Personas Don’t Work

Dianne is a 46-year-old IT Executive from Auckland. She lives with her husband and children in a central suburb of Auckland. She is interested in fashion, wellbeing and cooking.

Dianne is a dullard. A tired stereotype, dreamt up (with minimal dreaming) by an over-excited Junior Strategist.

It’s time for the Dianne (and her sporty, middle-management husband Derek) to move over and make way for more accurate ways of predicting people’s decision-making behaviour, because the one-size-fits all approach is out-dated and fundamentally flawed. Along with being overly generalised, Marketing Personas are usually superficial and littered with useless information that only muddies the waters. When it comes to how best to encourage someone to interact with your brand – detailed data can tell us a whole lot more.

Personas are dripping with unconscious bias. By inventing people using our own imaginations, we’re imbuing them with all the qualities we believe are prevalent within a certain demographic.

It’s inevitable that personas will only ever stretch to bland stereotypes like Dianne. After all, inventing an interesting character like Cornelius – the Bingo-loving drain layer who shops exclusively on Tuesdays at ethnic grocery stores, before returning home to his seven pet iguanas – will probably not yield much in the way of returns.

The problem is that boring in = boring out. If dullards are our inspiration, our work is never going to be distinctive.

Thankfully (depending on your perspective) we live in a world where real-world data is pervasive. We generate it with almost everything we do. In a world where so much is known, there’s really no excuse for continuing to make things up.

Take a look around. The world is filled with unique and interesting people, so let’s save our imaginations for communicating with them in unexpected ways.