow-paced decision-making, logically oriented

If you have time for only two, we always suggest you have a methodical persona (because they ask the deepest questions), and a spontaneous persona (because they are fast-paced and ask the most relevant questions). The spontaneous persona likes flash and fun, and is generally driven by their need to have quick-paced, emotionally fulfilling, low friction experiences. The humanistic type is focused on the effect their decision will have on others; they are bent towards relationships not only with their loved ones, but also want to have a relationship with the companies they frequent, which means the human touch is important to their experiences, so they will be be more deliberate. The competitive persona is very decisive. It’s your sale to lose. The competitive persona is generally driven by their need to have quick-paced and logical experiences.

Ad-hoc personas are a quick way to get you started. If you already have personas and they are not informing your decision-making, then improve them, make them more real, or create ad-hoc versions using this process. Personas can be powerful tools in bridging the gap between you and your customers.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help, please let us know.

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P.S. This is the fourth in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts , please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

Anthony Garcia (23 Posts)

Anthony Garcia heads up Client Services for Buyer Legends.  Anthony began his career by way of radio broadcasting at the young age of 14.  After a 15 years in broadcast radio management Anthony became an ad writer and client consultant for Roy H. Williams “The Wizard of Ads” and managed a portfolio of high profile clients including Leo Schachter Diamonds and Robbins Brothers.  He went on to become the lead consultant for Future Now Inc. working with Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg to help clients like HP, Webex, and NBC Universal. Anthony has teamed up with the Eisenbergs to work with such clients as Runa.com, OneSpot, Adorama, and Google.


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