Have you ever phoned someone – let’s say a colleague or even a client – and their three-year old child unexpectedly answers the phone? In your mind, a funny thing happens. First, you identify that it’s a child (we’re clever that way, humans).

Gear change required. In an instant, you’ve mentally swapped your suit for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, quickly released your hair from its tight work-do, popped off your glasses. Your voice goes a little higher, a little softer. In a gentle tone you ask if mummy or daddy is there. The child has a brief conversation with you, about his teddy and you, still sweet-voiced and kind, act suitably surprised/disbelieving/delighted until suddenly your colleague comes on. Ping! In a flash, you’re back in pro mode.

The point? We do this to improve our communication and we adapt our language to suit to make it clearer to our listener. Our tone, manner, vocabulary and behaviour change depending on who we’re talking to. This happens with all of our interactions: our parents, friends, a waiter at a restaurant, a foreign language speaker, our old school teachers.

It also changes for different settings: relaxed dinner, job interview, argument. We’re constantly switching mode. It’s pretty subtle stuff, but you know immediately when your good mate is annoyed with you, or you’ve been tight with the waiter’s tip, or you’re not packing your shopping quickly enough at the Aldi check-out. Subtle, but very clear.

Do we work that into our marketing strategy? Do we change our message or how we bring it across depending on our audience?

Not enough, for most businesses. It takes a fair bit of work to understand who you’re talking to. It takes research and the development of a client persona. Sounds like the kind of fluffy thing you’d save for a quiet day at the office, but this kind of fluffy thing affects consistency in client interactions, which affects client loyalty, which affects ROI. Still fluffy?

What exactly is it?

A client persona is a fictitious character based on a general cross-section of your client base, imbued with attributes, characteristics, their behaviours, needs, goals, and desires. And their pain points.

Why do I need it?

The purpose is to make a concept tangible. It brings the team within the organisation onto the same page and helps create consistent messaging across brand platforms. Everyone knows who they’re talking to and how the narrative should be adjusted.

The activity of developing a persona is a process of looking at the client base and understanding it. Just because you’re a funny guy with a great sense of humour working in a bank, doesn’t mean you need hilarious ads. It’s a bank. You’re dealing with people’s money. Not a joke. You might want to bring lightness to your message, but be cautious. Different if you’re selling surfboards to teens. Here you can have a more fun approach, hilarious ads if you want, and you’ll speak the lingo of those kids.

This is why you need to develop a persona.

Who’s your audience?

When you start a business, you have an inkling of who will buy your product or service. You’ve spotted a gap in the market, perhaps even because you were looking for it yourself. You’ll target your marketing broadly in their direction. But you want to be more specific. So alongside developing your product/service, you’re developing a brand that will serve your audience. It’s really the first step: knowing your target and understanding what it is they need and want and why they need and want it.

Do the research

And while you might think you know your target market, you might be surprised at the assumptions you’ve made. Time to look at the data. You might be selling to a segment of the market, but you’d actually like to be selling to a different segment. Great for expansion.

But don’t spread yourself too thinly

Having said that, don’t try to please everyone. You might be lucky in that your market is a highly niche area, which makes it easier and clearer to target. But you might have a broader spectrum of clients to which you need to appeal. It might be worth breaking down your brand into sub-brands like many of the mobile operators do, for example. They’ll offer a student deal to a specific segment, and they’ll offer business products with a very different marketing approach.

By understanding who your customer is, you’ll understand better what they want and how to communicate with them. It makes the customer into a real human being, rather than dealing with an anonymous mass. Which incidentally, real human customers feel when they engage with you.

The role of the persona

A good persona will have the level of detail imbued in them, which makes them almost into a colleague. Someone you know and can relate to, someone who fits into the greater sales strategy within an organisation. It will help each employee understand how they should engage or speak with the client, not just the marketing team.

Details are important

Persona development is a fun process, but don’t underestimate the power that this character holds. It should tell a story and show a journey connecting it from pre-client to client. What brought this person to your organisation?

These sorts of details help team members share a consistent understanding and every touchpoint is better able to appreciate the customer. What drove someone to buy your product? Cost? Need? Desire? Pain? Your engagement with each of these criteria will be different. Choosing a lipstick colour isn’t generally driven by pain (some might disagree), but choosing an insurance policy probably is. Different narrative, different message, different engagement, different client.

Aligning goals

Understanding client’s aspirational desires helps marketers engage and align with them. This concept is as old as the hills. See the sexy cigarette ads of the 1900s. The tobacco industry segmented the market cleverly – from the tough and sexy Camel man to the elegant and also sexy temptress smoking Gauloises.

Digital marketing and the persona

With analytics tools being as advanced as they are, you’re able to target your marketing better than ever. You’re able to see the data showing their behaviour and you can even measure the ROI of your efforts.

You’ve got a range of social media platforms to choose from, which also gives you an opportunity to segment your audience and target.

How do I create a persona?

  1. First, you’ve got to conduct research. This might begin internally with workshops, but then branch out into focus groups, interviews, polls with actual clients. A bit of bribery might be involved here – a gift card or even cash – but it will be easier to identify the loyal customer base.
  2. Collate and document the data
  3. Incorporate this into your marketing strategy, as well as both internal and external communications
  4. Begin testing the persona through engagement and observe the data again
  5. Fine-tune if necessary
  6. Measure the ROI

It’s really important to get as many senior stakeholders on board as possible. This should be a company-wide initiative, one that will affect the culture of the company and your entire customer engagement process. It’s not necessarily what you say, but how you say it.

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash.