Why Marketing Personas Are BS

Why Personas are BS

Traditional marketing personas are bs. They’re usually based on nothing. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar, this is Buyer Bill (Marketing Mary, Driver Dave…), he drives an SUV, has a wife, two kids, and has a dog named skip. On the weekends he likes to play cards with his friends and watch sports.

How does this completely made up stereotypical nonsense suppose to help us sell him dog food?

It won’t. It’s a work of fiction that does absolutely nothing.

I can see you posturing up in your chair right now, “Well, hang on there, our personas are based on research – demographic or psychographic data.”

Great! If only we are our demographics. Just because we share a birthday with a group of people, or live in the same location, fall into the same income bracket, etc. it doesn’t mean we have anything in common.

We see this all the time, “millennials do this”, or “If you want to reach Gen Z, you have to do that.” Utter nonsense. 

It presupposes all 26-35 year olds are all the same, which is absurd and arbitrary. Why not target all size 10 foot people? The agreeableness (also referred to as cohesion) of any demographically or psychographically defined group is about 10-14% according to the research by the Valuegraphics Research Group. 

Also, people are coming and going in and out of these demographic and psychographic buckets all the time. You have birthdays, you relocate, you change relationship status, you get fired or promoted… One day you’re 35, and you have a birthday and suddenly you’re in a new age bracket and we need to treat you differently. Intuitively, that doesn’t make any sense.

Something is missing.

According to the great work from researcher, David Allison, Valuegraphics is the idea of defining a group of people based on their values. He maintains there are 56 core values such as personal growth, friendship, family, belonging, environmentalism, creativity, and so on… and people only make decisions based on their values. This claim is supported by all the behavioural sciences.

So, if you create products, marketing messages, recruitment campaigns… around a particular set of values rather than some arbitrary data point such as age, then you can expect to see agreeableness, or the cohesion score, go up to 90%. 

For example, if you want to sell popcorn, one way could be: “Get the taste of movie theatre popcorn right in your home”. You could target 18-35 year old single women. It may motivate some small percentage of that group – about 10-14%.

Don’t sell the taste, sell the experience.

Suppose you knew just one thing about your buyers, whoever they are, e.g. customers who buy popcorn, for whatever reason, all seem to rank family as the thing they value most.

Knowing this, you could instead craft your message to be something like, “Family night just got butter (perhaps in the creative, you cross out better and put butter).

A message like this may be more appealing to people who value family. 

So demographics describe. Psychographics record. Valuegraphics influence.

The obvious question then is, how do we know what our customers value? You need to survey them. In Allison’s books, We Are All the Same Age Now, and The Death of Demographics, he goes into detail about his vast research spanning 10 years. He details how organizations can survey their customers or use Allison’s database to understand what their customers value. Knowing that, you are much better positioned to get them to take the desired action you want to achieve.

At Ewanity Marketing, we work closely with the folks at the Valuegraphics Research Group to deliver value-based marketing strategies. Please contact us to learn more about our Last Mile Advisory services.

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