August 16, 2021 · 9 min read
Persona-based marketing and AI: Increasing engagement, removing bias, and improving results
We inform people.
We tell them about the benefits of a product or service, in exciting, interesting and innovative ways – with the aim of enticing them, educating them, and informing them, all in the hope that they will find our messaging engaging and choose to find out more. What we can’t do is force customers to act a certain way. Of course there are tricks we can use. Psychology we can exploit. But one way or another, the customers’ will dictate the outcome. And so it should. Marketing isn’t an Orwellian nightmare (or at least we don’t think it should be). So why do we focus so much energy on trying to make the customer do what we want? Why don’t we ensure what they want is what we’re serving up?
Enter Persona-Based Marketing (PBM). In its simplest terms, PBM is about identifying who your customers are, not in some loose ethereal sense but in a real, quantifiable way – quite literally putting a face to who we are talking to. With PBM, when we are talking, we know who’s listening. We know what they’re looking for. We know what they want to hear. And the results are staggering.
93% of organisations using personas are outperforming their competitors
Why is PBM so effective?
For exactly the reason you’d expect. Customers respond better when you talk TO them as people, not AT them as faceless-groups. In the world of B2B marketing, it’s sometimes too easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re still dealing with real people. PBM allows us to connect with potential customers on a more personal level. It helps us to understand the buyers’ behaviour. What excites them. What frustrates them. What they need from us, and why they need it. We can tailor our messaging and approach based on their needs and not what we want to say. We can understand the relative size and importance of each group and where we can find them.
“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in” – David Beebe
But it’s not just effective, it’s efficient too. Identifying who our customers are helps us target our spend more effectively. When we know what platforms our customers prefer, what papers they read, what events they attend, we can ensure our marketing is always in front of them, and not in front of readers who aren’t going to engage.
What is a ‘persona’?
A persona is a fictional character that describes a key segment of our audience. Personas represent a group of users who have shared behaviour patterns, shared interests, shared motivations for engaging with the brand. They are from similar demographics. They have similar attitudes. Personas help us understand our customers better and design the best user experience for our audience across all touch-points. With personas, we can make informed decisions about creative ideas, content, visual language, tone-of-voice, and more. We can optimise our digital marketing and improve ROI and conversions. Personas provide a starting point for innovation and new product development, as well as inspiration and context for sales teams.
But traditional personas are flawed. Historically, personas have been generated with the help of consultants and workshops with a mix of marketing, sales, and product teams involved – all drawing on their experience. If you’re lucky, there might be a little bit of research sprinkled in. The process allows human bias, both conscious and unconscious, to bleed into the data. Instead of following rigid data-science principles, manually generated personas lean towards what organisations think they know. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the personas reflect what the organisation already thought. Often this can lead to teams dismissing personas as a redundant exercise because it may not yield the ‘eureka’ moment they expect. Add to this the fact that traditional personas often only cover between 25 and 40% of an organisation’s target market, and the cost incurred for internal workshops, consultant’s fees, and research can easily add up to six figures, and it’s little wonder that many organisations rarely revisit their personas – leading to stagnant, out-dated, and often irrelevant profiles, meaning stagnant, out-dated, and often irrelevant marketing.
But thankfully there is another way.
Where does AI fit in’?
Unsurprisingly, removing the ‘human’ element removes the bias. This results in personas that can often be surprising, helping teams pivot their messaging, channels, and creative to better engage their audience. The benefits of AI-driven personas are strong and wide-ranging.
Objective, automated and unbiased
As well as presenting a more accurate picture of the target market, with actionable insights including pain-points, demographics, and even personal interests, the removal of human bias makes AI-driven personas a more ethical choice. Because unconscious bias is removed, factors such as ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and wealth can be reported objectively, removing stereotypes and problematic assumptions from the discussion.
Quick to create
Much of the data you need to create AI-driven personas for your business is already there, meaning there’s no drawn-out research stage although past research can most certainly be useful in helping to shape them. No resource-sapping workshops. No laborious back-and-forth with a myriad of expensive consultants.
AI-driven personas can be generated for a fraction of the cost of traditional personas, which commonly come in between £20,000 and £200,000. This cost saving is achieved thanks to the largely automated nature of the process, eliminating the costs incurred for internal workshops, consultant’s fees, and research.
Because of the vast amount of raw data now available, AI-driven personas can cover up to 95% of your market. This can shine a light on under-served segments of the market where your brand can thrive, or even help your team plan campaigns that target sub-sections of the market in different, more relevant ways. Coupling AI-driven persona insights with A/B testing and other mainstays of digital marketing is a surefire way to create optimised campaigns that consistently deliver above current expectations.
Dynamic & ever-green
Thanks to the ever-green nature of the data used to create AI-driven personas, the profiles can be regularly and painlessly refreshed. This allows you to respond quickly and intelligently to market changes such as the Covid-19 pandemic, new market entrants, changes in products and service, and many more realities of your ever-evolving market.
72% of organisations using personas see a reduction in lead conversion time
How is it done?
Using publicly available external data, supported by GDPR-compliant internal data, the algorithm creates a number of distilled profiles which accurately represent a measurable portion of your market. The external data includes social media channels, review sites (e.g. Trust Pilot, Feefo), third-party websites (e.g. Wikipedia), sector specific sites, competitor’s sites, forums, blogs and beyond. Internally, the system uses anonymised data pooled from research surveys, interview transcripts and audio, anonymised, GDPR-compliant CRM data, email, webinars, analytics, call logs, social media campaigns, and business insights. Taking all of this data, the neural network produces profile sheets that can be easily understood. The end result is very similar to a traditional persona but, thanks to the robust, data-driven methodology, the information within the persona is far more reliable.
“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes, it’s an ad” – Howard Gossage
What do they look like?
Personas are typically delivered as data sheets covering everything you need to know about your target demographic. Our AI-driven profiles give detail on:
Commonly covering location, marital status, gender, and age, demographics give the most surface level view of which group a persona belongs to. More actionable insights can include representative job titles, salary brackets, and living arrangements.
Bringing a digestible, relatable tilt to the personas, the profile bio typically gives a more human perspective to the persona. Biographies include relatable insights around how certain profiles spend their time and structure their relationships, whether it be explaining that ‘John’ spends every weekend on the golf course, come rain or shine, or describing how ‘Sue’ has recently returned to work from a sabbatical taken to care for her premature daughter in her first year.
Extrapolating from the information above, the ‘needs’ section allows you to understand a personas motivations, specifically in relation to your product or service. It can outline their search for a better UI for their less tech-literate staff, or explain their frustrations with their current high-calorie fare in the workplace canteen being incompatible with their personal fitness goals.
Drawing on the positive aspects of the persona, this section explains exactly what they are looking for. Quickly learn that ‘Paula’ needs integration with her favourite social platform, or that ‘Joe’ loves products with zero-waste packaging.
Outside of work what do our personas enjoy? Often, these insights can be invaluable in finding the best way to distribute media spend. Did you know ‘Martin’ drives hundreds of miles a week for his landscape photography hobby – taking him past billboards at key transport hubs, and spending hours sitting behind busses in traffic?
What makes our personas tick? Are there interactions they love? Channels they hate? Sales practices that drive them up the wall? Webinars they live for? The emotions section provides interesting perspectives on how personas may receive certain comms and feel about aspects of your product or service.
All personas show, by way of a percentage, how representative they are of your target market. With millions of data points to draw from, the algorithm can accurately reflect just how comprehensive each persona is. Calculated by comparing how many of the available data points match the profile, this information allows you to see just how reflective each persona is of your audience, and also allows you to identify any gaps that remain which could be served by building additional personas.
We’ve put together a couple of example persona sheets for you to explore, covering a B2B software focussed profile (one of our specialities) and a postgraduate profile for academic institutions.
But deliverables can be much more too. Recently, we have produced faux-social profiles using the data from personas to help novice staff understand their leads more easily (fig. 1). Another common expression for personas is ‘cheat sheets’, or as some clients call them ‘persona passports’. These short-form digest versions act as a quick reference guide for CX agents and other front-line staff, allowing them to quickly tailor their delivery based on the lead they are interacting with.
How can you utilise them?
You can use AI-driven personas just like traditional personas. At Cite we use a proven method to plan, create and engage with all of our marketing output. This process is massively enhanced with the insights afforded us by comprehensive personas.
Organisations using personas saw an increase of 171% in ‘marketing generated revenue
Puzzel are a B2B tech company. Their primary service is a carefully-crafted Contact Centre Software solution for call centres. They were purchased by an investor group 3 years ago and are working through a 4 year high-growth plan before sale. Personas have been a valuable tool in helping them to better understand, identify and target their prospects.
Internally, Puzzel had worked for some time with three distinct audience segments, derived from sales and marketing experience, and a splash of research data. However, the team felt they were too broad to allow for properly targeted, personalised messaging. Prior to developing personas their LinkedIn campaigns typically yielded a 0.5% conversion rate or below.
Cite worked with Puzzel’s marketing team to understand the role personas could play in their marketing and then identified various data points to use in constructing the personas. Using our AI-driven approach, we developed personas for over 70% of their identifiable market audience – and mapped these profiles across their previously identified core segments. We then mapped these profiles against their core vertical markets, based on the relevance of each one.
This translated into their marketing materials in a myriad of ways. Overlaying the psychographic detail across communications and vertical markets allowed us to create tailored ads for each persona. Making use of the targeting data available through Linkedin, we were able to serve the most relevant and engaging materials to each individual, resulting in a marked increase in engagement, interactions and, most importantly, enquiries.
And the deliverables weren’t just design-based. We developed quick reference guides for Puzzel’s Sales Team which they can use whilst communicating with prospects. Known internally as ‘Persona Passports’ these cheat-sheets allowed sales agents working on web-chat and telemarketing to quickly identify which persona best fitted the lead they were speaking to and allowed them to tailor their pitch accordingly.
Conversion rates for Puzzel’s Linkedin ads saw an increase of 500% or more, to almost double the average rate on the platform.
Thanks to our use of persona based marketing, Cite & Puzzel were nominated for the prestigious B2B brand team of the year at the 2021 Drum Marketing awards, alongside Twitter & O2.
Why not use the form below to contact us and see how persona building can help you exceed your marketing goals?