July 2015 archive

Identity archetypes are for consumers as well as companies

When it comes to interactions with brands, consumer expectations continue to climb. Users want to be treated as individuals, especially younger audiences that grew up immersed in digital media. This has been driving the trend in marketing toward segmentation and personalization, which generally results in better experiences and better response rates.

But mass personalization can be difficult to manage for marketing departments. The more that segment definitions explode the more there is to tailor, monitor and adjust. The solution seems to be to gather as much data as possible and to develop a robust profile on each individual contact and then to turn the content-matching task over to algorithms and machine learning. Micro-segmentation gets at the spirit of creating personalized experiences appropriate for individuals but there is a point of diminishing returns. Attempting to custom tailor messages per user shouldn’t come at the cost of efficiency of workflow or human-directed editorial work.

Marketing departments that use user personas arrive at a good compromise between no personalization and attempting to modify messaging for each unique customer. Personas hit upon the key use cases and drive focus versus trying to be everything to everybody. Making messaging work for a small number of personas is a realistic task for  content editors and you don’t have to turn over your end product to a black box.

user persona

Persona template by Chase Oliver

But beyond the practical reasons for using personas for the sake of getting arms around the work, there’s another reason why they work: archetypes are a powerful way to address how users think about themselves. They provide context and understanding for the complex themes of self identify. Marketers are on  one side of the equation trying to interpret what all of the data inputs on customers mean and users are on the other side trying to do the same thing. Archetypes offer a shortcut to understanding for both.

People are irrational thinkers and identity constructs are constantly in flux. A young person might consider herself a saver and financial conservative most days and yet contradict that when it comes to loves travel. If you asked her she’d probably have a hard time communicating all the complex reasons she acts the way she does. But she might reach for an archetype of her own and explain that she’s both a saver and an adventurer at heart.

Having mountains of data is always helpful but the ideal output isn’t ultra-refined segments that are one-to-one with individuals. Having well informed personas, even if they are fictional, can serve the purpose of tailoring products and messaging best. Companies look to them to bring clarity to how their product serves their key markets. And customers lean on personas to understand their own motivations and to develop a self identity.

The same person may wear a persona that doesn’t fit a company’s approach one day and then change into another that is compatible down the line.