The development and use of customer personas for targeted marketing is grounded in solid logic.
Personas allow a business to develop visual cues to tell customers what it is as a brand. Often overlooked, though, is the valuable ability of personas to facilitate and personify a brand by giving it human characteristics and traits. Developing personas usually involves assigning this “typical customer” a fictional name, personal and professional background, and demographic information like age, gender, ethnicity, and family status.
But this methodology is seldom effective, and it’s no surprise that a 2014 survey by ITSMA found that while 44% of businesses responded that they’ve developed buyer personas, 85% of those businesses said they weren’t using them effectively.
The reason these personas aren’t effective is rooted in the approach companies use to develop them, looking outside the company’s walls to make educated guesses about customers, rather than working from the inside out. If companies are going to project an image of themselves in the marketplace, they first need to know and understand who they are.
Types Of Personas Or Archetypes
It is innate in human nature to respond to symbols, personas, and archetypes. As the father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung said, no matter the culture, no matter the period in history, human beings are hard-wired to respond to certain symbols and archetypes. From a persona development standpoint, archetypal cues can unlock behavioral drivers of a targeted audience. Archetypes not only help companies define their audiences but also aid businesses in defining their goals and values. When companies have their goals and values defined, and their archetype(s) clearly identified, it’s possible to develop much richer communication with audiences.
Historically, brands that are squarely aligned with an archetype and are consistent with that archetype in what they do and what they say last longer and have higher value in the marketplace. Examples of companies that meet these criteria are Coca-Cola, FedEx, and Nike.
While there are 12 fundamental archetypes, four are most commonly used to communicate company identity:
1. Hero: This archetype is about doing courageous things (Nike).
2. Outlaw: An outlaw company communicates a dangerous brand that is adventurous and even a bit scary (Harley Davidson.).
3. Innocent: This archetype communicates a desire for happiness, purity, and activates the caretaker in all of us (Coca-Cola, Ivory soap).
4. Magician: A company that has embraced the magician archetype is signaling it’s a transformational brand that can help create or manage change (Apple).
Components To Include In A Persona
This is where working inside out comes into play. Before deciding on an archetype, a brand must start at the very foundation of the company by getting very clear on its DNA. Does the company put culture first? Does it value innovation above everything else? This is a key question that must be answered.
Next, a company needs to determine the tonal cues it wants to communicate in the marketplace. These cues are usually made up of a set of five attributes that shape the brand’s actions. For example, is the company playful like GoDaddy? Is it adventurous and extreme like RedBull? Is it defiant like Harley Davidson? Getting a grasp on the tone it wants to hit with the public will inch a company closer to determining its archetype.
Finally, a company must focus in on its core desire, as defined by its motto. What is the company's primary goal? What is its strategy? What are its strengths? The answers to all of these questions are communicated and shaped by the archetype. For example, Zappos’ motto is “delivering happiness,” and its actions toward customers aim to do just that. This underscores its embrace of the innocent archetype.
Steps For Creating Personas
After honing in on the components to be considered in creating a persona, companies are ready to start the process of deciding which archetype to embrace. A company ideally should have one main archetype and no more than three in total.
• Talk to customers: The first step is to talk to customers to best understand them. This sounds pretty obvious, but many companies are actually fearful of reaching out to their customers. And it’s not unusual to discover that how the company views itself is very different than how customers view a brand. It’s time to get out of the ivory tower and understand customers as people, how they view the company’s value proposition, and how it is improving their lives.
• Get comfortable with the archetype: Next, it’s time to run things through the lens of the various archetypes to see how they feel. Part of this process includes getting familiar with the person who heads the company to understand him or her. Usually, the values and personality of the company founder or leader are very instructional on the company’s temperament and outlook–and this helps create a feeling of authenticity about the brand’s identity.
• Understand what the company represents: This is an opportunity to get ideas for archetypal cues by looking for historical symbols. By understanding how humankind has represented various ideas in the past, businesses can get ideas for archetypal cues to create a fresh mythology around a brand and the brand story.
Companies need to have employees rally around the same values and have customers respond to those values. To achieve this unity of purpose, brands need to be true to themselves. The challenge is deciding which archetypes to commit to--and which ones can grow with the brand.
Each business should put its finger on its own pulse, get clear on what it is, and talk to customers about what they think the brand is--and connect and reconcile all three. Then the business can create an authentic persona that will resonate with customers.