Do Personas Work Better than Composites?

This email from Venmo provoked an internal argument that I thought I’d try to get down in writing to come back to about the tactic of “Persona” Marketing.

There was a photo at the top of the email in my inbox which was this:

There are only 3 images in the whole email. This and two others of two Asian people, one a woman and a man (Except for the big spender at Taco Tuesday: Peyton Y). What they’re doing and who they are is irrelevant at the level this marketing is meant to perform.

This larger image was one I stared at for a few minutes and analyzed, though. As a marketer I do this often with the eye and perspective, I try, of that of a marketer, and amateur sociologist, and psychiatrist. Consumer behavior is a major part of marketing and having intelligence in those areas is crucial, I believe in being a successful marketer. You have to know how people work. That isn’t an easy thing to do, especially en masse or with so many variables and dynamics that must be accounted for in any single situation at any given place in time. After all, that’s the primary mission of marketing, which is to solve someone’s problem at a specific time and place, when needed. That’s the secret sauce, and that’s the magic formula that takes years to be able to perform precisely and knowledgeably. It’s why you don’t see many marketing pros with credibility right out of college.

There was a deliberate decision, probably between several people, if not several departments and levels of approval, as well as a few dozen meetings, that this image had to go through and meet group approval of. Individuals aren’t left with this type of responsibility any longer, which is probably why advertising has become awful. Nothing by committee is, by natural laws, going to be superior as a whole. If possible, I’ve never heard of it or seen it in reality.

Recently the trend in “digital” marketing, by and large, is to create personas of target customers and create a marketing campaign behind each one. This can be laborious for obvious reasons, but that’s what marketers get paid to do (handsomely if they can do it correctly). Hubspot is and was a big force behind this technique. And it’s proven effective in target marketing, which is more effective than widespread, shotgun approaches. For most industries and businesses. Not all.

But this person in this image is definitely not a persona. Way too vague. What would that persona be in written form?

Here’s what it looks like to me:

20-something male/female black American with caucasian facial features, with tortoise-shell glasses to appeal to the “smart set” but with a visible tattoo and prominent bull-ring through the nose(right smack-dab in the middle of the shot), and earring holes, having a “rebellious” and “alternative” side that’s internal more than true to their outwardly displayed values. They are concerned with how they look, even if it’s terrible and ridiculous to others, more than who they are, which is natural at this age. And the androgeny is indisputable.

What this reveals is more of a composite of several people, rather than a distinct “persona.” Is this realized? Is this a mistake? I don’t know. But it’s something I spotted and will be keeping an eye on as a marketer. It excludes who is probably their largest market, which is young white men. Is that deliberate and at their own risk? Fate will tell.

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