One of the key marketing concepts you see thrown around when it comes to selling products or services is target audience or target market (is there a difference?).
Brand personas sound similar, but where do they fit in? How do you use them to unify brand messaging and cut down on marketing activities that end up serving no one?
Let’s find out,
Sent from Montreal, Canada.
A brand persona is a narrative that combines disjointed audience characteristics into a coherent profile of a fictionalized customer.
A narrative technique helps put forward a compelling story that we can emphasize with. Audience characteristics vary but tend to include background, behaviours, quirks, needs, challenges, hopes and goals, which are derived from customers and market research.
Fictionalization is key. Brand personas are not descriptions of your customers — they incorporate common traits that help you humanize the market you want to serve. The more specific details you include the more relatable your brand persona becomes.
Brand personas should make clear who your product, your website or your ad campagin is for.
If you offer several products or services — create more brand personas to cover all the bases, but keep the total to two or three max, as each requires constant updates.
The value of a brand persona comes from consistency and alignment. When your team is working and writing for the same customer, the work effort itself becomes more focused and productive, with fewer arguments and distractions.
In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin elaborates on why it’s important to know who your product is for before creating it:
Find a lock then make a key. It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than find customers for your products and services.
It used to be that a target market described a group of customers with similar characteristics, which would be split into target audiences based on the advertising media used to reach them.
With the rise of cross-channel marketing and continuous decline of traditional advertising, this separation has become muddled at best.
A better way to think about a target market now is as a segment that a company is going after. Since there can be multiple product lines, a company can define separate target audiences within any given market. A brand persona is then a fictionalized representation of a specific target audience.
It’s helpful to frame it in terms of differentiation and segmentation:
Differentiation means thinking very hard about the market and your competitors and somehow making yourself different.
Segmentation is a variation of that, but it involves breaking the audience into pieces you invent, and then differentiating yourself for that segment.
You compete in the target market based on differentiation. Jira and Trello (both owned by Atlassian) serve the project management market, yet they are able to coexist by differentiating themselves. While Trello positions itself as an easy-to-use kanban board for small teams and personal projects, Jira owns a large share of the enterprise software development market.
Basecamp is an interesting example of segmentation. It targets small businesses (not necessarily in tech) and differentiates itself by being an all-in-one solution for managing projects (including to-dos, documents, chat, etc.).
Start gathering information on the target audience you want to represent with a brand persona. Include demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural descriptions.
Which target audience should you pick? Consider the minimum viable audience suggested by Seth Godin:
The smallest group that could possibly sustain you in your work.
If you don’t have a product or service yet, interviews with potential customers are invaluable. But nothing beats having data on past clients and real-life analytics.
The key is not to be everything for everybody, but to create something for as specific of an audience as possible.
The strategy of the smallest viable audience doesn’t let you off the hook — it does the opposite. You don’t get to say, “well, we’ll just wait for the next random person to find us.” Instead, you have to choose your customers — who’s it for and what’s it for.
— Seth Godin
After that, look at all the aspects of your audience and find the common thread, which would serve as the structure to build the narrative around.
Personalize and add more details to your structure to create a story.
Brand personas are about understanding patterns, lifestyles and motivations. They are reality checks on the choice of your target audience. Is it reasonable for people to behave in the way you want them to?
Keep testing and adjusting your brand persona based on the feedback and the reality of your market.
As your product or service develops, monitor how your customers fit your existing brand persona to spot any outliers. Start a new persona for them, if needed.
Brand personas require the bulk of the work to be done upfront. But using them and keeping them up to date brings alignment and focus to the whole team. Don’t let them collect dust in a folder somewhere on your file server.
Imagine you’re running a commercial gas station in an industrial area of Vancouver, BC. You’re trying to create a brand persona to understand how you can serve your customers better.
You start by asking your employees to survey truck drivers who stop by every day. You average out your findings and create a profile of factual charactertistics.
Based on these descriptions, you sketch out a quick brand persona.
After a decade of working odd jobs, Brad found his calling in driving semis and has been doing it for 22 years now. He has mastered all aspects of the job and enjoys driving through the British Columbia scenery for hours on end.
Most days Brad is either driving in or out of Vancouver and prefers to stop at the same gas station. He trusts the gas prices, doesn’t mind the coffee, gets a sandwich, and knows there will be a few familiar faces around to talk to.
Even based on this short narrative alone, your team can start thinking of new offerings to improve Brad’s life:
Facts on their own feel dull and dry. Brand personas are stories. And stories help bring new ideas to life.
People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel.
— Seth Godin, This Is Marketing
The next the gist of will be about writing your brand story.