The Value of Personas

Personas. We’ve all heard of them. They’re coined ‘a must’ for brands, but why exactly do we need them? If your organization values efficiency, growth, and continuous learning to improve your brand, read on. The secret as to why we need personas? It’s not merely having personas, it’s using them.

Before we dive into the value of these imaginary characters, let’s quickly review what personas are at all levels:

Personas Are Like Onions

Think about an onion. What’s it have an abundance of? Layers. As you peel back more layers, the more flavor you get and the closer you get to the core, right? The more layers you add to personas strengthen their complexity and your understanding of who these potential audiences really are.

Personas may represent the potential new members or supporters you’re expecting to engage with your organization. At the most basic level (the flakey onion skin we take off first), we define personas based on their demographics, characteristics like job title, age, gender, average income, etc. As we dig in at a deeper level, we discover more layers (the meat of the onion):

  • the types of websites they visit
  • the associations they are members of
  • their general interests
  • causes they care about
  • where they spend their leisure time
  • where they gather offline
  • business priorities
  • common pain points
  • digital consumption patterns, etc.

The list goes on. The more variables your organization defines, the more detailed your persona becomes, and the better you know this fictional character that could engage with your brand. Once all those layers are defined, organized, and developed, dive deeper and think: how can we connect with these personas in those places? Here’s where we start to get into the importance of personas. It’s nice to have them, but the real impact is in using them.

Personas Are Your Gatekeepers

Every campaign, marketing effort, piece of content, landing page, or event should be developed with a specific persona in mind. If you don’t target your organization’s specific audience, then who are you writing, creating, or posting for? Personas are there to help you define who your niche audience segments are, what they care about, and what interests them. Then, you take that information and articulate a solution that helps solve your ideal member or visitor’s needs while aligning with the services and products your brand offers.

In conjunction with holding the key to the direction of future efforts, personas provide mission-driven organizations an understanding of pain points and consistency. Defining complex personas and knowing what’s bothering them is a direct clue into what needs work;  it directly addresses what your organization needs to improve. At equal importance is creating consistency in your messaging along the user’s journey. Once the layered personas are established, you’re in a position to better understand all potential interactions your organization could have with the persona. Knowing your tone and voice needed to communicate from point to point is crucial.

Personas Save Time

Defining personas takes time. But, referencing them only takes seconds. Knowing your audience and their journey drastically reduces time in rethinking efforts. Creating content that is published through your website or newsletter without your members in mind leads to revisions, retesting, retargeting, etc. Knowing audiences up front alleviates some of those challenges. Personas are your cheat sheet for all your efforts. Everything you need to know about each persona should be in a one-sheeter for easy reference and use.

Personas Put You in Your Member’s Shoes

Creating personas help you to think like your members. It makes you adopt a different frame of mind, and challenges you to shift your perspective. You become a potential new member to your organization or a curious mission-driven visitor when building personas, which is far more effective than just describing them or distantly speaking about them. Standing out in today’s highly saturated world as an association or nonprofit is tricky. Your edge is to fuel your efforts and strategies by becoming your persona, thinking about what they’d respond to, and put it into action.

Personas Can Make Or Break Your Organization

Your audience can make or break your organization, especially for associations and nonprofits. Your members or supporters can become your biggest advocates or your biggest critics. They need to be studied, understood, addressed and heard.

As Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Personas Need Scenarios

To get the most value out of personas, it’s not just about defining who they are, it’s about creating realistic scenarios around their type of person. You can know all you want about a persona, but if you don’t create possible situations that could potentially intersect with your association or nonprofit, you’re missing out on engagement opportunities.

Personas without scenarios are like cars without drivers. Personas and cars aren’t meant to be stagnant, or parked, they are meant to be driven. If you don’t know the types of journeys each could go on, your persona or car holds very little value.

When developing scenarios, it’s essential to look for moments to plug in a possible opportunity for your brand, a moment to fill a void or a need. While the scenarios are made-up, the situations are not.

What gives mission-driven organizations the upper-hand in creating impact through marketing efforts is defining these personas, developing potential scenarios, and finding ways to intersect with them throughout their journey.

Once you’ve developed personas, there’s a number of efforts you can direct your energy toward. Stay tuned for future blog posts we’ll post to devote time to explore these tactics at a deeper level and keep you pushing beyond what you thought possible.

Jenna Lally's headshot

Jenna Lally

As Marketing Strategist, Jenna crafts customized digital marketing strategies and cross-channel content to connect with diverse audiences.

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