Persona confusion, information overload, T and C rebellion…

CD broken with a hammerAs usual there’s plenty of marketing-related stuff around. Here’s some of it.  

Content marketing in the news

A fascinating information overload warning for retailers. MPs make a bullish demand for less legalese and more plain language in online T&Cs. And personae cause digital marketing confusion. Here’s the news.

Information overload – Less is more?

We’ve all heard of information overload. It refers to the tweets, texts, emails, Facebook stuff, video, telly, posters, photos, movies and general digital noise most of us swim around in. But what about shopping? Are there too many choices for our poor minds to cope with?
Daniel Levitin, McGill University psychology professor and the author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, has explored the issue. In his words:

“In 1976, there were 9,000 products in the average grocery store, and now it’s ballooned to 40,000 products. And yet most of us can get almost all our shopping done in just 150 items, so you’re having to ignore tens of thousands of times every time you go shopping,” he says.

I see what he means. Our regular big shop contains about 120 items. A quick straw poll reveals much the same for the people I know. Interestingly the findings mirror the well-known Facebook friends overload research, which revealed we can only interact successfully with a maximum of 130 or so friends. The rest are more like acquaintances or, if you’re a celebrity, fans.
We’ve already created more information in the last decade than in the entire history of the human race. And it’s more than the human brain is configured to handle. As Levitin says, your conscious self can concentrate on three, sometimes four things at a time. Any more and you lose the plot. “If you get much beyond that, you begin to exercise poorer judgement, you lose track of things and you lose your focus.
The content  marketing angle? It’s important to prioritise website content to avoid drowning your audience in excess information and muddying your sales message. Here are two top tips:

  • Give priority to your sales message. If the information doesn’t support your core message, it should drop down your priority list
  • Prioritise stuff you know for sure your audience wants / needs to know and put the things you want to say second

MPs sound the death knell for incomprehensible T&C

It looks like the way big brands like Facebook and LinkedIn collect and use people’s data has hit a nerve in Parliament, with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee calling for an end to long, complex, incomprehensible online contracts, AKA terms and conditions.
I’ve criticised legal language T&C several times in this blog. It’s one of those things that, as a marketing-led copywriter dedicated to clear language, drives me nuts. And I’m not alone. As Andrew Miller, the committee Chair, said, “The T&C statement that we all glibly tick is meaningless drivel to anyone except an American-trained lawyer.” 
When you click ‘yes’ to accept a company’s online T&C you’re entering into a legally binding contract. Gobbledegook T&C completely fail to communicate a very important message. If they’re particularly hard to understand they might not stand up in court. It’s rude and disrespectful not to communicate with your audience clearly. Plain, clear T&C make you seem more open, honest and trustworthy. And they represent a mini-marketing opportunity, a valuable touch point where – if you know your writing onions – you can engage people in a positive way.
I keep meaning to translate a bog-standard legalese T&C into English. I know enough about the legal system and the language they use not to fundamentally change the meaning. I know exactly how to make the message clear. But it’s stuck on my copywriting bucket list.
Maybe now the government is kicking up a fuss, things might start to change. In which case I’ll look forward to getting my first plain language T&C copywriting customer on board…

What is a ‘persona’ in digital marketing?

When you’re writing content it helps to know who it’s supposed to appeal to. A persona helps you empathise with your audience by turning an abstract concept into something tangible and human. Wikipedia defines personae like this:

“Fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way… Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of brand buyers and users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space such as features, interactions, and visual design of a website. Personas may also be used as part of a user-centered design process for designing software and are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD), having been used in industrial design and more recently for online marketing purposes.”

Do digital writers use personae?
Whatever you’re talking about and whoever the audience, plain language is the key to great marketing communications – in fact it’s the key to every successful communication, a given.
If you have a very specific audience, say petrol-heads over forty or children under the age of eight, a persona will help inspire the tone of voice I use and the style of the content. But if your audience is less specific, for example ‘everyone who runs a small business in my area’, a persona won’t bring much to the party. It might even prove unnecessarily restrictive.
How are personae created? 
As Smashing Magazine says:
Personas can be created in a myriad of ways, but designers are recommended to follow this general formula:

  1. Interview and/or observe an adequate number of people.
  2. Find patterns in the interviewees’ responses and actions, and use those to group similar people together.
  3. Create archetypical models of those groups, based on the patterns found.
  4. Drawing from that understanding of users and the model of that understanding, create user-centered designs.
  5. Share those models with other team members and stakeholders.

You notice they talk about ‘designers’. That’s because personae were first used in a design and UX context, where it makes much more sense than it does in a marketing context.

Persona confusion

I’ve noticed some persona confusion recently, with marketing folk making up personae willy nilly without the rigorous logical framework recommended above. And people are creating personae for the oddest reasons, too. If you’re going to do it, do it for the right reasons. And if you want to avoid ending up in a confused and confusing mess, do it properly.
Do I need to know who your target audience is? Yes. Do I need a persona to help me write content? It’s up to you, of course, and every little helps, but the answer is ‘no’.
PS. Personas or personae?
In the same way that stadia is the plural of stadium, personae is the plural of persona. Most people say ‘personas’ but as a writer I like to be accurate, especially in my own blog. On the other hand if I wanted to win visibility for the term in an SEO context, I’d say ‘personas’.
(Thanks to l4red0 for the free image)

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