Zooming In: Getting a Closer Look at Personas That Work


Creating actionable personasPersonas are a representation of a user based off of quantitative and qualitative research. They give marketers a better picture of who they’re talking to. Many marketers are familiar with personas, but are not sure why they’re not getting more value out of personas.

In this post, I’ll explain what “thin” personas are, and why they’re not as effective or creating actionable personas.

Multidimensional Personas

If you want to really please your audience, you have to get to know them on different levels and in different contexts: People are multidimensional, and personas should be, too.

It can’t just be “oh this is Jana, she’s a student and she’s 18.” As a marketer, you can hardly do anything with that. It’s not actionable. Even when a persona seems quite robust, it’s not useful if it’s not actionable. Marketers need to develop personas that can guide strategy and messaging.

Examples Of How “Thin” Personas Could Go Wrong:

  • You can’t just say “Oh, Jana’s 18 and likes cats and art”:
    • Let’s make a cat dancing video
    • Let’s have cats doing Monet
    • Let’s create an app for cats to draw pictures
    • Let’s write an article about the most famous artists who owned cats
    • Let’s have cat lip synching videos

With these thin personas, you can be checking off the boxes, but it might not make sense to your persona and it’s unlikely to resonate.

Why It’s Not Enough

Yes, you may know Jana is 18 and she’s at a certain point in her life, but we don’t know if she’s going to college or if she’s going to have a job. We know nothing. Even if we know she’s 18 and loves cats, it’s not enough. Content is a 360-degree experience and it’s about so much more than these baseline facts about a person. It’s similar to how you can’t really be a friend to someone without knowing more about him or her then this kind of surface-level information. As marketers, we can’t really connect people to brands without knowing more about them.

Balancing Demographic and Psychographic Information

There’s the basic persona with demographic content that doesn’t tell us enough to really connect on a deeper level that fails. Then there are the personas that fail because they’re too out there theoretically, you want to have enough information so you know how an audience is on a deeper level, on the more emotional, less literal level, like an archetype. However, you can’t get too out there in terms of thinking of general archetypes. You can’t just say this type of person is an explorer and they’re passionate. That works on some level, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle to know someone’s driven in certain ways. Maybe the piece that’s missing from Jana is 18 and likes cats is the more psychographic information, but just having psychographic information about what overarching motives exist in their lives doesn’t work either. Just having an idea of the person’s motivations without knowing who they are is also not actionable.

What Your Personas Should Look Like

Instead, we need a persona like this: Jana is 18 years old and she likes cats. She sees them as companions. She appreciates that they’re loyal because she’s in this tumultuous period of life. She’s not feeling connection that’s stable. She’s going off to college. She doesn’t know if her friends will be the same. The cat is the loyal bond that shows her things will work out and she’s not alone. Add on that she’s going to state school and going to be an art major and now, all of a sudden, I can market to her.

The Give and Take

You really need to do your due diligence and figure out who your personas are, because it’s not enough to guess (although you can get by for a bit with proto-personas but they still need to be later validated with data). Marketing is no longer about telling people what they need. People don’t want to be told what to do. Successful brands know their consumers and how their brand fits into the context of their consumers’ lives. They don’t just say this is our brand and try to shove messages down people’s throats. When brands want to get involved in consumers’ lives, it’s a double dutch jump rope game that involves jumping in at the right time and then keeping pace. It has to be a mutual relationship.

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