User Personas: Who are you trying to reach?

User personas and segmenting audiences

Here’s a recent post by Clive Goodman who runs our sister company Goodman Associates. Clive talks about the changes in client approaches to segmenting audiences for marketing. It’s worth a read and bear the creation of user personas in mind when you do so.



We want people with money

As a specialist direct response agency our clients tend to have a pretty clear idea of who their ideal customers are. It’s basic training to ask “Who are you trying to reach? – Where do they live? How do they buy? What do they do? Why should they buy from you?”

Straight forward stuff you’d think to allow us to tailor a plan to spend their media investment as efficiently as we can.

But not now – more and more we’re finding clients who just want to reach just about anyone. Car dealers tell us – everyone drives a car… Travel brands -tell us everyone goes on holiday… House builders tell us – everyone needs somewhere to live … Footwear manufacturers tell us – everyone buys shoes…

“Buy Adults” has become our media strategy and it also has the benefit of trading at the lowest cost per thousand!

And do you know what – they’re right! As well as buying more impacts the increased economic prosperity in the UK means that it very much appears that market segmentations are becoming a thing of the past.

I was interested to read a blog in the trade press that supports this view. The people at Mars who know a thing or two about selling stuff now claim their target market is ‘about seven billion people’ or in simpler terms the entire population of the planet. Their current strategy is to reach as many people as they they can – “To get them to notice us and remember the brand; to nudge them; and, hopefully, get them to buy us once more this year.”

This flies in the face of the ‘holy trinity’ of marketing strategy that we were all taught – segment, then target a specific segment and finally position the brand accordingly.

Mars are not alone. If you read the marketing intelligentsia, barely a month passes these days without one big brand or another dismissing targeting and favouring a mass approach instead. Is targeting is in danger of becoming an outdated marketing concept?

Well I blame the Ehrenberg Bass Institute and specifically Byron Sharp’s book, How Brands Grow. This book sits proudly on our coffee table in the office – it was a gift from the IPA, our trade body and we put it out because it had a nice cover and looked impressive!! What I didn’t realise was that when we put the book out is how controversial it was! It argues for companies like Mars aiming for mass household penetration.It seems that many of our biggest consumer goods companies including Coca-Cola, Unilever and others are now following the Ehrenberg-Bass system and have reversed decades of STP – segmentation, targeting and positioning – and are opting for a mass-marketing approach.

I know not everyone has the resources or scale of a Mars so their universe of 7 billion is unrealistic but mass coverage of one territory, whether that be a country, a city or even a few postcodes.

Theorists will try to ague that in markets where dynamics exist between segments, the case for targeting also remains strong. Similarly, in B2B marketing it would be questionable to try and apply such a mass marketing approach.

I’m with the guys from Mars though – I think if you want to target a niche segment, the best way to get them is to target everyone – you’ll get your niche any way and who’d dare bet against a brand like that?


Final thought

It’s an interesting viewpoint and one we’re seeing more on the UX side too. Less emphasis is being placed on specific user personas and the shift is towards task-based personas. In effect, shifting to a “my user could be anyone, they’re just here to accomplish a specific task”, which makes sense at a fundamental level: do you really need to profile what magazine someone reads in order to design a UI that fits for them?

And judging by the standard of user persona generation that we’re handed by clients who’ve had some “research” done, it seems that a lot of people are just making stuff up – “Gladys is a woman in her 60s, she reads the Daily Mail, and is using an iPad her grand-daughter gave her last christmas” works until you remember that Gladys, no matter who she is, just wants to *book a holiday/contact you/buy a product/read more etc and her needs are no different to most other users trying to find their way around your app/website and accomplish the same thing.

K. I. S. S – Keep It Simple, Stupid, is more valid today than ever before.

Interesting times ahead…

Written by Rob Harrison

Rob is a digital engagement specialist for Goodman Fox with over 15 years experience in building successful online experiences for the healthcare, technology, and property sectors.

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