Personas. We’ve all heard of them. They’re coined ‘a must’ for brands, but why exactly do we need them? If you value 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 they really are.

Personas are the people you’re expecting to engage with your business, content, or service. 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 groups they are members of, their general interests, 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 you define, 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, 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 benefit is in using them.

Personas Are Your Gatekeepers

Every campaign, marketing effort, piece of content, landing pages, events — it all should be crafted with a specific persona in mind. If you don’t target a specific audience, then who are you writing, creating, posting for? Personas are there to help you define who your audience segments are, what they care about, and what interests them. Then you take that information and articulate a solution that helps solve the ideal customer’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 brands 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 you may need to improve. At equal importance is the persona’s ability to create consistency in brand messaging along the consumer journey. Once the layered personas are established, you’re in a position to better understand all potential interactions your brand could have with the persona. Knowing your tone and voice needed to communicate from point to point is crucial.

Personas Save Time

Defining personas is the time-consuming part. Referencing them only takes seconds. Knowing your audience and the user journey drastically reduces time in crafting efforts. Launching something without an audience 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 glancing and use.

Personas Put You in Someone Else’s Shoes

Creating personas make you think like your audience. It makes you adopt a different frame of mind, and forces you to shift your perspective. You become your audience 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 a brand 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 Make Or Break You

Your audience makes or breaks you. These personas are the people that keep you in business. They can become your biggest advocate or your biggest critic. 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 these imaginary characters, 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 brand, 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 used. 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.

Take Ellen for example.

Her current situation is:

Ellen is a young marketing professional working in Washington, D.C. after graduating from University of Michigan in May 2016. She recently relocated from Michigan to experience a new city. Ellen lives with three roommates on Capitol Hill, all who are nursing students. Her roommates are great, but due to their abnormal schedule doing clinical hours, they rarely have free time to explore the D.C. scene. Ellen is craving some new friends in her new city, but doesn’t know how to meet people organically. She’s met a few people at work, but cultivating those relationships take time. She’s also not the type of person that likes to go out alone to events.

Ellen’s future situation:

In the mornings, Ellen gets up around 7am to take a yoga class before work, and then spends her first 30 minutes (9:30ish to 10:00am) at work catching up on emails. She’s subscribed to plenty of marketing newsletters to help with her marketing analyst job, including the American Marketing Association’s.

Ellen works in D.C. near Farragut North. She gets off work around 5:45 every evening, and has a 20-minute bus commute on the metro to get to her apartment. Those 20 minutes are normally spent browsing social media.

The brand looking to fill the void? The American Marketing Association. There are holes here that can fill Ellen’s needs. Here are a few possible efforts, with Ellen’s persona in mind:

  • An email blast sent at 9:45am about an event for young marketing professionals at the Renwick Art Museum Tuesday night at 7PM (Ellen checks her email in the morning, and she’ll be done with work closeby — she may be more inclined to go since she’ll already be in the area)
  • A social media post about a pop-up AMA event at a bar in Dupont Circle with free entry and a drink voucher (young professionals love to mingle with a free drink in hand!)
  • An exclusive discounted membership offer to young professionals new to D.C. as a way to connect them with others in the area (Ellen is looking to meet new people in the area!)

While the scenarios are made-up, the situations are not. Ellen is a very common persona, and a well-thought out one.

What gives brands the upper-hand is defining personas, developing potential scenarios, and finding ways to intersect with personas throughout their journey.

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

Interested in learning more about the value of personas? Hear our experts present a session on April 4th, 2019, a part of Association Media & Publishing’s Lunch & Learn series.