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Are Your Customer Personas As Agile As Your Actual Customers?

Are your customer personas as agile as your actual customers?

By Mark Williamson, Director | April 2, 2019

Customer personas are the foundation that underlies many firms’ marketing and sales initiatives. You probably think you know your personas well enough. They often come with clever names and a host of data points that distinguish their representative characters. Savvy Sally. Skeptical Suzie. Social Sandy. Regardless of what you call yours, you probably feel like you know her or him intimately. You talk about them and plan targeted communications and sales strategy to them as if they are real people.

We come to see them as dependable old friends. “Stay real, bro. Never change.” But do your personas reflect the current reality or the actual behaviors and preferences of your here-and-now customers?

Too often, customer personas are static. Sales strategists, marketing teams and agencies are often basing budget and activity on outdated, anecdotal and inward-focused snapshots of times past. A 2016 study found that 72% of personas are not updated annually and 26% are revised after 5+ years or not at all! (Kim Flaherty, Nielsen Norman Group) Keeping personas up-to-date and actionable doesn’t mean you have to repeat expensive segmentation research for every campaign or outreach. By recognizing that your personas – like your customers – are living, evolving beings that can be influenced by external factors outside of a brand’s control, you can take steps to ensure processes are in place to keep your personas effective and relevant today and tomorrow.

Or, to put it bluntly – plan ahead or lose sales and ROI by missing the moving target.

Just how agile are your customer personas?

You can start by asking 4 simple questions.

1. How old are your personas?

As your business evolves, your target customer segments might change. Even if they remain the same, the ever-changing market and competitive landscape mean that your customers’ goals, challenges, and preferences are developing faster than ever.

If you haven’t revisited your customer persona during the last 2 years, chances are your customer’s ecosystem has undergone a myriad of changes. How do these changes impact their perceptions? Their choices? Which of the changes require action? This is especially true in fast-moving sectors where rapid and often fundamental changes are almost guaranteed.

2. Is the brief that created these personas still valid?

Persona development often follows a segmentation exercise. However, care should be taken that the personas created should provide in-depth insights into a consumer’s daily journey and psyche, ideally supported by valid quantitative and qualitative data points, and not be just a wordy description of the segmentation.

Once the foundational persona is in place, it can be kept up-to-date cost-effectively, at a frequency to suit the business needs, without repeating a major segmentation exercise each time. You can schedule regular check-ins to review against identified key customer influences, such as economic factors or competitive releases. This can significantly improve persona impact versus a ‘set it and forget it’ approach.

3. Do your personas represent the customers’ reality?

Customers are highly receptive to competing products and services, new market entrants, disruptive technological advances and changes in brand market share, so these dynamics need to be accounted for while creating or updating personas.

External market changes may cause, for example, sentiment shifts, brand erosion, and category changes. Customer needs may change or be refocused away by recent competitor activity or market innovation.

It is also easy to ignore external factors, which may not appear to have a direct impact on the consumer journey but do play a crucial role in the overall decision-making. For example, current economic confidence, social and political change, regulatory revisions, interest rates etc. can all dramatically impact a buyer’s purchase plans, decisions, and timing.

Although not directly under a marketeer’s control, these real-life influences should never be ignored in the quest for a holistic and agile persona to drive relevant and motivating outreach.

4. How Agile is your approach to personas?

Personas are usually created with a blend of demographic and behavioral data. However, typically they are designed in a static fashion that fails to provide their users with planned, meaningful updates that reflect movements in the marketplace, competition and buyer’s mindset at the time of any new initiative.

So the same mapped customer journey may yield very different buying decisions as little as 6-12 months apart from the same static customer persona, with only small changes dramatically affecting their purchase considerations.

Without taking an agile approach (keeping customer personas fresh and actionable based on real factors), the value of segmentation and persona-based go-to-market campaigns can be severely compromised. An Agile Persona process, tailored to your business’s precise needs, can drive deeper customer engagement and ultimately optimize sales and amplify ROI, without repeating costly segmentation work.

This could be as simple as introducing a quarterly review process across internal groups (marketing, sales, product etc.) for established and slow-moving sectors. For fast moving markets (FMCG, Fashion etc.) it may require investment in automated processes to consolidate sales, competitive, and economic data and integration of social monitoring, customer service feedback and brand sentiment in real time.

Grail Insights has an agile, cost-efficient solution to keeping customer personas current and actionable. Let us know how we can help, at hello@grailinsights.com

The customer's world is changing faster than ever. Your personas should too.