Criticism of Customer Personas in Online Marketing
Mr. Spock, Are Personas Practical and Logical?
"No one can guarantee the actions of another." -Spock, "Day of the Dove", stardate unknown
In case you were not sure of my level of nerd, this ought to cement it for you.
Yes, I am a Trekker.
Though I have never dressed as a Star Trek character, I will admit to having a secret crush. Not on Captain Kirk (thankfully, because I would be totally creeped out by Captain Kirk plugging for Priceline.com right now). But my secret longing has always been for Mr. Spock.
So when reading up on what the critics have to say about personas in marketing, I kept thinking back to Mr. Spock and wondering what would he say?
What the Skeptics Have to Say About Personas
I was only able to find 3 main criticisms of personas, and they fall in line with what I have heard from several business owners and marketers.
- The underlying logic is not based on reality.
- It is not practical to implement.
- There are no empirical results.
Ok, fair enough. Lets take these on one at a time.
1- Personas are fictional characters, true. However, a proper process to create customer personas should include interviews with customers and anyone within the organization who is front facing with customers (like SALESPEOPLE). Personas that are created outside of a data-driven process that sales is not just involved in- but is driving is, at best, the figment of a very creative marketer. This problem leads into #2 and #3.
However, the internet now gives us that data. Every click on your website is performed by a potential customer. Every search on Google is additional data. Marketers now have access to this customer data in order to create data-driven personas. Analytics and keyword research is the gateway to discovery.
2- A lot of books and research have been done to tell us how to implement personas in marketing. It is certainly not a new concept. The criticism comes down to the perception "of smug customer-centricity" that actually distances a team from engagement with real users and their needs. The arguement is that real-world stories and customer immersion would better serve designers to understand the needs of users.
I tend to agree with this and keep this in the back of my mind at all times as a reminder. The rebirth of the persona concept from web marketers has indeed given way to some seeing this as a fast track to results, without every taking the time to ask, "Is this really our customer? Does this tell us anything about him or her that we did not know before?"
The goal of using a persona to describe your customer should always be to improve the customer experience and facilitate better communication not only with them, but also with your internal team. Ideally, it should help both marketers and salespeople identify a prospect's compelling reason to buy.
3- Results. (Oh, yessss.) The pot of gold at the end of the philosophical rainbow. Critics of personas would argue that metrics to measure the effectiveness of personas are soft. If #1 and # 2 are true, then this would also be true. In order to avoid this folly, start your work with personas based on your business goals, marketing objectives and key performance indicators. Know where you are going before you start the journey.
What if you are not sure where you are going? What if you are trying to gain traction in a new, unknown market? As long as you know what success looks like (KPIs), then you just need to choose the right captain to direct the ship to discovery.
So Mr. Spock, what say you? Is it logical? Practical? Going to where no man has gone before?
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