How audience personas drive great digital experiences

Business personas help marketers get familiar with their prospective customers. How do they work in the world of rugby?

Male rugby supporter kisses female rugby supporter on cheek

As advertising tycoon David Ogilvy is alleged to have said, “The customer is not a moron. She is your wife.”

That quote, exhorting advertising teams to credit customers with the intelligence to see through patronizing or condescending content, gets to the heart of what marketing personas – characters created to be imaginary customers – aim to achieve. 

By humanizing the facts and figures of market segmentation data, teams are forced to think about their ultimate customers not as business targets, but as rounded people. Hopefully this should mean they don’t, in fact, treat them as faceless individuals – instead they get to know and understand them and their needs, and so develop things they genuinely want and need.

How to make a marketing persona

A typical marketing persona goes something like this:

  • Justin is a 22-year-old millennial.
  • He works as a waiter, making about US$24,000 a year, and also works as a delivery driver in his free time.
  • He likes hip-hop, social activism and binge-watching stand-up comedy via the internet.
  • He forms part of our core customer base.
  • He wants X, Y and Z out of our company’s offerings. 

Already, Justin has assumed a more concrete form than he would have if he just existed inside a dry string of demographic data in a spreadsheet.

Using a customer persona is not a high-wire feat of marketing. It’s not much more than placing a name, a face and an imagined biography on top of previously existing data such as web analytics statistics or consumer survey findings. But by doing this, it makes the audience persona infinitely more memorable during product or campaign development. In so doing, it can enable the teams working on new products or marketing to develop a more organic relationship with their imagined audience, by keeping that audience at the forefront of their minds while planning their approach. In turn, this should make the team become better at producing more relevant, engaging content, services and products for Justin and his peers. 

Mapping personas for a fan app: The British & Irish Lions experience

When it came to designing a companion app for the upcoming New Zealand Tour, The British & Irish Lions also made use of personas. Helped by teams from EY Advisory, they developed several distinct persona types that helped them to better envisage the potential customer groups for whom the app was being designed – questioning existing assumptions about the Lions’ fans along the way to help create an end product that could be much more relevant to a wider range of potential customers.

These groups were broken down into two main sub-groups of personas:

1. Fans

Obviously, when building a fan app, the most important group to consider first is the fans. But even within this, being a Lions fan means a number of different things – each meriting a different customer persona.

For instance, Mary has been a “die-hard fan” for years, watches every Lions game, buys a new jersey every Tour and has saved up for years to follow the Lions around New Zealand with her family in tow. She wants to know when and where the matches are, and how to get all the latest news and stats about the team.

Owen, on the other hand, is a “young aspirer.” He’s 14 years old, is on the high school rugby team and got a Lions jersey for Christmas. He’s too young to attend any games in person, but he’s tech-literate, highly engaged with the Lions brand on social media and will want to catch up with the action on his cell phone despite the 11-hour time difference between his home in Wales and the matches in New Zealand. 

2. Sponsors

Without fans, there’s no game. But in this day and age, the sponsors have a lot to do with the modern game. 

So while jet-setting CEO Matthew has been a rugby fan since college, he’s not going to be following the Tour in a van – he’s going to be watching from one of the Lions’ sponsor boxes. And, he’s not just there for the rugby either – he’s also there to network with his potential partners. 

Persona personalities = customer-friendly development focus

By building these kinds of customer personas on the basis of previously accumulated data and additional research, EY and the Lions were able to design an app that catered to a broad range of experiences and expectations, for a variety of customer types.

For instance, by engaging and modeling data about fans, the developers learnt that a lot of the experience of being a fan isn’t just about watching the game, but about the speculation, dialogue, banter and analysis around the game. This might seem obvious to a fan, but putting it in a persona meant that the development team could all work toward a psychologically understandable customer archetype, and build these functions into the app.

This is the power of customer personas – by humanizing data into personalities with distinct identities, trends in data can become easier to visualize, driving more relevant and engaging experiences. And while they may be useful tools for marketing, as the wealth of customer data continues to expand with the rise of the internet of things, leading companies are increasingly using customer personas as a vital part of product development.

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