fluffy the kitten
In their zeal to create realistic personas, marketers sometimes lose site of the customers they aim to serve PHOTO: Alejandra Coral

The woman on stage proudly told the conference audience how her team had spent three days to find just the right kitten for Emily. 

Emily was a single working mother in her early 30s who lived with her 4-year-old daughter in a two bedroom apartment, was on a limited budget and often pressed for time. She also loved cats. Hence the search for the perfect kitten.

The thing was Emily didn’t exist. 

Emily was a “persona” dreamt up by the marketing team. The aim of the team was to create a series of recipes that used the company’s products on their website — a series of recipes “just for Emily.’

I’ll be honest. I have a few problems with Emily — and others just like her.

Personas with too Narrow a Focus

In focusing on an individual as a persona you can narrow your focus too much and miss a large percentage of the customers and prospects who might benefit from your messaging. 

By creating messages “just for Emily,” the team was ignoring a wider need for anyone who wanted to create quick nutritious meals on a limited budget. Personas should be focused on addressing customer needs, not on developing fictional characters.

It’s a Marketing Point of View

Often, as with “Emily,” these sort of personas are developed by the marketing team with little or no interaction with actual customers. 

Marketing teams are often organizationally isolated from everyday interaction with customers, but when developing personas it is essential that real-life customer experiences and needs are taken into account. Otherwise you end up with an inside-out perspective of what the marketing team thinks the customer is looking for, as opposed to what the customer actually needs and how they go about finding information and answers.

Customers are Changing

I have seen many personas documented along the lines of “goes to the website to do initial research, checks reviews on mobile, uses the app to purchase.” 

The customer experience is evolving, and at a rapid pace. I know my digital behavior patterns have changed over the last 12 months. We need to keep up with that, and so does the behavior patterns associated with any given persona. 

How often are personas reviewed to ensure that they keep up with new technologies and changes in how customers interact with your brand? 

Still Part of the Sell and Forget Model

Historically, personas are focused on the buying behavior for a given set of potential customers. They are designed to drive people along the traditional awareness—leads—prospects—sale funnel. But that only represents a small part of a customer’s overall interaction with a company.

How Do Personas Fit with the Continuous Customer Journey?

Once a prospect becomes a customer they shouldn’t be forgotten, and neither should relevant personas. 

How do your described personas interact with your brand from delivery of the product, through owning, operating and getting support? Do you understand your personas full customer lifecycles and how their journey across every interaction with your company is connected and mapped? 

Get that right and the satisfied customer persona can be your best advocate to generate even more business.

Was the Kitten Really Necessary?

When you are developing needs-driven personas to help you understand customer behavior it needs to be done systematically, efficiently and be based on data.  Building up an emotional backstory for a character is all well and good if you are working on your latest novel, but it can be a time consuming misdirection in developing effective customer driven personas. 

How many customer interviews could that marketing team have done during the time it took to find the perfect photo of Fluffy?