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Demystifying Discovery: 3 Secrets of Persona Development

Demystifying Discovery: 3 Secrets of Persona Development
At Walk West, we go beyond most marketing firms in understanding how to approach our work with clients. Our Discovery process is designed to connect your core organizational objectives with marketing execution. While many agencies use Discovery as a justification for canned recommendations, we go into this process with intellectual honesty, ready to reveal the right strategies, whether our team executes them, or not.  

You want to find a partner who has a passion to understand your business. Most people end up working with vendors that have an advertising centric point of view, who are more than happy to apply their framework to sell you what they want, presenting you with customer insights that are nothing more than preexisting customer profiles built to do a media buy.

When I look at all the successful client engagements we’ve had at Walk West, our ability to develop personas is the critical ingredient we have utilized to help our clients break through the noise and generate demand. The personas we build in collaboration with our clients are not fictitious representations of customers and prospects. They are built by combining actual customer/prospect behavior and blending this with proprietary qualitative research. This enables us to help our clients reach customers and prospects in new ways and provides the blueprint to create powerful messaging.

1. Fit Messages to Your Personas, Don’t Simply Retrofit Personas to Your Ideas

One of the strategies we use to develop personas is an approach we call Message-to-Market Fit. This process involves pinpointing messages that get customers to convert and running tests to see which message(s) results in the best outcomes for our clients. After this phase, we execute various campaigns to get people moving. That could include engaging with a new service, buying a new product, or watching a video that will shape perceptions of a brand.

Persona Development and Message-to-Market Fit have had a profound impact on our clients, moving many of them to not only change their marketing strategy, but also fundamentally change how they internally understand and interact with their products or services.  Some have even changed their product mix or the attributes and features of certain services in order to attain product/market fit. We’re excited by these transformative developments, and will continue to pull actionable and informative insights from qualitative and quantitative data accessed via work with our clients.

A good example of what I’m talking about is a recent engagement with the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians (NCAFP).  They aren’t the typical client to come to a marketing consultancy for strategic planning. They were looking to refresh their strategic plan and turned to use for a new approach. Our aha moment in talking and working with them is that membership should be thought of as a product and different members need different things. When talking to their members, we realized that there were aspects of the membership experience that were not being addressed. During Discovery, NCAFP realized that they weren’t speaking to their members in ways that resonated with them. In response, they adjusted their communications and outreach structure to better meet the needs of members. This experience was equally powerful for us, as we saw how our persona research could bring about transformative change throughout an organization

2. You Can Have Too Many Personas

After you go through the process of creating personas, you should have a good sense of how prospects and customers engage them with your product or service offering. But you don’t want too many, because that can defeat the purpose. We think that five (or fewer) personas represent distinct targets that engage with your brand in unique ways. But if you have 10, for example, you runs the risk of diluting your marketing efforts through too much fragmentation.

When you structure personas, you should look to data that might change your opinions on who the target customer is and how they should best be reached. We recommend looking back at personas every six months or so. You might have missed one in your first exercise, thus missing an opportunity to launch a product or new business effort aimed at another key group. Use whatever marketing program you’re currently executing to measure effectiveness. When you review campaign metrics, you can look at what’s been effective versus ineffective, and utilize these new insights to refine messages and perhaps add (or remove) new personas, develop new tactical approaches, or both.

3. Complement Personas with Traditional Strategic Planning Techniques

At Walk West, we don’t just stop with Persona Development or our proprietary methods like Message-to-Market Fit. Once we move through the Persona Development process and execute the different elements of Discovery (e.g., digital landscape review including SEO, content, and social media), we usually have a good understanding of our client’s overall business. What we’re able to do next is something more straightforward, running a more traditional SWOT analysis.  Using a SWOT analysis, we look the internal assets —strengths and weaknesses—and external factors that may help or inhibit our efforts —opportunities and threats.

As we survey the external environment, we can identify trends in the marketplace that may change customer behavior and preferences. This can open or close strategic choices for the client’s business. We can then say, based on your competitive strengths, here’s where you should focus and differentiate yourself. Look at your value proposition, understand your customers’ needs, and then fulfill their needs so completely that there’s no doubt you’re the best choice.

Sometimes this means articulating your value like no one else, even with a similar product. Dollar Shave Club has done a great job with this Men shave, and they’ve done so ever since the dawn of time. They chose a new business model where they mail you razors, so you don’t have to go to the store. They’ve taken advantage of a rather unique strength — the ability to develop snarky marketing videos to reach their target audiences (click to view Walk West’s video capabilities). This approach won’t work for everyone. It turns out their CEO used to do improv comedy – and they chose to sell the concept via humor. The way they marketed themselves was so different from their competitors that they were able to break through in reaching millennial men, and they have been tremendously successful due to this originality.  This ultimately led to their acquisition by Unilever for $1B,

You can focus on different aspects of your business in order to achieve your goal—be the premium provider, leverage strategic partnerships, be a low-cost producer. Choose your battles based on the assets you have. Through the right combination of brand strength, target audience insight, and technology-enabled experiences to delight customers, you will be able to win in the marketplace. 

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