The Most Important Marketing Tool You Probably Aren’t Using

If you aren't talking to an individual, you are only a mass marketer

by Ilana Rabinowitz |

Before social media taught us we had to sound human, we could talk to everyone in the same generic business-speak to everyone. Now, people have come to expect businesses to speak to them in a more personal way and to be more relevant.  Personas allow you to do that.

Personas will determine the content, tone and language that you use when communicating. To better understand how important this is, imagine yourself at a family holiday party.  You would not discuss the same topics or use the same kind of language with your grandmother who loves to garden, your college-age nephew who is fascinated with politics, or your sister, who’s an executive at a software company.

Personas have traditionally been used to develop website designs, but they are an excellent communication device for all marketing purposes.  Content marketing, which is what we are all doing, depends on knowing who you are speaking to and developing personas helps you craft the message that allows you to relate more personally. Whether it is through email, social media or in-person, when your words speak to a specific human being, you will better be able to connect.  People want to feel “she is talking to me.”’

What Is A Persona?

A persona is a fully formed description of a particular person that represents the needs and qualities of a segment of your audience.  The description includes demographic details, like age, gender, income level but goes much further.  You round out the description with psychological, social, cultural or attitudinal information that may affect you speak with the person and which methods you use to reach her.

A persona tells you where a customer hangs out online and what her preferred communication vehicles are.  The details of the persona will depend partly on your product or service.  For example, if you are in the business of selling pet related products you’ll want to know what type of pet the person has.  The more detailed the better.  So, if you can represent an entire group of customers by specifying small dog owner, it will help you when you are thinking about content.  The rule of thumb is 3-5 personas. 

How Do You Get The Information?

You can get actual demographic information in several ways.

  • If you have a customer list, there are database companies, like Experian, that can overlay public databases like driver’s license records and catalog buyer lists with your list to give you a profile of your list’s age and buying habits, without attaching the information to specific names.
  • Ask direct questions using surveys with survey tools like Survey Monkey.
  • Use Facebook polls to ask an occasional, multiple-choice question.
  • Use Facebook Insights to determine the demographic profile of your Facebook likes including age, gender and location.  You can also tell which of those demographics are most likely to interact with your Facebook page.
  • Speak to people at conferences, trade shows and other in-person events.  Note their questions and concerns and associate them with their buying habits.
  • Use your knowledge of one specific person who represents a typical segment of your audience and think of her as a start. You can add detail and richness to the description of a persona by doing this. Your personal experience and gut feel do play a part in developing personas.

Questions To Ask

Since you can’t talk about your product all the time, you want to increase engagement and opt-ins to your marketing efforts, you’ll be more successful if your customers know that when they hear from you or visit your branded media, they have a place where they feel known.

Asking the right questions will make a big difference in how well you market on social media and all forms of digital marketing.  For Lion Brand Yarn Company, the questions we ask include those below plus specific questions that relate to our product—hand-knitting yarn.  They include questions like what percent of her knitting is devoted to charity, gifts and personal items.  In addition to demographic information, here are some general questions that will help you develop your content so you can be a better marketer.

  • What kind of shopping experience does she want?
  • What is her favorite leisure activity?
  • What does she economize on and where might she spend more freely?
  • How does she shop for your product? Knowing that she researches online but shops in stores, or uses her Facebook friends for advice tell you a lot about your content strategy.
  • What products related to your brand do they buy? This is a great opportunity to develop strategic alliances with other brands.
  • What does she care most about in life? When you are talking about things other than your product, this is the subject you should be addressing.
  • What keeps her up at night?  This allows you to show empathy and evoke conversations.  Find a way to solve problems with your product.
  • What makes her laugh? People love funny content on Facebook.

Evolve Your Personas 

When I started at Lion Brand Yarn Company over 15 years ago there were probably two or three personas. Today, as knitting has become popular with young people and there are so many more ways that people connect with us, we developed our personas to reflect the lives and interests of younger groups and new platforms and ways of shopping.

Personas may not be a perfect device, but without them, no matter how hard you try to be personal and human in your communication, you’ll be talking like a mass marketer.


How To Use Facebook To Develop Personas

Scaling Empathy (Part 1)

Scaling Empathy (Part 2)

Are you using personas?  Do you think you should be?  Let us know, the comments are yours.

About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz

Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.