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How Persona Based Advertising Works

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I have seen your underwear.

And this will help you sell more furniture.

If I could ask you just a couple of questions I could tell you – with a high degree of accuracy – whether you are a boxer or briefs kind of guy or a Victoria’s Secret or Hanes kind of girl.

Does this mean we’re intimate friends?

Of course not. This is intimacy a la Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Keith Miller wrote in The Becomers, “Through the skill and aggressiveness of modern advertising – particularly on television – we know more about each other’s homes and personal habits than any previous generation has. Advertising has created an illusion of intimacy… I know something about what kind of cereal you eat, what you shave with, and what kind of clothes you wear in every room in your house.”

Now consider that this was published in 1973, and add over thirty years of technology to the mix. Thanks to the consumer’s willingness to sell personal information in order to save a few cents, computer databases now track what’s in your medicine cabinet, how many times you buy dog food and what kind of soup you have for lunch. These delicious morsels of data are matched with your name and address whenever you use a frequent shopper card, complete a survey or register the warranty on your new iPod.

Furthermore, immediately accessible public records track when you get married, how old you are when you have your first child, what kind of vehicle you use to drive that baby home from the hospital, the square footage of the home where you will raise that child, what you paid for that home, the births of any other children you might have, how much you earn each year to support that family, any legal trouble you encounter along the way, when you get divorced and finally when you die – all documented with digital images and now even video, thanks to the profusion of online user-created content.

HOW DOES THIS SELL FURNITURE?
Forget Social Security numbers, identity theft and privacy acts: all I need to foretell your favorite underwear is the public record combined with the private paper trail. I might even find a picture of you in your skivvies on MySpace.com. But how in the world does our insight into your underwear make it possible for you to sell more furniture? Because the same information is available about every single one of your customers. Persona based advertising is how you get close enough to your customer to take a peek into her lingerie chest. “It involves constructing a fictional customer—based on real-life data and intelligence—and then using that character as the touchstone for promotional and selling decisions,” writes marketing consultant M.H. “Mac” McIntosh. At R&A Marketing we’ve named this persona “Ms. Jones,” and we introduce her to you in a fresh new way that will also make her your profitable business partner.

The Meet Ms. Jones™ persona system breathes life into cold, hard statistical data by creating a unique drama around the details of her life. You will recognize your customer, and sometimes even yourself, in her story. Meet Ms. Jones™ utilizes demographic data to tell you WHO is buying your products (and who isn’t but should be). It incorporates geographic data to tell you WHERE she lives (and where to find more customers like her). It applies a geodemographic combination to reveal WHAT she is doing (and what she’s purposely not doing). Most importantly, the psychographic element will tell you WHY she buys (and why she doesn’t). This translates into a strategy for knowing HOW you can successfully drive her to your store.

Persona based advertising will enable you to efficiently and effectively target the right Ms. Jones using the right media and the right message. Savvy retailers will make sure they provide the right moment in the store, a satisfying experience that mixes products and services catering to her specific needs and results in bigger-ticket sales and more satisfied and loyal customers.

THE RIGHT MS. JONES
Part science and part art form, persona based advertising combines public records with the factoids you didn’t even realize you were forfeiting on a daily basis, then lays that information over a map and puts a face on it. Since people with similar lifestyles tend to live near each other, this information can be pooled for groups from an entire Zip code (1,500-15,000 households) to Zip+4 zones (6-15 households). Claritas, a world-leading market research company, has even reduced these groups down to the individual household level. They have identified 66 demographically and behaviorally distinct household types called “segments.” At the segment level, age, income, education, ethnicity, homeownership and household size are pinpointed with street-level accuracy and a clear picture of consumer behavior, spending habits and lifestyles emerges. It’s downright creepy when you first read your own segment, as if someone has summarized your entire life into a few brief bullets for your premature obituary:

Are you a 35-54 year old college graduate living alone with your spouse in a swank home filled with the latest technology in a satellite city, earning $69,005 per year at your professional business career, driving your Volkswagen Passat to Bennigan’s and college sporting events? Then you’re called “Brite Lights, Li’l City.”

Or maybe you’re an upscale suburban couple with kids, parking your Nissan SUV at your home in a recently built subdivision among your college-educated, white-collar professional neighbors who make large outlays for child-centered products and services at places like Chuck E. Cheeses and The Disney Store? Then you’re “Kids & Cul-de-sacs.”

The data delves into where you eat, where and how and how often you shop, what you read, what you do in your spare time, what you listen to, what clubs or organizations you belong to, where you go, how you entertain yourself… and also states what you absolutely do not do. You are not nearly as novel as you may have thought!

Persona based advertising begins by analyzing your company’s current sales by Zip Code. This will identify the Ms. Joneses who already know you and love you, and continually updated market research will reveal where you can find more Ms. Joneses just like her. You will discover between four to six unique Ms. Joneses, each one representing several segments with similar lifestage and social indicators. (The segments are combined to create a meaningful population: it would be a futile exercise to target marketing and advertising to a segment that represents a mere 1% of your market, but when several similar household segments are combined they may total a significant 19%.)

This analysis may reveal disparities between your actual market and your customer base. For example, you have a real chance for growth if 25% of your market trading area is made up of middle-class 25-45 year old singles and couples without kids, but they only comprise only 5% of your customer base. If 22% of your customers are upscale professionals but they represent less than 2% of your market, you may need to locate this Ms. Jones in other nearby trading areas. You cannot and should not be all things to all people, but you may learn why your parking lot is empty on a Saturday afternoon.

Please meet some “real” Ms. Joneses from real R&A customers (and see if you can recognize the 43 separate data points woven into these excerpts):

MEET CYNTHIA JONES: “A relatively new concept in jewelry stores that Cynthia had discovered on a trip to Spain two years ago, her little boutique was catching on. Her husband, Tim, had used part of their investment portfolio and his contacts in the banking world to arrange the financing, and her artistic background lent itself easily to the buying and merchandising that made her store unique.”

MEET AMY JONES: “Amy pulled into the garage and grabbed the dry cleaning out of the trunk of the BMW. She paused in her home office to check her email and quickly responded to several messages. Grabbing the laptop, she sat in her sitting room off the master bedroom and went online to check flights. Paul had mentioned he wanted to give his new skis a try, and they had read about a resort in the Berkshires that sounded very nice. She logged on to their frequent flyer program site to verify they had enough miles for the airfare.”

MEET LISA JONES: “I was mortified!” Lisa laughed. “When we showed up in the same golf skirt, I thought I would die of embarrassment! But the golf pro at the club let me start on the back nine, and no one seemed to notice. Hmmm… I think I’ll try the Tutti Frutti Pink.” Lisa and her manicurist laughed over the faux pas and Lisa settled into the chair for her weekly treatment. “What else has been happening in [city]? John and I just got back from Italy – no, we didn’t take the kids, it was for our 20th anniversary – and I haven’t had a chance to catch up on all the latest gossip!”

MEET KIM JONES: “I’m so glad to be home!” Kim Jones took off her smock and hung it behind the door. “I’m starving!” She picked up the cordless telephone pressed speed dial #1 for mark’s cell. “Mark, it’s me. I’m ordering from Papa John’s. Do you want green peppers on the pizza? The movie starts at 7:10. Yes, yes – I promise I’ll be ready this time! But you’ll have to drive me through the bank if we’re going out afterwards; I need to cash my paycheck. Do you want to go dancing or to the pool hall? Or both!”

MEET MICHELLE JONES: “True, it took two incomes to keep them afloat. Michelle’s part time job in the office at a printing company in [city] offered flexibility in her hours and the extra income was appreciated. Her schedule allowed her to be home shortly after the children got home from elementary school. She turned the minivan into a mini-retreat during the 20-minute commute, listening to the local Christian radio station or singing along to a country tune.”

THE RIGHT MEDIA
Understanding your personas will enable you to create meaningful advertising that appeals to real individuals instead of missing the mark by trying to appeal to an averaged mass. It increases your likelihood of finding a love match and maximizes every dollar you spend on advertising. Personas reveal top media behaviors – and, conversely, bottom media behaviors. It is just as important to know that a particular Ms. Jones does not read the newspaper as it is to know that she does listen to the radio on weekends from 7:00 pm to midnight. Dollars spend on newspaper ads for your new home office collection will be wasted if the same Ms. Jones who has a home office does not read the paper. Radio ads for your “Pick-A-Pair” recliner sale will go unheeded if the same Ms. Jones who has time to sit in one all day does not listen to the radio. Blanketing an affluent suburb with a direct mail piece featuring your new kids furniture department will be useless if no children live there.

On the other hand, selecting the right media will be like shooting fish in a barrel if it is based on an accurate persona. You can identify the source and the time that the right Ms. Jones will be paying attention to your media selections.

THE RIGHT MESSAGE
Have you ever noticed how many women look up when a child cries, “Mommy!” Long after her own children are grown, this sound resonates in her spirit. This is the same response your advertising message should generate in the heart of an expertly targeted Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones is essentially a selfish and self-centered woman! Your message must be “all about me” for her. Speak from her vantage point. Do you see the subtle difference between, “Furniture manufacturers offer us special buys and we pass the savings on to you,” and “You will find the furniture you want for your family at the price you need for your budget”? The personal pronoun “you” should always be the subject of your message. Her only concern about your store or your selection or your staff is in direct proportion to its impact upon herself.

Your message should speak directly to what matters in her life. It must push all her buttons. You must get inside her head and heart then show her that you know her. She will respond when she knows that you care about her needs and you can and will meet those very same needs in a way no other competitor can. You must conquer her closet fears and light a fire under her fantasies. When you have already peeped into her lingerie chest, this becomes less like guesswork and more like magic.

THE RIGHT MOMENT
So you identified the right Ms. Jones for your business model. You selected the right media and got her attention. You told a tale that grabbed her by the heartstrings and pulled her into your parking lot. She opens the door, walks in the store, and… you’re not there. It’s like going on a blind date to meet the perfect match from an internet dating site, only to find he didn’t use his real picture. She was expecting Tom Cruise and she got Tom Thumb. Once you’ve get to know Ms. Jones, you must ask yourself some hard questions:

  • Does your selection meets her needs for style, quality, brand and price? Does she want a go-ahead-and-jump-on-the-couch-cause-I’m-sure-its-gonna-last sofa, or is hers more the look-but-don’t-touch kind of home? Do your price points make sense, do your displays look like her living room?
  • Do your policies meet her needs for convenience, reassurance, security and fairness? Do you deliver it when she’s going to be home, can you make it okay if she doesn’t like it, and do you have people who can fix it?
  • Does your staff meets her needs for knowledge, expertise, professionalism and friendliness? Do you know what you’re talking about, can you pull the picture out of her mind and put it in her living room, and can she find the price tag?
  • You cannot fool Ms. Jones. She will see through chicanery in seconds. The moments she spends in your store must exceed her expectations, or she’s history. Are you her Tom Cruise?

WHO, WHERE, WHAT, WHY & HOW – NOW WHEN?
Persona based advertising can help you discover who you need to attract to your store. You can learn where she lives, what she does and even why she does it. You can figure out how you’re going to speak to the right Ms. Jones with the right media and the right message and deliver the right moment.

The “when” is entirely up to you. Advertising in the past may have created an illusion of intimacy, but you have the ability to create a reality where Ms. Jones will love to spend her furniture dollars.

She will respond when you use persona based advertising to speak to her personally.

Amy Lively, partner at The Lively Merchant, is a writer and marketing consultant who steps into Ms. Jones stilettos to walk her right to your door. By matching statistical data with local market variances and adding observations from the mind of a real Ms. Jones, she brings to life unique personas that enable businesses to better understand and reach more customers, and more profitable customers. Amy has also walked in the shoes of the store owner, giving her a unique perspective into the issues facing today’s entrepreneur. 

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