The role of “personas” in industrial marketing

One of the techniques that it’s often suggested we use in marketing is to create “personas” representing our customers, to give us a clearer focus on who we’re targeting. I’ve seen this used quite effectively, and there’s a lot of discussion online if you want to investigate the idea further.

I think that we do need to be careful with the concept, however. As a focus for communicating, personas are great. At their most basic level, if I’m writing an article on my laptop in a public place (as I am now), I imagine the person sitting on the next table is you, dear reader, and try to write as if I was talking to that person.

That’s not really what the concept of personas is all about, of course. But I’m uneasy when I see marketing folk in industry run with the idea and create a series of personas which they hope will represent their prospect base. “We reckon a third of our customers are design engineers in the aerospace industry”, they will say, “so here he is, our persona for this group: Alan, 46, has a wife and two kids, drives an Audi and likes listening to Sade and T’Pau, reads The Engineer and has become curiously addicted to Twitter.”

alan

That sort of analysis could really focus the thoughts of people who are trying to nail down the mindsets of those who might book a holiday with them. But I’m not sure if the idea works so well for those of us selling a product where “Alan” may (or may not) be part of a specifying or buying chain which is nothing to do with who he is, but everything to do with the size and setup of his company. If we’re creating a marketing strategy, surely it’s the types of company we’re selling to which we should be concentrating on, rather than the individual. These could have personas of their own, I suppose. However, it’s not until we get down to the level of creating marketing collateral that I’d want to spend time on visualising the individuals being addressed.

Discussion

  1. David Laurence

    I’d be interested in your views on the “ideal customer” – another phrase
    beloved of so many marketing gurus.

    As with personas I wonder if it has more to do with creating neat categories
    for “marketing automation” vendors !

  2. Richard Stone - Industrial PR consultant

    It never ceases to amaze me, when we work on behalf of a client with service providers that don’t specialise in industrial marketing, how much time they put into customer profiling.

    They charge incredible amounts for producing a report on the typical customer and it comes back with things in it like, ‘interested in technology’ or ‘probably likes cars, planes and the history of engineering’.

    There’s a phrase that ends with the name ‘Sherlock’…

  3. Kevin Ellsworth

    This is why personas are only part of the puzzle. As you alluded to, we use ‘Market Segments’ which represent a type of company. I think that both pieces are important. You want to know who Alan is so that you can write things that will catch his attention. But you also need to know that Allen works in a company where he has to get approval from his boss to make any sort of purchase decision. This allows you to write something that will attract Alan first, but then a little later on include something that Alan can show to his boss to get buy in from a level up. If you just focus on the company type up front, you may not catch Alan’s attention. Both are important.

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