Marketing Personas Can Damage Your Brand

Also referred to as “buyer personas,” a marketing persona is a lifelike representation of your customer or prospective customer and it is derived from marketing research. Marketing research and traditional “branding” activities are rooted in principles from the industrial era, a time when mass marketing and mass consumerism drove organizational design.

Marketing personas are based on marketing research. While these personas make an effort to humanize customers, they are based on a dangerously narrow definition of people as consumers. That approach is becoming increasingly flawed and risky.

Bigger isn’t better

The very paradigm that gave birth to marketing personas, mass marketing, is losing steam. According to Bloomberg news, research from Symphony IRI Group shows that giants in beer manufacturing, the mass market brands, actually saw sales decline by 1.7 percent overall while craft beers grew by 16 percent.

According to research from Booz & Company in the food and beverage industry, sales from small manufactures (those with sales under US $1 billion), outperformed larger, more established manufacturers in 18 of 25 categories.

Potentially more intriguing is the margins and efficiencies of small players that are outperforming their “efficiency-driven” larger competitors. In fact, Godiva chocolate sells for 138 percent more than Hershey’s chocolate.

Trust is essential for brands

Today, brands will either survive or perish because of trust. And trust must be fostered through multiple dimensions of a business’ strategy, communications, culture, and product model.

A company’s marketing function actually does very little to fortify trust, though it can erode trust. This distinction is important because while marketing can harm trust, it has very little opportunity to positively influence trust.

Today, people want more than a great product, they want to buy from and associate with companies they can trust. According to Reputation Institute, UK, customer opinion is not influenced solely by the quality of a company’s products and services.

In fact, perception of product and service quality is only 31 percent of the influence over positive customer sentiment. The lion’s share of influence, a whopping 62 percent, is actually influenced by customers’ overall perception of the parent company.

Essentially, trust in the parent company now supersedes product branding.

To survive, brands will have to spend less time marketing to people and spend more time demonstrating trustworthiness.

Why marketing personas are risky

Quite simply, integrity and trust are not marketing strategies. They are business strategies. To build trust with people, companies must separate their customer strategy from their marketing strategy.

If a company only understands their customers through the narrow lens of marketing, then that company and its employees cannot empathize with customers or anticipate their emotional needs during times of change.

And times of change are the precise moments when trust is either fortified or eroded. When customers feel vulnerable, they will always remember how they were treated. Change is the moment when trust is essential. It is also the one constant in business.

Companies that define their customers through the narrow lens of marketing are woefully unprepared for change. This presents a risk that leaves companies open to attack from competitors – particularly those competitors who don’t view their customers solely as a marketing strategy.

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