Overcoming three big challenges in landing Personas

Overcoming three big challenges in landing Personas

By Eugene Lim · 25 July 2019 · 5 minute read

Insights, CX and marketing professionals gathered in Singapore at an ABN Impact event to talk all things Persona.  Alongside the usual presentation style format, the delegates even "got their hands dirty" in a fun filled exercise where they had to guess the Persona by interviewing real life human beings.

Throughout the event, there were three recurring themes in the interactive discussion. Three big questions. Three key challenges the delegates felt their companies face when embarking on a customer Persona building program….

1.    How to go beyond the surface, peel back the onion, and get the deeper insights?
2.    How to project Personas into the broader CRM database to give a sense of size and value?
3.    How to make the Personas stick within the Organisations?

Hmmm. Good questions indeed. So here’s a summary of the key ideas that were shared in the event:

#1: Profiling Personas – Peeling the Onion
During the workshop activity, delegates interviewed real consumers and Marcus then walked us through the different Personas and challenged delegates to determine which one of four Persona the consumer represents. 

As it turned out, all four groups arrived at the same Persona: Realist! It was a funny moment, but also an insightful one. In the rather shallow contrived format of interviewing we had at the event, it wasn’t surprising that the consumers responded in a very rational way… which all pointed towards the Realist persona. 

So, the exercise demonstrated the need for a multi-layered approach to building Personas, and to gather data from a number of sources. When strangers speak to us, we are not likely to open up right away. In the context of a 20-minute interview with people you have never met (as at the event), there is a tendency for respondents to rationalize their responses. On the other hand, since this activity involved trying to fit individuals into Personas, rather than building Personas based on a number of individuals responses, the choice of questions was likely to involve confirmation bias, i.e. directed at confirming that their first guesses are right.

The truth is, humans are complicated creatures. Humans have different levels of reality, both inner and outer. We behave differently in different situations and at different times. For instance, a meat lover may just happen to be on a vegan diet because it is "in". This means that when we do Persona profiling, the responses we get may not reflect a person's true Persona. Finding true Personas is like peeling an onion. It's going to take time and commitment!

This is why we do Insight Communities. Insight communities allow you to bring your customers together and track their responses in an iterative manner. By following customers over time, and gathering both qualitative and quantitative data, you can not only build new Personas but continually create new iterations of Personas. Having a direct relationship with your customers will also make it easier for them to open up more.


#2: Building Personas into the broader CRM database 

May Tan, SVP of Customer Strategy and Insights at HSBC, turned attention to the issue of integrating Personas: "How can you apply Personas to entire databases?" This question probes at the margins between qual and quant methodologies to build up Personas. While Personas are developed with qualitative methodologies to gain a rich, in-depth picture of customers, they are also further developed and validated through quantitative data from both surveys and your CRM database.

CRM data is highly useful because it captures the behavioural data of actual customers. However, these behaviours can also easily change over time. After all, people are dynamic, not static. The implication is that when the data changes, business strategies have to evolve. When this happens, it may not always be clear why there is a change, or how to deal with the change.

This is where Personas can help us. As Marcus Lui explained in his presentation, Personas represent groups of people with a similar composite of qualities. Personas are not actual people, so they do not change. They provide a strategic foundation for business strategies. When customer behaviours change, companies can always refer to these Personas to better understand the changes which have occurred and find new ways to adapt.


#3: Adopting Personas in Organizations – Making It Stick

Phillip Schulze, GM of Customer Service and Digital Marketing at Daimler, raised a key challenge faced securing buy-in of Personas within an organization: "How do you create a mindset change within your company?" In response, Calvin Lee shared AIA’s plans to develop training modules for Agents and internal departments. The plans include a range of online info tools where key information on customer Personas can be accessed. 
Maz Amirahmadi, CEO of ABN Impact, shared his experience in engaging internal stakeholders in the process of creating the Personas, “Rather than presenting stakeholders with a ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ Persona, get them involved in baking up the Persona. In particular, if stakeholders are involved in the naming of the Persona it helps it stick in their minds”, Maz said. 

Further tips to embed Personas within organizations. First, make it visual. Personas often include several dimensions. The greater the number of Personas created, the harder it is for your internal stakeholders to digest. If you can give faces to these Personas which capture their key attributes, and show them in clear and appealing formats, they will resonate and stick in the mind. Humanise your Persona! Twitter found great success in bringing to life their users for internal stakeholders, “Working with ABN, we used a persona methodology to bring insight into a complex and emotional subject. We have found this approach highly beneficial and truly able to bring the audience into the boardroom to enable strategic decision making to happen.

Second, get quick wins on how impactful Personas can be. This can be done by running an A/B test on content in your comms. Test two versions of content with your Personas: one which is generic, and one which is Personalized. By gauging your customers' responses, you can gain data which serves as proof of concept.

Thank you to all who came down for the event. Let’s get close to our customer Personas and start making them stick!