Personas Vs. Personalization: Should Both Be Part Of Marketers’ Toolkits?

Marketers have long relied on personas to segment their customer base into manageable groups. But with consumers demanding more individualized treatment, personas’ limitations have become more apparent. Voice of the Customer (VoC) expert Ernan Roman thinks personas have had their day, and that personalization should be the goal innovative marketers. However, Ardath Albee, one of the speakers at last month’s B2B Marketing Exchange conference put on by Retail TouchPoints’ sister publication, Demand Gen Report, believes personas continue to play important roles, particularly when tied to storytelling and other forms of content marketing. 

Members of the RTP team discuss whether personas and personalization are competitors, colleagues or are engaged in healthy “co-opetition.”

Debbie Hauss, Editor in Chief: The debate here is between “personas” and “personalization.” Roman is making the argument that a group approach, like personas, does not provide the one-to-one personalization that today’s consumers are demanding. He states: “Traditional personas based on implicit data (web browsing behavior, data mined from social media, and purchased-based behaviors) do not provide the necessary depth of information to drive relevant communications and offers.” Albee’s premise is that marketers need a place to start when it comes to “storytelling,” which is key to successful marketing practices today. Therefore, having a persona in mind helps marketers put together the initial story. From there, though, I agree with Roman that the communication must become more personalized.

Adam Blair, Executive Editor: Both Ardath Albee and Ernan Roman seem to me to be talking about essentially the same thing, though they are approaching it from different angles. Storytelling, or its commerce-based adaptation storyselling, is at heart about finding a connection between the teller and the audience. The more points of connection, the more relevant the story will be. Where I believe Roman has the edge is in acknowledging that personas based solely on demographics and observed activity (e.g. items purchased, web sites visited) are no longer sufficient to reveal all the relevant connection points. As Roman says, “Marketers must now make a profound shift toward ‘human data,’ which is based on explicit, self-profiled, opt-in preference data. Human data personalization is unique in that it lends itself to segmentation based on self-described personality types, attitudes, and life stages." The social networking revolution shows that people today are willing, even eager, to reveal a lot about themselves, their interests, and what motivates them. Marketers’ new job — and it’s a tough one — is picking through all these types of data, to find what’s relevant to the story they are telling.


Klaudia Tirico, Features Editor: I believe personas play an essential role in marketing. While I do understand Ernan Roman’s point that they might not be as detailed, I don’t believe you can achieve personalization without personas. They can work together hand in hand if marketers go beyond standard demographics and observations. I understand that personalization needs to be a critical asset for companies, but knowing your customers — and knowing them beyond their first name and position — should be at the top of the list. Debbie summarizes this very well in her answer: “Having a persona in mind helps marketers put together the initial story.” Then, adding a personalized touch to the communication takes the customer experience to the next level. You can’t tell a story that will resonate with your customers without leveraging some kind of data about your audience. There is a place for both personas and high-caliber personalization to coexist, and it won’t happen overnight. But I do believe marketers will find that sweet spot and hit their CX out of the park.

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