Building Full Figured Personas

You can't have a conversation about the customer journey and personalization without talking about customer personas.  It's pretty common for agencies to anchor their strategy on the notion of customer personas; writing your content for a particular stereotypical customer type.  While that approach sounds good in theory, in practice the results can leave content authors struggling to develop effective personalization tactics.

Joan is 37, has a Masters in marketing, lives in a suburb, makes 75% of the family purchasing decisions, uses a laptop at work and an iPad at home...
— Fragment from a soft persona narrative

A single dimension persona like Sally the Senior Buyer, or Joan the Marketing Director doesn't have enough depth to enable messaging that resonates with the customer.  It's a Flat Stanley approach; turn it sideways & there's nothing there.  Google up 'persona card examples' and you'll see a lot of examples of general narrative that is written as an attempt to give a paper persona a 'personality'. 

Some customer segmentation exercises that I've seen tend to focus more on the static attributes (who the customer is) at the expense of focusing on their motivations (what they want to accomplish).  Another challenge point I've seen is a segmentation/personalization strategy that assumes the visitor will persist in a particular segmentation state for the duration of their customer journey.   The reality is, visitors will often migrate from one segment type to another.  Some of that is due to a progression (e.g., customer journey) and some is driven by the fact that our interests shift over time.

When we design customer segmentation strategies we tend to start with how visitors self-identify and what their goals are - what they're working towards.   

Persona:  To us, the persona is how the visitor typically self identifies.   For a sporting goods company like Rawlings or Mizuno the personas may be player, parent & coach.  We're working with a swimming association right now.  Here's how their visitors tend to self identify... 

  • Learning to swim
  • Swimming for health and/or fitness
  • Swimming competitively
  • Training for a triathlon
  • Open water swimming 

Visitors can and do move within segments, so your design and tracking should take that into consideration.  Think about the swimming personas.  It's not uncommon for visitors that start as 'learn to swim' progress to 'swim for fitness'; or fitness swimmers that decide to try out a swim meet; or triathletes just looking to better their swim time that take up competitive swimming or open water swimming.  Those are all common transitions that do occur over time.  

Visitor goals:  This segment speaks to what the visitor desires to get from their relationship with the brand.  These are typically macro goals that are tied to how the visitor feels.  In the swimming example, the goals may include...

  • Personal fulfillment:  e.g., striving to reach a health/fitness objective
  • Competitive success:  e.g., improving event times, rankings, etc. 
  • Community belonging:   e.g., participation in swim clubs, group practices, online communities, etc. 

From there, we extend, or round out the visitor profile with attributes that we know about or can listen for.  Some of this profile data can be found in your organization's CRM, ERP, POS or other line of business applications.  Some can be learned by listening for actions and events that the visitor triggers during their online experience.   

In summary, we believe in focusing first on the visitor's goals & motivations, and using the more static attributes to build that full figured customer profile.