How Customer Personas Have Evolved in the Age of Digital

Penny is a creative twentysomething working as a junior copywriter.

She’s bold, curious, compassionate and cultured, using what free time she has in between work, yoga, and her online master’s program to peruse liberal news sites. As a commuting urbanite though, she certainly leaves moments free for indulging in gossip and lifestyle podcasts.

If you have prior experience with personas—buyer, customer, brand (whatever you choose to call them)—then the above description should sound somewhat familiar. Have you ever met Penny face-to-face? Do you hang out with Penny on the weekends? Maybe, maybe not.

The point is not that Penny is a real person, trait for trait. It’s that she could be relatable enough to make you think she is. She’s a buyer mold, the result of gathered marketing insights meant to inform how a brand can develop stronger relationships with their customers.

What is a Customer Persona?

A concept turned into common practice by OgilvyOne Worldwide, personas developed as a result of the proposed need for strategic customer segmentation on behalf of brands. Angus Jenkins, a professor of integrated marketing, believed that understanding the larger population as individual communities could help brands in developing a keener sense of targeting and positioning.

By understanding customers on a more individualized basis, brands could breathe life into their customers. Using commonalities in demographics, values, and characteristics, customer personas could provide a better framework for identifying connection points between buyers and brand identity.

Creating Customer Personas Using Data

In the age of digital, the customer archetype has become far more complex than once assumed. And that’s because most customer personas are just that: assumed. While in ideation, they may result from ample amounts of research, with categorizations are often overly broad and at the same time, limiting in scope.

This is mostly because demographics and interests aren’t the end-all, be-all for determining a user’s behavior online. People are extremely complex, unlikely to fit perfectly within the generalizations that customer personas can make. Add digital to the mix and you are not only trying to package potential customers into cookie-cutter outlines—you’re determining how to target them across a plethora of diverse channels through a handful of predetermined, assumed interactions.

It’s a backwards methodology, especially at a time when customer data has become more accessible to marketers than ever before. There are no excuses for poor marketing decisions anymore or believing you know best when it comes to what your buyers want. They’re telling you flat-out through the ways in which they interact—or don’t—with your brand content.

Understanding Your Digital Buyer

If we know that data-driven marketing should remain front and center in reaching your audiences, how do you begin to understand who your brand’s buyer actually is in the age of digital? The answer comes from changing mindsets from one that seeks to define by character traits to in one that instead defines by action.

When analyzing visitor interactions across your website, for example, you should be able to paint a picture around what content resonates most with them. Are they drawn to certain blog topics over others? Do they engage with a particular video on your YouTube page? Have they commented with questions around pain points your team has yet to address?

This is what unifies your customer base: the problems they all have that can be solved by what your brand has to offer. They ask the question, you answer back with the solution. And if they don’t even know the question to ask yet, you lead them towards it with useful, relevant content.

Because of this, your customer will continuously be in a state of evolution. After all, people change; their beliefs, values, and needs are fluid. Customer personas as we’ve known them do not account for this, especially when translated to a digital landscape. Stripping them of their small subset of faces and letting data tell the story dynamically through technology like machine learning will help your brand to form a more effective and efficient narrative.

Final Thoughts: How Customer Personas Have Evolved in the Age of Digital

Understanding your customers less in the sense of what they do for a living or the car they drive, and more from the angle of how they’re driven to action online will continue to drive the evolution of customer personas. Lean into what you don’t know as a brand marketer and you may be surprised by how diverse your buyer base actually turns out to be.

Ready to think outside the box with your multi-channel digital marketing strategy and connect with audiences you never knew existed? Connect with our team at Mabbly today.