Most marketers can reel off scads of qualitative information about their customers -- ages, levels of education, where they live and how much they earn. But far fewer have a firm grip on customers' attitudes and behaviors, let alone their emotional needs while shopping for certain products. And as the importance of targeting specific customer groups grows, all agree understanding the latter is crucial.
That's why some marketers, including FedEx, Fidelity and Daimler Chrysler, are turning to personas, a concept born out of site design, in which archetypical characters represent specific consumer segments. It was introduced in a book, "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum," by Alan Cooper.
'Fill in the holes'
"Knowing someone is 29 doesn't tell you their motivation for buying," said Harly Manning, VP-research director, customer experience, Forrester Research. "Personas fill in the holes and bring insights."
That was the goal of Best Buy, which has long organized its marketing efforts around customer insights and information. It used personas as a key element in the redesign and relaunch of GeekSquad.com, the online site of its national computer-support service -- a fast-growing line of business. "We wanted to create an online brand presence that originated from our customers' needs," said Ruby Anik, senior VP-marketing communications, such as easy access to information on how to get help. But at the same time, the retailer also intended to use the site to fulfill some requirements of its own, such as recruitment of geeks.
For the GeekSquad project, personas served as a unifying factor between customer, client and agency. "The website needed to serve multiple functions ... had to be useful for a broad range of customers," said Michael Heughens, group director of engagement management at Organic.
From its quantitative, qualitative and observational research, Organic developed five customer types. Jill, a suburban mom, uses technology and her computer daily and depends on the GeekSquad as an outsourced service akin to a landscaper or plumber. Charlie, who is more than 50 years old, is curious about and interested in using technology but needs an unintimidating guide. Then there's Daryl: A technology "hot-dog," he's a big experimenter who likes to do tech projects himself but occasionally needs a helping hand. Luis is a small-business owner whose primary goal is to complete tasks; often impatient and time-pressed, he does not want to be impeded by technological snafus. And Nick, a prospective GeekSquad agent, views the site critically and needs to be challenged.
Real customers join personas online
With personas born, the teams turned to website design and a second benefit of personas came into play: They "help curtail design debates," Mr. Manning said. "They bring the real customers needs into the discussion."
"Charlie's in crisis mode, and for him, the 911 button in the upper right-hand corner is prominent," Mr. Heughens of Organic said. But for Nick, the tech lover who might want to know more about geeks, there's a channel devoted to geek information: content created by geeks, details on their clothes, lifestyles and responsibilities.
Of utmost importance was to convey a consistent brand experience and keep the GeekSquad, which has been a partner to Best Buy since 2002, a competitive advantage. "We wanted to bring the personality of the agents alive, and capture their innovation and creativity," said Will LaJoie, consumer marketing manager, BestBuy.