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Friday, Feb. 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

Branding: Do Personas Apply?

By Marijayne Bushey
February 11th, 2011

On Monday of this week, Brendan Regan wrote an excellent post highlighting 3 ways to enhance CRO efforts with customer personas.  Grok reader Kyle Reiff, from FinallyFast left a particularly astute and intriguing comment on that post….

Is it really advisable to try and market to 4 personas through one brand?  If these four personalities truly require a specific kind of copy (copy which will drive conversions for these the consumers that match this persona), wouldn’t it make the most sense to develop branding for each persona type?

I guess what I’m asking: Is it a recommended strategy, especially if you’re in the process of launching a product, to re-evaluate your marketing strategy to including branding options for each persona?

His comment really got me thinking.  If he had asked the more typical “How can you possibly speak to 4 different types of people on one website?” I would have been able to answer the question in my sleep.  But he seems to intuitively understand that just because each persona might require a particular kind of copy doesn’t mean there have to be four websites.  Those four kinds of copy can coexist on one site, just in slightly different locations, even on the same page sometimes… but what about in a brand? I was stumped!

FutureNow friend, David Freeman, came up with a savvy character development technique for screenwriting called character diamonds, and has since adapted the diamond technique to Branding and Integrated Marketing.  The character diamond meshes nicely with our customer personas, since the conceptual roots are similar to those of our personas.  And another David, Dave Young, trained in FutureNow’s Persuasion Architecture, writes a branding blog we like to read and point people toward…. be he certainly doesn’t limit his topics to branding alone!  That’s why we sometimes look to one of the two Davids when it comes to overlaying our personas with a customer’s branding efforts.  Still, despite my limited knowledge of the two Davids’ branding techniques, I wasn’t really sure how to answer the question.

When I think about branding, I think about the single primary feeling a product evokes, or image it promotes.  For me, that feeling is most strongly associated with the product’s tagline, which usually appeals more openly to one of the four persona types than the others.  Here are some examples that came to mind immediately:

  • “The ultimate driving machine.” (Competitive)
  • “Feel the sensation!” (Spontaneous)
  • “You’re in good hands.” (Humanistic)
  • “Like a Rock.” (Methodical)

So, how could a brand speak to four personas?  Could it?  Naturally, I wasn’t the only one here at FutureNow who noticed this comment.  Senior Analyst Brendan Regan, who keeps tabs on the comments people leave on his posts, reached out to me to ask me if I had seen it.  Here’s the discussion that ensued (WARNING – this conversation contains numerous references to Meyers-Briggs and/or Keirsey Temperament types and styles, whose interaction styles tend to overlap quite nicely):

MjB: So what do you think about it [comment on your post]?  I know we can address 4 personas within the context of one site but what about one brand? Doesn’t a brand, by its very nature, favor one persona over the others? I think of examples of brands that exude a persona (the granola/tree hugger stuff, or the high power executive).  VW versus BMW is one example.

BR: Right, so it’s the personas vs. demographics thing.

MjB: Come again?

BR: Brands tend to target demographic segments, e.g. the BMW buyer type

MjB: But isn’t the message “the ultimate driving machine” targeting NTs? I mean, if you have a tagline that best represents what your product or service brings to the market, and that’s a part of your brand, how could that one tagline appeal to all people?

BR: A segment can “skew” to a particular MBTI, but to do it to the exclusion of other MBTIs is a mistake.

MjB: right…. I understand that even though BMW may skew to the NTs there may be other aspects of the product that appeal to other MBTIs too, like safety features, or energy conservation, or “it’s so fun to drive!”

BR: And, an NT may switch to a different buying modality once they realize they’re going to be investing $85,000 in a car!

MjB: OK. But that shift doesn’t change the brand at all, does it?  When branding, doesn’t one message tend to dominate the others?

BR: Yeah, “Branding” can/should exist separate from marketing personas.

MjB: It seems to me that with the strong association between a brand and it’s tagline, that all the examples I can come up with have a clear leaning toward one MBTI type, although it doesn’t mean other types wouldn’t find something to like in the product or service. How closely does a tagline reflect the overall brand?

BR: Yes, I agree that most taglines will skew towards an MBTI.  That’s why the tagline will only get you so far.  A tagline is an appendage of the brand.

MjB: I guess part of what I struggle with is knowing what a brand is exactly…. if it’s just the feeling a particular way of marketing evokes, it seems a little nebulous to me.  The only way I can relate or qualify it is by its more concrete parts.  So, if a tagline is an appendage of a brand do brands have multiple taglines, that appeal to different MBTIs?

BR: No, which is why trying to “brand” to multiple personas is probably a mistake. “Brand” to your overall target audience (the greatest good for the greatest number), then make sure the user experience and marketing covers all personas.

If you want to create customer personas, or even learn how to apply them to your branding efforts, contact us now to find out what we’d do to help you achieve your goal, and keep building upon it.

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Comments (10)

  1. I never really thought of having different messages for the same brand. Great interview, and I like the idea of branding to your target audience and implementing UX and marketing for the variations.

  2. Thanks for writing this post MJ! It was very cool to see my comment get turned into a whole post. It says a lot about your blog when you really read every comment and reply to readers questions in a meaningful way.

    In terms of the content of the post, a very interesting conversation and it definitely answers my original question.

    If I understand him correctly Brendan is saying that it doesn’t necessarily make sense to create 4 brands in order to market similar products to each persona type. It makes more sense to create one brand and focus on developing really versatile copy and brand messaging that will appeal across personas for that single brand. As he mentions a tag line is just one appendage of a brand and I guess with a multi-faceted approach you can create different touch points for one single brand that appeal to different personas. Definitely clears up the idea of branding vs. personas for me.

    Thanks again for writing this post MJ!

  3. @Kyle Reiff – my pleasure! Thanks for reading the blog, and contributing such thoughtful comments and questions to the discussions. :-) I think you understood Brendan perfectly!

  4. Interesting article. thanks for the additional knowledge.
    I agree that marketing programs should be integrated. and branding that leads to individuals in accordance with the target buyers or individuals must be a focus of its own. greeting

  5. An interesting thought to bring up. I think traditionally one would think that in order for a solid, memorable brand, there must be one persona or one message that is presented to the consumer. As marketing research has progressed in the past half century, people have attempted to present their message to multiple audiences, hoping to capture a wide range of consumers. My feelings towards branding are that you have to find a happy medium between multiple persona’s and a single one; too many persona’s and your brand may become diluted, too few and you may not reach enough potential customers.

    Thank you,


  6. Very interesting debate and one which will surface time and again as business grows and develops. Its true to say that having a brand target multiple audiences is tricky. The overall core message of the brand can risk dilution or even being lost. No wonder many businesses spend a lot of time and effort on market research and getting to know their customers. This is key.

  7. What about branding logos vs taglines? Should both the logo and tagline represent the same demographic or possibly use the multiple persona attribute?

  8. @TradeTechSports – logos are more like a brand (pick one and stick with it). But taglines are more open to variability, and having one brand, with a few different taglines, is one way to get around the persona issue.

  9. In my opinion a brand can not speak to all personas. The old saying you can’t be all things to all people” applies. If you try your brand will appeal to none and will be ineffective. Good discussion. Thank you Marijayne.

  10. Brand image is important thing. In my mind “humanistic” is very good type for branding.

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Mj has been proselytizing the merits of customer-centric, data-driven, continuous Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) for FutureNow since 2007.

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