“The reason personas failed to achieve true personalization is that they were too simplistic to reflect the unique attributes that differentiate individual customers and prospects from the mass of other similar customers and prospects. And that is the essence of true personalization.”
These sentiments belong to TIAA CMO Connie Weaver. Indeed, over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a surge in the number of companies disappointed by the lack of a significant increase in response and engagement from their traditional persona-based segmentation. Whereas personas were once a good starting point to identify “buckets” of customers, the limitations of persona-based marketing have become apparent as the consumer decision-making journey veered from its predictable linear path and increased in complexity.
“Customer expectations for personalization have changed with astonishing velocity in the past year and will continue to transform rapidly,” said Paul Andrukonis, director of channel engagement and personalization at Citi Global Cards. “To keep pace in today’s highly personalized marketplace, it’s essential to empower customers with the ability to shape their individual marketing and service experience with your brand.”
Persona Research Findings
A consistent finding has emerged from thousands of hours of B2B and B2C Voice of Customer (VoC) research our firm has conducted for brands such as Microsoft, MassMutual, Gilt, and QVC: “It is essential for marketers to establish ‘human partnerships and relationships’ post-sale. Consumer relationships require authentic and relevant communications and interactions.”
Additional thoughts from our research regarding the impact of personas gone wrong include:
- “When I receive generic emails, it is obvious that you do not care enough to understand my individual needs. Instead, you are trying distill my complex needs into simple generalities to make your email blast easier for you ... and useless to me!”
- “You marketers don’t seem to understand that personalized engagement post-sale is valuable for the customer and ... it forges strong ties with your company that serve as a ‘grace account’ upon which to draw when there is the almost-certain problem or outreach from competition.”
A Fortune CMO summed up the damage caused by traditional personas this way: “We are using new CRM technology to automate old bad behaviors ... not guided by how customers define improved CX and personalization ... so the result is irritating and brand-damaging spray and pray.”
Going Forward: Human Data-Driven Personalization
Traditional personas based on implicit data (web browsing behavior, data mined from social media, and purchased-based behaviors) do not provide the necessary depth of information to drive relevant communications and offers. As a result, today’s personas are not generating the expected increases in response. Marketers must now make a profound shift toward “human data,” which is based on explicit, self-profiled, opt-in preference data. Human data personalization is unique in that it lends itself to segmentation based on self-described personality types, attitudes, and life stages.
“We are shifting focus from products we want to sell to truly understanding the financial needs and uncertainties of our individual customers and how they ‘feel’ about these complex issues,” TIAA’s Weaver said. “This is a profound shift and will impact every aspect of our personalization, CX, and problem-solving for each individual customer.”
Added Citi’s Andrukonis: “You will not transform your key metrics, such as conversion rates, engagement, ROI, or anything else, until your customers see their voice reflected in where, when, and how you sell your products. Moreover, by letting customers make you smarter about how, and how frequently, you market your products, you create more opportunities to heighten engagement with your brand.”
Another brand leader, GameStop, is initiating new strategies to gain deeper insights about who its customers are in order to develop more authentic and effective human data-based personalization and CX strategies.
“We recently analyzed the personas we had been using and found that the customer had changed dramatically,” said Darin Smith, senior director of PowerUp Rewards at GameStop. “We are now rethinking the real-world, human differences, versus just transactional differences, among our individual customers and formulating a plan to engage with them as individual gamers versus superficial aggregates of different gamer personas.”
Another exciting innovator is luxury design brand Shinola. “Traditional personas tell you very little because they are based on simplistic models and transactions,” said CMO Bridget Russo. “They cannot help understand why customers bought, what motivated them to buy, etc. Cookie-cutter persona-based marketing will not work for today’s savvy buyers.”
Dennis Kopitz, Shinola’s director of ecommerce, added: “To achieve and scale true personalization, we need to obtain deep human insights regarding who buys which category of our products, why they buy, what their needs and expectations are, and what they want next from us. This will take us to a far deeper level of understanding than traditional personas.”
How can you evolve to the next level of personalization and achieve “human data-based partnerships and relationships” with customers? Here are three considerations:
- Traditional segmentation based on modeled “generic” personas does not differentiate individual consumer interests, lifestyles, and connection with the brand/product. Rather, it limits the ability to demonstrate why a consumer should purchase from it versus competitors.
- Human data, based on explicit, self-profiled, opt-in preference information, drives deeper levels of understanding and is therefore the key to developing more significant relationships.
- Poorly executed personalization is viewed as irritating by consumers and not only wastes of marketer’s time and resources, it damages brands.