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FutureNow Article
Friday, Feb. 15, 2008

Getting the Most Out of Your Personas

By Bryan Eisenberg
February 15th, 2008

Personas are everywhere these days. They’ve long surpassed the buzzword and fad stage. They’re mainstream.

Marketing firms, usability firms, even companies’ internal marketing teams are crafting personas. Posters of personas are hung proudly in conference rooms. Tacked-up personas dress cubicles from coast to coast.

Sadly, many of these personas are only attracting dust bunnies. They don’t see any recognition past the initial creation.

If you spent any amount of time and resources building personas that represent your customers, it’s reasonable to consider getting more out of them.

Instead of letting your personas drift into a faint memory, here are a few things you can use your personas for.

Tweak Your Personas

A reason some personas get put in drawers is they aren’t as effective as they could have been. Profitable personas are representatives of all buying modes your customers have as they consider you or competitors. The measure for effective personas is that they must evoke empathy in your team and be tied to your business goals.

Go ahead and tweak your personas if need be.

Your Personas and Your Competitors

See exactly how well your competitors are doing with your personas. Take your personas through their site. Be brutally honest.

For each persona, note where your competitors do well and where they fail. In some cases, you’ll find they do better with one or two of your personas. Use this information to shore up your site to provide a superior experience for all your personas. Many times you’ll find new ideas and inspiration for changes in your persuasion scenarios.

Keyword Research

We’ve had many clients who eagerly used personas for everything but researching keywords. We often have to remind them to use their personas for this purpose. Start by brainstorming some of the terms and phrases each persona would use in relationship to your product/service in the early buying stages. Then move on to middle and late stages. By going through this simple exercise, you’ll immediately have a list of potential keywords you may not have otherwise considered.

Be sure not to ignore the low-traffic keywords you dig up. Often times these terms cost much less, reveal true buying intent, and, as a result, convert at astounding rates.

Offline Inspiration

Personas can also be used to inspire and guide your offline marketing efforts. Run all your creative through your personas, and estimate their response. Often you’ll find a particular creative works for some personas and not for others. Instead of ignoring the rest of your personas, adjust the creative to reach them as well or produce additional creative for the other personas. Have you noticed that Geico has very different simultaneous campaigns? The gecko and cavemen campaigns appeal to different customer segments.

Give Personas a Say in Your Marketing Budget

A well-crafted, well-researched persona set represents all your potential customers. But not all personas are equal in their monetary value to the company.

When you’re trying to make tough budget decisions on where and how to market, you can use your personas as a guide. We had a client who had more marketing opportunities than resources and time. Using his personas, we were able to help plan the rollout of an ambitious redesign project by starting with the site elements that appealed to two of his most valuable personas. The redesign’s second phase was to shore up site elements for secondary personas.

You can use this same line of planning to determine how and where to spend marketing dollars, online and off-.

Conclusion

Don’t let your personas get off easy by using them for only one or two projects. Instead, drag them out for everything. Run all your new creative by them, even use them to come up with more effective site optimization ideas. (That’s a column for another time.)

What have your personas done for you lately?

Reprinted from my ClickZ column.

[Image from Ingmar Bergman's 1966 classic film, Persona.]

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Comments (5)

  1. Agree as usual. I also feel personas can be valuable in conducting content gap analysis, e.g. “what web content is my existing site missing and not providing to my most valuable prospects?”

    Then feed that input into product marketers, copywriters, and web folks to plan site updates. Best of all, it’s a great way to remind folks that websites/content aren’t static–they must always be growing and adjusting to the market.

  2. [...] Getting the Most Out of Your Personas – This is a “must read” post about managing personas. If you haven’t created personas already, I recommend you make that a priority! It will probably force you to make some changes to your management style… [...]

  3. [...] Jim Sterne gave a fantastic presentation with the WAA in Ottawa two weeks ago and spent some time talking about the concept of personas. In order to have a truly relevant website, he feels that you need to understand who the primary personas of your target market are, and ensure that each page of your site has something for each of them. I asked a question to a subsequent speaker regarding the difference between personas and segments. For more details check out this great Bryan Eisenberg article called “Getting the most out of your Personas” [...]

  4. Hey Bryan,

    Great advice as usual! There was an area where I can add value to your post. You said:

    “See exactly how well your competitors are doing with your personas. Take your personas through their site. Be brutally honest.

    For each persona, note where your competitors do well and where they fail. In some cases, you’ll find they do better with one or two of your personas.”

    One of the things we offer with Semanticator ( http://www.semanticator.com ) is knowledge of which competitors the representatives from each of your personas have visited. As an example, we are currently working on detecting, upon arrival, an “Event Planner” persona for a large hospitality company. The initial experience with our client’s websites will be altered based on the level of commitment to any of the named competitors. So, if they only looked at the “Meetings & Events” section, they will be welcomed by an initial page that has a 30% to 50% focus on meeting planning. However, if they go deeper, say complete a request for proposal form and reach a thank you page on a competitor’s website, we will increase the focus on meeting planning to the 70%-90% range. This approach is resulting in radically reduced bounce rates.

    If you are following me here, we will now know which of your personas are visiting which of your competitors. A measure of how successful you are with each persona might be comparative close rates within a persona across an array of competition. We even allow our clients to go beyond the Web and follow visitors whom have visited a particular competitive threat and match a particular persona offline. We are working with a large transportation/storage company to detect visitors that have visited a strong competitor. Not only will the home page change to brace against this competitor, the universal 800 number will also change. This enables the call center representatives to position our client’s products and services vis-á-vis that competitor. And, our client can now track purchase behavior associated with that competitor offline as well.

    I thought you might find this approach, enabled by our patent pending Semanticator technology, useful as companies like ours attempt to advance the application of personas in modern marketing.

  5. Thank for great article.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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