Persona Danger – Beware of Jumping to Conclusions

Written content sits at the foundation of a brand. The way you describe your business and products makes a powerful impression on potential customers. There’s a strong and direct relationship between copy and conversion rates. And there’s a lot of corresponding talk about actionable tactics to boost sales conversion rates. Some say it helps to write for the persona or personae you’re targeting. But is targeting content to suit a bunch of fairly spurious groupings really a good idea?

The copywriter’s challenge – 3 core aims

The three main communication challenges you face as a business are:

  1. Telling people about your products and services, revealing their unique features and benefits
  2. Evoking the emotions that drive buying decisions
  3. Creating long-lasting, trusting relationships through expressing your brand values and explaining how they align with what customers expect

All these can be achieved through smart content, created with the principles of direct response marketing in mind. How? By writing clearly and succinctly, organising and prioritising the facts properly, using plain language, adding creative spice, harnessing calls to action and so on. But does writing for target personae add anything to the party?

Is it wise to write content with personae in mind?

Some recommend sketching out a target customer profile based on your target market, AKA a persona. The idea is that doing so will help you craft laser-targeted, high-converting copy. In one example I found online, they say almost all your customers, whatever sector you operate in, will belong to at least one of these groups:

  • Logical – These people are methodical detail-lovers. They will look into your offer in depth before buying, and shop around for the best deals. Allegedly around 45% of people fall into this category.
  • Impulsive – Spontaneous, risk-oriented and optimistic, these people account for roughly 35% of the population. They tend to make fast buying decisions and focus hard on the benefits.
  • Caring – The carers amongst us are concerned about other people’s well-being and will only consider buying if it also benefits others. They’re more likely to study your about us page than simply explore a product’s benefits and features. Apparently around 20% of us have a caring persona.
  • Aggressive – Rational and focused on self-improvement, aggressive characters have a high standard of integrity and expect you to fall in line. That covers around 7% of us.

This is where I come unstuck, because it’s just one of many, many ways to divide the human race into categories. Add to that the fact that most people straddle at least one of the categories, maybe all four, and the insight it delivers suddenly looks unreliable, if not downright unhelpful.
In my last post I looked at how social media profile photos can give away clues about what kind of personality type you are. In that case the research referred to five categories of people, five personae, and they’re completely different from those above.

  1. Conscientious
  2. Open
  3. Neurotic
  4. Agreeable
  5. Extrovert

How does that work in marketing terms? I’d go as far as saying personae are a risky business, not to be relied on. What can be relied on, however, are tried, tested and trusted direct marketing practices like:

  • Writing with the brand’s personality in mind
  • Using power words and action words to their best effect
  • Creating the right format so search engines get what they need, and people find the content a pleasure to explore and read
  • Weaving keywords into the copy to join the dots between what people search for and what Google and co surface in the search results
  • Using language plainly yet creatively
  • Focusing on the benefits rather than giving the features prominence
  • Knowing when to stop – understanding how much detail to provide, and where
  • Getting the information hierarchy right to account for people who scan content rather than read every word
  • Writing information-rich headers and subheads
  • Including bullets and numbered lists, emboldening and italics to pick out information that needs to be highlighted
  • Answering the key questions that might stand in the way of a buying decision
  • Entertaining people while you’re at it

Take marketing personae with a pinch of salt

Have you ever met someone so one-dimensional they fall neatly into a single category, staying that way come rain or shine? I doubt it. We’re far too mercurial. If someone recommends you create a persona or personae to support your digital marketing strategy, think the whole thing through extremely carefully before taking action. Once you delve into the idea it starts to look a lot like bullshit, with the potential to take a toll on conversion rather than boosting sales.

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