Why Audience Personas Are More Relevant Than Ever

“Know your audience.”  This is the generic piece of advice thought leaders in the marketing and communications world have been telling us for years. But what does this phrase even mean? And how do you turn it into an actionable strategy?

Without a deeper understanding of what your brand is made of and who it stands for, simply knowing your audience won’t get you very far. This is why we advocate for personas, or semi-fictional representations of your current and prospective audience. While you might be thinking of the classic personas like “Dave,” the 38-year-old father of two living in Wisconsin accompanied by rigid stock photos, modern personas are much more malleable, detailed, and equipped to help your organization acquire and attain customers.

Whether you’re looking to increase membership, drive revenue, or connect with external stakeholders, personas build the foundation of your marketing strategy. Think of them like a movie script. Of course things can change, but the script informs action and provides a baseline to work from. Using surveys, interviews, and market research, organizations can gain a better understanding of the behaviors, motivators, opportunities, and challenges facing their audience to better tailor content, messaging, and marketing strategy.

Today we are going to dive deep into the world of audience personas and explain how they can be a valuable tool when utilized correctly.

A Brief History Lesson

Alan Cooper, a pioneer in software development, introduced the concept of personas as a way to summarize the important attributes of different user groups. Cooper expanded on this idea in his book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” where he describes the purpose of avoiding “elastic users” or a design target that continuously bends to the desires of the design team rather than developing with specific user needs in mind.

At the time, development teams had never thought like this and the concept blossomed into an entire industry dedicated to segmentation. Agency research teams would go out and find target users, interview them, and then provide descriptions to the development team as characters. Essentially, agencies were like the middle-man playing the role of a translator between users and development teams. Cooper’s book went on to inspire articles, journals, books, and more with the purpose of fleshing out personas in different ways.

What This Looks Like Today

Over the years personas have continued to evolve to further define customer descriptions and gain a deeper understanding of their behaviors. Look at a brand like Robinhood, a brokerage app which has gotten millennials interested in the stock market. Robinhood knows exactly who their targets are and how to effectively market to them. The app itself is built with millennial trends in mind like a simple user experience that cuts out the learning curve of traditional investing platforms, emphasis on mobile activity, and a heavy reliance on push notifications to mirror their social media tendencies. The app is designed to solve millennial point points such as learning how to save money or paying off student loans, layering other financial products to help users invest through the comfort of their home screen.

From an agency perspective, our team has seen this approach work firsthand. Alongside the American Welding Society (AWS), our agency developed audience personas to help AWS personalize their communications and marketing outreach to more effectively connect with their audience.  AWS has a large and very diverse membership base, and persona profiles provided them with a clearer understanding of how the organization can work to better support its various member segments.

How to Invest in Personas the Right Way

Personas should be consistent with your larger marketing strategy. With AWS, the personas we created help inform marketing decisions rooted in the wants and needs of their audience. Whether you’re a marketing manager, senior strategist, or brand director, personas are vital to marketing success because they drive calculated decisions and provide the team with a shared baseline to work from for a marketing roadmap or campaign.

If you think personas will drive your marketing strategy forward, there are several decisions to consider that may influence the effectiveness of your investment. First, can your organization handle the persona development in-house? If yes, great. If not, there are plenty of agencies at your disposal. When looking outside of your internal team for persona development, make sure you have a sound understanding of budget and how you are going to use the personas as part of your larger strategy.

Personas are constantly evolving to meet the growing needs of different customer segments, so finding the right agency to develop your personas is more important than ever. If deployed correctly, they can make a real difference in the longevity of your organization, helping you develop deeper relationships with your audience.

If you have questions about personas or interest in using personas for your brand, feel free to submit a contact form.

Mark DeVito's headshot

Mark DeVito

As a three-time Emmy Award winning brand strategist and creative director, our President Mark DeVito spearheads effective brand-centric strategic initiatives and creative marketing campaigns for our clients.

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