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The Power of Personas

26 October 2018 | Phil Brown

A lot of technology marketing focuses on product or service features and business benefits, often ignoring the needs and attitudes of the people that actually influence and make purchasing decisions. Understanding buyer personas is an important element in ensuring your marketing is engaging and effective.

There is an inevitable tendency when marketing technology products and services to focus on the features of the technology itself. Part of the reason is that technology never stands still, there’s always some new development or innovation to shout about. People working in IT businesses also tend to have a disproportionate interest in the technology - how the products work seems really important, new features are really exciting.

The missing appeal

As a result, we still see a lot of marketing which is ‘speeds and feeds’ based. Where benefits are highlighted it often tends to be at a functional level – it’ll be cheaper, or more efficient, or make your business “more agile”.

What’s often missing is a more emotional, personal appeal that speaks to the people who make decisions about what to buy and who to buy from. They, by and large, don’t care how clever a new feature is, or whether your solution is bigger, faster, cheaper or simpler than the competition. Or rather, they only care about it to the extent that they understand how it will benefit the organisation they work for, and them personally.

Customers are actually people

The failure to speak to buyers’ individual concerns also results from the tendency to think of ‘customers’ in terms of organisations, rather than the people you’re selling to. As if corporate entities were sentient beings capable of making decisions and placing orders. Whereas, despite the march of AI, it is still people that make important purchasing decisions .

When defining the audience for a campaign most marketers will think about what type of companies they want to target, and will look at criteria such as how many employees or users they have, what sector they’re in, what types of technology they’re currently using etc. They’ll probably also identify which job role they want to reach.

That is all important information, which helps us identify which companies and contacts to target, but if we want to really engage the people who influence and make purchase decisions we need to go further - we need to think about what motivates them and how they behave as individuals.

Building a richer picture

Which is where personas come in. By developing a set of target buyer personas for any campaign we’re better able to ensure our messages and content resonates with the people we need to influence. Well-defined personas go beyond the purely functional criteria such as job title, and will paint a rich picture based on a range of factors, including:

  • what challenges do they face in their individual roles?
  • what circumstances are likely to trigger a buying journey?
  • what organisational pressures do they face?
  • what are their personal goals and KPIs?
  • what concerns are they likely to have about any new investment?
  • where do they typically go to for information and advice (e.g. peers, media sources, your competitors)?

Not an exact science

An objection sometimes raised to persona-based marketing is that it’s overly subjective. Few companies have the budgets to be able to carry out in-depth primary research every time they want to develop a new campaign, which means that persona development tends to be based on anecdotal evidence and the individual perceptions and experiences of whoever’s building the personas.

This can be addressed to an extent by getting input from a variety stakeholders, including the people who actually speak to customers like pre-sales teams and account managers, however it’s fair to acknowledge that developing personas isn’t an exact science.

A valuable thought process

Even with that caveat, persona development is still an important part of marketing planning. Having to go through the process of thinking about the people that you want to market to will lead to better thought through, more engaging, and ultimately more successful, campaigns. A campaign built on personas that are a rough approximation of reality will probably be more effective than one built without any consideration of personas.

Here’s to the power of personas.