In my last blog I discussed how different generations are challenging marketing departments to meet them on their own ground. For one key demographic, the Millennials, that ground is the mobile and highly social world in which these digital natives live. For another, the more cost conscious middle aged parents with teenage kids, the battleground is through more conventional channels. However it’s not enough to just choose the right channel for marketing a product. The products, product branding, and marketing language itself needs to be appropriate for those customers as well. Different customers have not only different expectations of the products they use, but also different expectations of the way they like to be told about those products.
The one thing all customers have in common is that they like to be treated as individuals. Individualism is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history, although it could be said to have first really been expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), as Angus Jenkinson identified in his paper ‘Beyond Segmentation’. Rousseau says that truth is subjective, and that traditions and customs must pass the individual’s test ‘can they be authentic for me’. That is a test that consumers increasingly appraise every product with. Can it be authentic for me?
It may seem an impossible challenge to treat every customer in a way which is appropriate to them alone, but there is another approach which can help product designers and marketing departments have a much better understanding of customers, and that is through the use of persona.
The concept of archetypes and persona was formalized early in the 20th century by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, but it was the Angus Jenkinson who more recently defined the meaning in a marketing context. Jenkinson suggested that marketing needed to move beyond the top down reductionist approach of segmentation and take a more bottom up approach of grouping customers with similar attitudes and behaviors.
‘segmentation, as normally understood, represents only the first stage in response to the market (individualism) phenomena. It is the first breakdown of the monolithic market into smaller units. It is possible to go further.’
There are definitely strong similarities between the concepts of segmentation and grouping, but there is a fundamental, if subtle difference. It is the difference between gathering individuals into groups, as opposed to dividing the group into segments. As Jenkinson says,
It is much easier to think of developing a relationship with a group (of people) than a segment. How many segments do you personally have a relationship with? Do you want to be part of one? A group connotes…a community of individuals.
Consumers, as individuals tend to gravitate and have loyalty towards something. To change the corporate perception of customers from being part of a segment to being individuals in a group is a fundamental paradigm shift in building customer relationships, and it requires marketers to develop a much more personal understanding of their customers. Marketers have to understand customer goals and frustrations, their values and behaviors. It is with this new understanding of the importance of the individual that the marketing concept of the ‘persona’ has arrived. Personas are ‘model’ characters created to represent all the members of a group. The term persona as used in this context was actually coined in 1999 by Alan Cooper in his seminal book ‘The Inmates Are Running the Asylum’, in which he says that persona, among other benefits,
Provide a human “face” so as to create empathy for the persons represented by the demographics.
Not only do persona models give a detailed account of the emotional needs and values of that group, they often even include a picture of what a typical individual in that group may look like. This is not to say that segmentation is dead. Far from it. Segmentation is still an important tool to help identify the key groups of ideal buyers, but once those groups have been identified then persona need to be created for the segments to give them emotional characteristics and values that they can be identified with. Only by understanding what really motivates customers and providing products that fit in with customer’s lives can marketers grow brand loyalty and trust in a world where the customer is truly king.
In the fourth in this series of customer analytics blogs, Walking in the Customers Shoes, I will be looking at combining the concept of persona with customer journey mapping to understand how to deliver a better customer experience.