In this episode, Stacy speaks with Susan Baier about the most effective ways to build buyer personas when working with new clients.
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Susan Baier: 00:01
- I fake it well. I’m an introvert but I like talking to people. Like I like this, I like small conversations and I like presenting. What I can’t deal is with like, massive cocktail parties where you’re supposed to talk to a whole bunch of people, or like concerts, or the streets of New York City, or anything like that for me.
Stacy Jones: 00:24
Speaker 1: 00:25
- Welcome to Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Here’s your host, Stacy Jones.
Stacy Jones: 00:30
- Today I’m so pleased to have Susan Baier with us, who are joining us to speak about how agencies and brands can best define their target audiences and develop personas to better build marketing campaigns. Susan developed her expertise and audience-based marketing strategy, over more than 30 years in product and brand management, market research and strategic planning, both agency side and client side.
Stacy Jones: 00:50
- She has an MBA in entrepreneurship and marketing and has held senior positions at Fortune 500 firms as well as marketing agencies. Having worked with such companies as The Dial Corporation, [00:01:00] Costco, ConocoPhillips, Circle K stores, Essential Brands, and numerous agencies.
Stacy Jones: 01:05
- Almost a decade ago, Susan went out on her own and launched Audience Audit, a company that dives in to provide and make understandable, targeted customer data to help better focus marketing efforts grow revenue and profits. Susan spends her time helping organizations better understand the needs of their customers. And today is here to help all of us better understand who each one of us is actually marketing to.
Stacy Jones: 01:26
- Susan is a stats and research woman and totally geeks out [00:01:30] about audience segmentation. But what’s fantastic, and you’re about to find out, is that she makes it really easy to understand. I’ve known Susan from her speaking at an agency owners group that I belong to, Agency Management Institute, and her grasp on how to conduct research surveys and how to actually intemperate that data is quite impressive. Susan is also a fellow alum of mine, of the University of Arizona. Go Wildcats!
Susan Baier: 01:53
- Go Wildcats!
Stacy Jones: 01:54
- Susan, a warm welcome to you.
Susan Baier: 01:57
- Thank you very much, Stacy. It’s wonderful to be [00:02:00] here.
Stacy Jones: 02:01
- Really greatly appreciate having you here. So let me tell you. Literally on a daily basis, my team will jump on a call with a new brand to talk about opportunities within brand content and influencer partnerships, and one of the first questions we get asked always come with this big pause, and a moment of silence. And that question that confuses so many brand managers is when we ask who their actual target demographic is that they wanna engage with.
Stacy Jones: 02:28
- Because so often, someone [00:02:30] comes to the table with the idea of what they want to do and is totally not going to be spot on for who’s actually purchasing their products. And that’s why I’m so excited to talk to you today, because people don’t necessarily at brand and agencies, always quite understand the personas they’re targeting to.
Susan Baier: 02:47
- Yeah. No, that’s exactly right. I’m always amazed when somebody that I’m working with on the client’s side comes in with even their own sense [00:03:00] of who that is. I think we all have a picture in our heads, but I think a lot of times at organizations, it just hasn’t really been fleshed out, it hasn’t been shared. So there’s not sort of a common understanding of who the best audiences are. And when I talk to small business and ask who their audiences are, guess what the number one question … The answer I get is.
Stacy Jones: 03:23
- I have no idea. Asking you what that means or-
Susan Baier: 03:28
- Nope. The answer I get is, everyone.
Stacy Jones: 03:31
- Oh. Oh, yes. Yes. No-
Susan Baier: 03:35
Stacy Jones: 03:35
- Honestly, yes. I get, “Oh, adults.” I’m like, “Adults? All adults?” “Every adult. White adults, black adults-
Susan Baier: 03:41
- Adults with a credit card. Is that like, anyone with a bank account? Yeah. So no, it’s a common problem. I think that’s the number one things that I see organizations and quite frankly even agencies doing wrong with respect to personas is that they don’t do that.
Stacy Jones: 04:00
Susan Baier: 04:01
- And I know there are a lot of folks out there who think this is just sort of some made up exercise so that agencies can make more money off of their clients or something. But I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of the negative feelings that people may have about personas is because they’ve had an experience with personas where they weren’t helpful.
Stacy Jones: 04:24
Susan Baier: 04:24
- And that happens a lot. Clients spend a bunch of money, agencies spent a bunch of time [00:04:30] developing personas that don’t actually help, and of course, in that situation, you’re gonna kinda get a bad taste in your mouth about that work. It’s like I do research all the time, and I pretty much go in assuming that everybody’s had at least one bad experience with research because it wasn’t helpful, it cost a bunch of money, it never got used. So of course they have that perception. And I think to some degree that’s what happens with personas.
Stacy Jones: 04:57
- Yeah. And I get that. And I remember when we first signed [00:05:00] up for HubSpot, for inbound marketing for our agency. It’s like the first thing it wanted me to do was design the personas. And I’m like, “What the hell is this thing?” I’m like, “What? No, I want a marketing manager. I want a [inaudible 00:05:16]. Why do I need to figure this stuff out? This isn’t for me at all.”
Susan Baier: 05:20
Stacy Jones: 05:21
- So I get it from the brand’s side 100%.
Susan Baier: 05:25
- Yeah, yeah.
Stacy Jones: 05:27
- And it’s taken some time for me to get on board and understand [00:05:30] and sell into our clients when we’re working with them, that importance of doing so.
Susan Baier: 05:36
- Yeah. Well, it’s not easy work to do. I think one of the fascinating things to me about personas is, how far they can go if they’re done well, in telling you who you don’t want. Which is something that a lot of clients really have trouble getting their head around? “What do you mean? There isn’t anybody we don’t want.” [00:06:00] But if you spend time with them and you talk about personas sort of in a different way with a different perspective, and I know we’re gonna talk about that, I think it does show you that there are customers that you don’t want. Which can be, I would argue, equally as valuable as identifying the ones that you do.
Stacy Jones: 06:21
- Right. 100%. And it’s so easy as an agency owner, to get it, where someone’s like, “Oh, I have this much money,” [00:06:30] and you’re like, “Oh, I want it even if it’s not someone who’s gonna be our ideal client to be working with. So on the brand side, the same thing, “oh, they have money, they wanna buy this product, of course, I want to sell to this individual.”
Susan Baier: 06:43
Stacy Jones: 06:43
- Versus targeting in and really finding the individuals who are gonna buy more and more frequently, and at greater volumes.
Susan Baier: 06:53
- And are gonna be less of a pain in the ass.
Stacy Jones: 06:55
Susan Baier: 06:55
- Excuse my language but really, we’ve all had the experience of looking back [00:07:00] on a client and going, “I wish I had never worked with that client.”
Stacy Jones: 07:04
- Of course.
Susan Baier: 07:04
- Like I wish we’d never let that person buy something from us. Because it didn’t go well, we didn’t perform well, word of mouth was bad as a result, they were a nightmare, they made our people cry, whatever it is. It’s easy to look back but of course, looking forward it’s a lot harder to get yourself in the frame of mind that says, “Actually there are people or organizations [00:07:30] for whom I’d refuse to work, whose money I wouldn’t take.”
Stacy Jones: 07:34
Susan Baier: 07:35
- So I think it’s important to go through this practice, but it’s not easy and I think we’ve all been taught to do it wrong. And I think that the end result is that there are a lot of personas out there that are driving some sort of bad image about that whole process.
Stacy Jones: 07:54
- Sure. So how do you do it right? What is the way?
Susan Baier: 07:58
- So I think … How about if I tell you how we do it wrong? Because-
Stacy Jones: 08:02
- Okay. Let’s talk about how you do it-
Susan Baier: 08:05
- Let’s talk about how we do it wrong.
Stacy Jones: 08:05
Susan Baier: 08:07
- And then, I’ll talk about too, how I think we need to be doing it differently.
Stacy Jones: 08:11
Susan Baier: 08:12
- So we talked about the first problem which is that people aren’t doing them at all. So the issue with that is, it just assumes that everybody’s the same and everybody isn’t. Even everybody who buys something from you is not the same. But if you start treating them all the same, you miss a lot of opportunities to really connect. Which is why I think people buy. You can’t treat everyone the same and make them feel connected to you. And I think that’s how all of us make purchase decisions. Is that we feel that a company or a brand understands us and has a product for us. And if you’re treating everybody the same, that’s not happening.
Susan Baier: 08:53
- The second problem I think is that … And I say this with the utmost regard for all of those marketers [00:09:00] out there and folks working in agencies, I am one of you, and so I’ve done this myself. But we guess, we just guess.
Stacy Jones: 09:09
Susan Baier: 09:09
- We sit around, we get the team in the conference room for the new client, and we try to get some young people and some older people, we do the best we can sort of within the agency walls, and we sit around and brainstorm what we think the personas are for this particular client. And we’re guessing.
Susan Baier: 09:26
- And I know you know [00:09:30] Jay Baer, he was stuck in the airport today for about seven hours, and he asked people on Instagram to just ask him questions that he would answer during his time while he was waiting in between flights. And somebody asked him and said, “I’m starting up a new company, and I’m just wondering sort of what the first steps should be or whatever.” And Jay’s answer I thought was absolutely on point and really telling. He said, “Take ten hours, and do ten interviews with people that you think are [00:10:00] your ideal customers.” And that is the best way to kick off.
Susan Baier: 10:05
- And we’re not listening, we’re not exploring, we’re not researching, we’re just guessing. And the problem with that is that it may not work. And unfortunately, we’re not back in Mad Men days, and now if it doesn’t work, we can see it, the client can see it, they see the same dashboards from Google that we have. And they see that their ads aren’t working and their sales [00:10:30] aren’t climbing and then the agency gets fired, so that’s not good. Guessing’s not good.
Susan Baier: 10:36
- One of the first questions your team is asking new clients is, “What is the demographic that you’re targeting?” And there’s this silence, and clients don’t always know. And I think that’s the wrong question. I think demographics are the wrong way to build a persona.
Stacy Jones: 10:49
Susan Baier: 10:51
- For a couple of reasons. The first reason is, the demographics just don’t explain why people are doing something. [00:11:00] You can line up a bunch of people that look exactly the same on paper in terms of income and gender, or organizations that are in the same vertical and have roughly the same revenue, and people with the same title in those organizations, and they are making different purchase decisions because they have different stuff going on that’s causing problems that they’re trying to solve.
Susan Baier: 11:20
- So demographics that are women, men, families, whatever, they don’t tell us what we [00:11:30] need to know as marketers. Which is, why people are doing things. So I think that demographics can be part of a strong persona, but my problem is, if you start with demographics, that’s where most people stop. Right? Like it’s a box that people just check off and say, “Oh, good. I have my personas, tic. And they’re just, “A woman, 25 to 49 with a Volvo or whatever.”
Stacy Jones: 11:58
- Right. Nothing about likes [00:12:00] or interests or-
Susan Baier: 12:00
- Right. We just don’t go any further. We don’t dig any further and some of my favorite questions when developing persons are around sort of, “What problem are you trying to solve?” It’s sort of the, “Why are you here,” question. If somebody walks into a store in the mall, why are you there? What is it you’re looking for, and what are it’s characteristics? And why are you looking for that thing? And then why haven’t [00:12:30] you solved that problem already? There’s no shortage of service providers, product manufacturers, brands out in the world, why haven’t you found the solution for your problem yet? What has been in the way?
Susan Baier: 12:46
- And those questions get you a lot deeper than just sort of the superficial demographics or business characteristics or whatever. Which is where people usually stop with personas.
Susan Baier: 12:59
- And what [00:13:00] I see a lot with sort of demographic personas is that agencies, I think maybe in an effort to justify to clients the money that they’ve spent on the persona process, just make them really complicated and cram them with all sorts of crazy stuff. And so the client looks at it and feels like they’re really meaty, I think is the thinking. But what I see is clients [00:13:30] who are confused. Who just can’t really make sense of that and don’t know what to do with it. It just becomes sort of overwhelming. I don’t know the extent to which unless you’re an automotive company or a related service, how knowing what car somebody drives, helps you figure out your marketing message to them, if you’re a grocery store or whatever.
Susan Baier: 13:52
- Like it’s just even things like income, I always get asked about income. And income isn’t [00:14:00] correlated to purchase decisions in that way, because we spend our money on the things that are important to us. And discretionary spending, you may spend a ton of money on shoes, and I may spend a ton of money on tech, and you may have a lot more money than I have and I may still spend more on tech than you spend on shoes because of how I prioritize those things. So I just don’t see them as being particularly helpful [00:14:30] and what I see is them being off-putting for clients sometimes.
Stacy Jones: 14:34
- Okay. Although, one at least with some very basics, like the household income, at least it is allowing you to say, “I know that this income level is not even gonna consider us if we’re a luxury brand,” right? There have to be some parameters, but they just might be so narrow that it doesn’t matter.
Susan Baier: 14:55
- Well, and I just think you have to be careful. I’ve done studies with luxury brands, [00:15:00] where people who have far lower income than expected are buying those brands. Because they are saving up, it’s a priority for them, they are saving up and they are spending that money. Look at it this way, you see kids all the time, right? 18, 19 guys spending way more than they can afford on their cars.
Stacy Jones: 15:24
Susan Baier: 15:25
- Right? And buying high-end rims and buying high-end stereo systems and all of that kind [00:15:30] of stuff. So I’m no saying there’s never going to be any kind of a demographic correlation, that’s silly. But I think that we need to lean on it a lot less than we do. And I would argue that we need to start with the other stuff first. I think we need to start with the attitudes that are driving someone towards this purchase. Whether they’re doing it in their organizational role or for themselves personally, I think we need to start with that and get that, and then look at, “All right. Now, [00:16:00] does a demographic understanding add to this?” And if it does, great. And if it doesn’t, we should just leave it out.
Stacy Jones: 16:09
- Fair enough.
Susan Baier: 16:10
- Because if we’re experts and we’re relying on demographics, our clients, who are typically not experts are even more likely to do that. And what we don’t want then doing is seeing someone walk in the door and assuming something about them that isn’t true simply because of the way they look. Because that’ll torpedo your whole marketing [00:16:30] strategy. So that-
Stacy Jones: 16:34
- So what are the areas that a client should really be paying attention to and looking at?
Susan Baier: 16:38
- So I think it’s about attitude. We do attitudinal segmentation research. And see over and over that segments that are based on attitude, often aren’t differentiated by demographics. So for example, we had a client who does high end, luxury [00:17:00] home fragrance products, like potpourris and scented candles and things like that. And for that product, we actually see folks buying it for different reasons and being driven by different things to decided what they’re gonna buy.
Susan Baier: 17:17
- So they’re certainly, for this particular client, there was a group that was very fragrance focused, right? So they’re looking to those products, along with a bunch of other products like fresh flowers maybe, or [00:17:30] chocolate chip cookies in the oven, or whatever, to establish sort of their mood when they walk in their door, right? They’re creating an environment at home that’s based on fragrance. And so that’s particularly important to them. So that’s no big surprise, if your company’s based on marketing fragrance products.
Susan Baier: 17:48
- But then we found folks who are buying these products to decorate with. So they’re building beautiful mantle displays, they’re decorating for all different kinds of events. [00:18:00] They’re color coordinating stuff in the bathroom or whatever-
Susan Baier: 18:01
- They’re color coordinating stuff in the bathroom or whatever. For them, it’s really about design and color and a variety of those things and sort of continuously new looks and options. For them, fragrance can actually be a problem because often they’re cooking, so fragrance is interfering with something they have going on. You can’t have very heavily scented candles on the table if you’re serving a roast or whatever. [00:18:30] If you have a bunch of different things interesting the green bathroom, and they all smell different, you’ve got a problem. It doesn’t smell good right?
Stacy Jones: 18:36
- Not a bathroom you want to be in.
Susan Baier: 18:36
- Right. So sometimes those folks are actually looking for unscented, or they’d like to choose the fragrance that’s in it so it can compliment something else that’s going on. Some folks are just grifters. Some folks are just looking at those products to give to somebody else, and quite honestly, they are far less about what’s in the package than they do about what’s on the outside. How [00:19:00] attractive does the package look? How high end? What is the brand’s reputation for luxury and for cost because they really want people to say, “Oh my goodness, you shouldn’t have. This is so generous. This is so beautiful, whatever.”
Susan Baier: 19:14
- All of these folks buying the products from this particular brand look the same on paper. They show the same age ranges. They show the same gender splits. They show the same income. You can’t tell the difference from them on paper because [00:19:30] it’s all something happening in their head. That’s an attitudinal segmentation. That gives any marketer, I think, who are listening to a much better idea of what to do for each of those people, what kinds of messages that they would respond to, what kind of products or promotions they would be interested in, much more than female, 25 to 49, right?
Stacy Jones: 19:58
- Absolutely. [00:20:00] How do you go about … I know this is your specialty. How do you go about actually figuring this out? Because it’s not that you’re just walking up to a group of people one by one on the street and saying, “Hey, what are you thinking about?” How do you know about this? How do you actually dig in and find out this super valuable information?
Susan Baier: 20:18
- Well, if you can’t actually do quantitative, statistically reliable research, you have to do the best you can, like in all situations. I’m a small business owner, as are you. [00:20:30] I think that, in the early stages of this, talking to clients, understanding, asking questions about the kinds of problems that they’re trying to solve and what’s been in the way so far can help you start to frame what those different personas may look like.
Susan Baier: 20:51
- Now, talking to individual people or even talking to focus groups isn’t going to tell you statistically if you’re right. It’s [00:21:00] going to give you an idea of what may be out there and is certainly out there with respect to the people you’ve spoken to, but that can be a pretty small sample size. So in some cases you just sort of have to test and try offers and try language and search terms and see if they work.
Susan Baier: 21:16
- If you’re lucky enough to be able to do some research into this, we can actually explore those attitudes in a large-scale survey of your customers, your perspective customers, even your lapsed [00:21:30] customers, and see what’s happening in that population with respect to the kinds of attitudes that are driving groups of people to look at your category and your product. So the way we’re doing it is with large sample size survey research that digs into those attitudinal questions and segments the respondent group that you have [00:22:00] by those attitudes exclusively.
Susan Baier: 22:02
- Now, once we have those attitudes, we can look at a bunch of other information we’ve collected in the survey, like demographics, age and gender and income, like maybe competitive awareness and usage, like preferred product opportunities, like messaging, like social media usage or where they’re getting their information or who they’re listening to in terms of recommendations, [00:22:30] and see if there are differences between those attitudinal groups that actually matter, that would actually help you as an organization better find those people, better serve them, what they want, where they want to get it, right?
Susan Baier: 22:47
- If you can do that, I could tell you, it’s incredibly illuminating to see. Often, clients will say, “Oh, I expected to see that, but I sure didn’t [00:23:00] expect to see that.” For me, that’s the hallmark of a study I’m happy with if a client … I mean, you run a business, and I run a business. We probably have some pretty good ideas about the kind of people that would want what we do and that would work well with our organization.
Susan Baier: 23:18
- Clients are no different. It’s not that they don’t know their customers. It’s just that they may have a narrow view of them, just as we do, and not expect that people are searching them out for a particular [00:23:30] reason. For me, a good study is a mix of one that shows a client something that they expected to see and something that is new and that they didn’t expect to see and that can expand their understanding of their opportunities with target customers.
Stacy Jones: 23:45
- When you do these studies, typically, how big of a sample market do you actually have to go out to in order to get the results?
Susan Baier: 23:54
- Ideally, we want 400 completed responses to a study. Now, sometimes in a B2B [00:24:00] situation, there aren’t even 400 companies out there that buy a particular thing or do a particular thing, right? In that case, we’re working towards getting the majority of the companies to participate in something like this. But in most cases, it’s a minimum of 400. My best today is when a client launches a survey. I’ve got two out right now where they’ve already got over 2,500 respondents. That’s great. More data are better.
Susan Baier: 24:29
- How [00:24:30] many you have to invite to participate in something like this to get 400 really depends on the client. All of our projects are custom. We do work, for example, for membership organizations where response rates to surveys is often very high. Then we do surveys for folks who maybe don’t have a database, and we need to find respondents. Or they’re specifically looking for respondents that don’t know anything about them, so you have to plan for lower response rates in those situations. [00:25:00] 400, though, is the magic number as a minimum.
Stacy Jones: 25:02
- That’s good to know. I think that’s probably a lot lower than a lot of people actually thought listening in.
Susan Baier: 25:07
- Yeah. You don’t need 20,000 people. With 400, you’re tasting enough of the soup to know what’s in the whole pot.
Stacy Jones: 25:15
- That’s pretty cool. Okay.
Susan Baier: 25:19
- Okay. Here’s my next thing that people aren’t doing right with their personas. They’re putting pictures on them, right?
Stacy Jones: 25:26
- A lot of pictures and they’re naming them Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Susan Baier: 25:29
- Right. Then [00:25:30] like, here’s the woman with the two kids, and here’s the multiracial family or couple or the older couple or whatever. If you’re doing demographic personas, that’s what you’re stuck with. But like the personas themselves, the pictures aren’t helpful. As soon as you show a client a picture on a persona, they instantly think that everyone in that persona looks like the people in that picture. So if they don’t, you’ve got a problem. Now, if you’re doing demographic personas, okay, maybe you can get away with it.
Susan Baier: 25:58
- But I like icons [00:26:00] for personas, especially for attitudinal personas, because you can identify an icon that really speaks to the main attitudinal difference between this group and the other groups. Then no matter who sees that, no matter how unsophisticated they are with regard to marketing or looking at personas, they’ll get it. They’ll understand it. It’s not associated with a face that they have to try to then reconcile. [00:26:30] If a 40-year-old African-American man comes in and happens to be this persona that’s represented by an 18-year-old white girl, they don’t have to try to figure that out in their heads because it becomes a non-issue. I don’t like pictures on my personas. I like the icons.
Stacy Jones: 26:48
- What are some of your favorite icons you’ve used?
Susan Baier: 26:53
- Every single study is different. I did a study with Tufts University, talking [00:27:00] to their alumni because they wanted to put on an event. One of the groups that we found in that population really felt like they had a tremendous level of expertise in whatever it is they did. They had a long career behind them. They were really sort of leaders in their field. Their real impetus for being connected to Tufts and staying connected to Tufts was that they really wanted to advise the university [00:27:30] with what they know to help the university be successful in the future. I used a little genius icon for them because that’s really where their headspace is. They know their stuff. They’re really good at what they do, and they really want to help the university with that expertise.
Susan Baier: 27:51
- I mean, there’s billions and millions of icons out there. I think it depends on what’s driving the particular group that you’re talking about and what makes them really different from the other group. [00:28:00] But they can be incredibly effective at just helping your team and your client and their team remember what really matters and what’s really the difference between these populations.
Stacy Jones: 28:15
- If you’re using an icon to identify, are you also naming the persona based on that icon as well?
Susan Baier: 28:22
- Yeah. Yeah. I name them for agency clients who are going through the results of a [00:28:30] study. Sometimes, the agency-client will come up with something snappier for their own personal development when they’re translating that into a document for the client. But yeah, I think names are important. Just leave the pictures off.
Stacy Jones: 28:45
Susan Baier: 28:49
- Right. Then my other big gripe about personas is that we … So we get them all done, right? Then what happens?
Stacy Jones: 28:59
- They go [00:29:00] in a drawer, and we don’t ever look at them again.
Susan Baier: 29:02
- Right. Right. We do nothing. We do nothing with them. We spend all this time and all this effort, the client’s money, and they never get used. I call it the dusty binder syndrome. I think usually it’s just been some big production. Again, I’ll go back to the fact that they’re often just not helpful. People don’t know what to do with them, so they get shelved. [00:29:30] Everything continues as it was before.
Susan Baier: 29:35
- Sometimes that’s just a client just being stubborn. I had a client many years ago where we did a big study for them. One of the things that the study showed was that … A big tenet of the client’s marketing was that they were a family-owned business and had been for many, many years. Of course, that was incredibly important to [00:30:00] the organization itself, but we tested whether that was important to the audiences that they were serving and were trying to serve. It wasn’t. Nobody cared. Nobody cared.
Susan Baier: 30:12
- We did this study. They were very, very excited about it. Then about two months later, I heard that they decided to keep running their existing television, which was all about the family-owned thing because they already had that film. So they thought [00:30:30] they’d just keep running that, even though we knew, we had proof, that it wasn’t resonating with their audience. Sometimes, people just make silly decisions, but I think more times, it’s a function of not knowing what to do with personas and not finding them helpful in pursuing that.
Susan Baier: 30:53
- HubSpot’s a great example. If you’re using HubSpot or Infusionsoft or whatever, and you’re working with demographic personas, [00:31:00] you still have to figure out what to say in that message. They’re not very helpful, demographic personas, about doing that. They don’t help you figure out what to say. You’re sort of back to the drawing board, right, like trying to make assumptions may be based on a demographic profile or just, again, guessing and coming up with them on your own. But all the work is still there to be done. If agency people don’t like to do that, and they’re getting paid [00:31:30] to do it, you can imagine how excited the client is to do that. Personas don’t get used, and everything goes back to the way it was.
Susan Baier: 31:37
- I like personas that are so easy to understand because we all know somebody … Think about the candle example. We all somebody that’s one of those kinds of people, a fragrance person or a decorator person or a gifted person. We all have a friend like that. If you’re in that company, and you’re working with those personas, [00:32:00] you understand those people. You can have incredibly productive brainstorming discussions about what those people would find appealing or resonant and what they wouldn’t, what kinds of things you could offer them in terms of resources or new products, what kinds of messages are going to appeal to them. Once you get into people’s heads like that, they get it. They get it absolutely.
Susan Baier: 32:26
- Then that information can really be shared throughout the organization. [00:32:30] This is another one of my pet peeves, is when personas just stay in the marketing department. That’s crazy. We have tens of consumer touchpoints, customer touchpoints throughout our organizations, all sorts of people who are developing new business and talking to prospects, but also people who are providing customer service, who are doing product development. There are just all sorts of stuff.
Susan Baier: 32:55
- If only the marketing people know what the personas are and what’s important, it’s a huge waste [00:33:00] because customers know if we’re talking to them and if we’re talking to everybody. There’s nothing less fun than going to a website that says, “We sell to anyone. Figure out if there’s anything here that might work for you.” That’s just the most uninspiring message ever, and probably 97% of the websites on the internet do that. They just say, “Here’s our stuff. Figure out if you want any of it and [00:33:30] click Order.”
Susan Baier: 33:32
- It’s not appealing, whereas if you can have an organization that, from top to bottom, embraces the customers that they want and shows that they understand them and their needs and their interests and their challenges, it becomes pervasive. That’s what makes people loyal to brands, I think, is that they feel like brands understand them. We got to get them so they’re usable. We got to get them so they’re helpful. Then we got to make [00:34:00] them pervasive within these organizations.
Stacy Jones: 34:03
- That makes a lot of sense. As you’ve been speaking, it’s not just a brand module in regards to this. It’s not a model that just affects brands. It’s absolutely one that affects agencies and how we’re marketing to other clients, other agencies, other anyone.
Susan Baier: 34:21
- Yeah. Ourselves.
Stacy Jones: 34:23
Susan Baier: 34:24
- Yeah. Absolutely. I just think-
Stacy Jones: 34:25
- Or our employees too, even.
Susan Baier: 34:28
- Absolutely. I mean, we know [00:34:30] this intrinsically. We know that not everybody is the same. If you run a business, if you manage people, you know that you have employees that are motivated by different things. Some people want money. Some people want time off. Some people want to work at home. Some people want accolades and promotion and visibility. We know this, but still, we sort of treating everybody exactly the same. It’s just dispiriting. At best, [00:35:00] it doesn’t do anything for anybody. At worst, you really start … I mean, you have the potential now to really turn off your customers or prospective customers by talking about something that is off-putting for them.
Susan Baier: 35:16
- I never suggest that brands mislead potential customers about who they are or what they do. I’m not a big fan of the two-person company showing clip art of eight people around a conference [00:35:30] table, that kind of thing, right? But at the same time, I think there are some things that you offer that are of less interest at best and might actually turn people off.
Susan Baier: 35:43
- One of my clients was a restaurant chain, Mexican food. They had people who loved them and loved really spicy, hot Mexican food, really authentic. They want to know where the peppers come from. [00:36:00] I think they’re crazy, but there you go, right? They have that group. But-
Susan Baier: 36:00
- I’m like, “I think they’re crazy.” But there you go. Right? They have that group. But then they have another group that looks this chain but really doesn’t like spicy food, are really afraid of spicy food. They want very sort of mild things and they know that they can go there and get that. The nice thing for the brand is that both of these customers love this chain and find something that they want there. But if you’re treating everybody the same and saying, “Oh, you know, we can be as spicy as you want to be,” [00:36:30] or “Don’t be afraid.” The problem is you’re shooting yourself in the foot with one or the other of them or both.
Stacy Jones: 36:35
- Right. Only-
Susan Baier: 36:36
- Because spicy people don’t think you’re serious, and mild people are afraid to eat there.
Stacy Jones: 36:42
- You’re only 50% right half of the time.
Susan Baier: 36:44
- Right. That’s right, so messaging like that needs to be done at a segment level. Maybe you have a newsletter specifically about heat, specifically talking about the new hot thing on the menu, specifically talking about [00:37:00] where you source your peppers or having a special evening that is all about heat. But it’s just for those people and you’re not defying your promise to the mild people. You’re not defying your promise to the hot people. You’re just recognizing that they’re different people. We all know, anybody who works on websites and marketing sees analytics knows that you can’t make people dig through too much [00:37:30] stuff that irrelevant before they give up and you lose them. We have to get to relevance more quickly. Sometimes that means peeling away stuff that’s irrelevant for a particular group just so they can get to the content that’s gonna be most appealing to them.
Stacy Jones: 37:48
- Fair enough. You’ve talked about some ways that you definitely can absolutely lose out [00:38:00] if you’re not doing this the right way besides sales, right?
Susan Baier: 38:03
- We’ve all been there.
Stacy Jones: 38:05
- Not only not going to be making sales, but you’re also now turning off an entire customer.
Susan Baier: 38:10
- You could. Yes, you could, absolutely yes.
Stacy Jones: 38:12
- You’ve created a social media, this nightmare that now you’re going to have to get other people involved in in trying to fix and pave. What are ways that you could actually one-up this and make it into something that is [00:38:30] a super-big win?
Susan Baier: 38:33
- Yeah, so there’s a number of ways to do it. Are you familiar with Think Geek?
Stacy Jones: 38:39
- I am.
Susan Baier: 38:40
- Okay, so great online e-commerce store for all things geek. Everything you could possibly imagine at that place. It’s just amazing. But they have two Twitter feeds. The first one is just @ThinkGeek and on @ThinkGeek they celebrate all things geek. [00:39:00] They share weird YouTube videos. They celebrate this day in geek history. They show crazy videos of their team at the office doing weird geek things. It’s just a celebration of geek culture. They never mention products. They never mention pricing. They never mention promotions.
Stacy Jones: 39:20
- It’s just their brand and who they are.
Susan Baier: 39:21
- It’s just the culture that they are celebrating. Then their other Twitter is @ThinkGeekSpam, [00:39:30] and it’s all product news. It’s new stuff. It’s sales. It’s promotions. It’s all of that kind of stuff. What I love about that is that they recognize that they have this core population that celebrates and loves ThinkGeek because they celebrate that geek culture, right?
Stacy Jones: 39:50
- Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Susan Baier: 39:50
- That’s how they’ve built that extraordinary brand. But there are also folks that want to buy stuff from them. It’s not a perfect overlap. If you’re a grandma [00:40:00] whose grandson has said, “Get me something from ThinkGeek,” you’re not part of the geek culture. You don’t have any idea. You just want shopping, right?
Stacy Jones: 40:10
Susan Baier: 40:13
- I’m sure there are folks who follow the @ThinkGeek feed that isn’t always buying stuff from ThinkGeek. They just love that celebration of the culture that they love. I think that’s one way to do it, is to really just be overt in recognizing that you have different people [00:40:30] in your community and giving people ways to get the content from you that they want, right?
Stacy Jones: 40:39
- Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Susan Baier: 40:39
- Without trying to mush it all together and making an email newsletter that has eight different articles in it because you’re trying to appeal to all these different segments. Maybe you should think about offering people the option to subscribe to two or three different newsletters. Just like with ThinkGeek, you can follow both those feeds if you want to, but you don’t have to, [00:41:00] right?
Stacy Jones: 41:00
Susan Baier: 41:00
- The brand isn’t making you consume content that you feel is sort of irrelevant and in the way, so that’s one was to do it. That’s what something like HubSpot can be really good at helping you with, is really getting segmented messages and content out to particular groups. But they shouldn’t be segmented just by I’ve bought from you or I haven’t bought from you. Or I bought from you online versus I bought from your catalog or so the differentiations like that. That’s one way to do it.
Susan Baier: 41:29
- The other [00:41:30] way to do it is just go all out and do something for a particular segment. Tufts, that I told you about developed an event just for those advisor folks, those people who really wanted to provide their expertise to the University. Instead of creating an alumni event where they decided a third of the content’s gonna be relevant to these people and a third to those and a third to those, we’re gonna stretch it across three days, and everybody should be able to find two [00:42:00] or three things a day that they’re interested in. They went all in and developed called The Leadership Summit.
Susan Baier: 42:08
- Two days, come to Tufts, the content is specifically developed for these folks. For example, the keynote is a sneak peek at the Tufts’ five-year strategic plan and then an opportunity to talk to leadership about what you saw in that plan and what your thoughts are on it and how you might be able to help. Not all focused on go to [00:42:30] a football game, and let’s go cheered on the team because those folks are really there for a different reason. They want to interact with senior leadership at the school because they have something to offer and they need a vehicle for doing that.
Susan Baier: 42:42
- It was tremendously successful for them and they’ve continued to do it. But it takes some chutzpah, I think, to decide to build something for only one segment. It takes some chutzpah to try to convince your leadership that that makes sense.
Stacy Jones: 42:59
- That’s right.
Susan Baier: 42:59
- Even though you [00:43:00] might get more people to attend the first time you did it. But when Tufts did this event, virtually every single person said, “You should do it again. It was incredibly satisfying.” The vast majority of the ones that attended the first one … Now this is a pay-to-attend event … attended it again because they found it so relevant and helpful and were really excited about it.
Susan Baier: 43:26
- That’s another thing you can do is really just say, “You know? [00:43:30] We’re gonna make our Instagram strategy about this particular group because we think that’s what the Instagram community that’s following is interested in.” We’re not gonna try to have content across the range of our audiences on Instagram. We’re gonna make that platform about this or we’re gonna make this event about that particular group. I think that’s a really effective way to sort of work with individual segments and just try to give them what you want. [00:44:00] A lot of organizations and a lot agencies … the ones I worked at included … are developing sort of channel plans. Here’s our website plan. Here’s our Facebook plan. Here’s our Twitter plan. Here’s our media plan.
Susan Baier: 44:17
- I like building plans from the persona up because sometimes what you find out is that a particular channel isn’t very relevant maybe for a particular persona and you shouldn’t worry [00:44:30] about that. If you’ve got a group that’s incredibly visually-oriented like those decorators for the candle company, you need a Pinterest plan for those and an Instagram plan for those. But if they’re fragrance-based, maybe it’s about sampling so that they have the opportunity to smell some of your new offers. Because seeing a picture of it won’t cut it for that group. That’s not what they’re there for. I think sometimes we need to turn our planning on the head and plan [00:45:00] from the audience up instead of from the channel across.
Stacy Jones: 45:05
- What I love about what you’ve been saying is you took the whole, “Here’s the drawing of your persona. You’re using an icon. You’re naming it, but you’re not just shelving it into the draw. You’re actually bringing it into your marketing efforts. You’re actually going to plan everything from, as you just mentioned, how you’re going to develop those channels. But also even into event activation. [00:45:30] The fact that you’re actually developing and bringing in across all of those different opportunities and touchpoints.
Susan Baier: 45:37
- Yeah, that’s what we have to do. If you sell a prospective client on a highly relevant program on your capabilities for them and then their experience with you as a brand doesn’t match that, you’ve blown it. You’ve blown it. You can’t just promise [00:46:00] it in marketing and then not deliver.
Susan Baier: 46:02
- I had a retail client, another restaurant client when we did their segmentation, one of the segments that they really wanted had a big problem, and it had nothing to do with marketing. It was about the state of their bathrooms and the need for upgrades in their locations. That’s not a marketing problem. It becomes a marketing problem.
Stacy Jones: 46:29
- Right. It’s an operations problem.
Susan Baier: 46:30
- [00:46:30] It’s an operational problem. A lot of times we see opportunities operationally for segments that really matter. I’ve done studies for, for example, the dry cleaners where they’ve got some folks who really want personal interaction. They go to the locations. They want people to know them. They want them to be well-lit and convenient for them. But then they’ve got people who don’t want to ever see a human being at the dry cleaner ever. They want to handle [00:47:00] it all on their phone. They want it picked it and delivered. They’re not going to a location to get their dry cleaning. If you can’t offer them that, they’ll go someplace else. Something like that has big operational implications.
Susan Baier: 47:12
- Now, you can’t always deliver operationally on what somebody wants. That’s just a truth. We can’t be all things to all people. But if you know that there is a population that you want that has a really big opportunity or challenge operationally and [00:47:30] you can’t meet it, you have to decide, “I’m probably not gonna get those people, so I probably shouldn’t spend my money trying to get them.” Because ultimately I’m not gonna deliver. That’s where bad word of mouth comes from. Right?
Stacy Jones: 47:42
Susan Baier: 47:43
- If people have a bad experience with us, we know how powerful word of mouth is, and we need to be paying attention to the negative word of mouth just as much as positive because it can kill a brand. It can do it. I think these kinds of conversations come up when you do personas the right way because sometimes [00:48:00] there will be somebody in the room that says, “That’s all well and good, but we can’t deliver on that. We can’t pull that off, so what are we gonna do?” That’s when the real conversations start to happen about appropriate personas and targets.
Stacy Jones: 48:13
- That’s great. Realistic expectations managed by the brand, quite important.
Susan Baier: 48:19
- It is. It absolutely is, and you’ll get in trouble if you try to market to folks that won’t be happy with you and you know it going in. I have a small research firm and [00:48:30] I don’t market to clients for whom it is really important to have forester research doing their work or one of those big brands because I’m not that. If that’s important, then you should that going in and not go after those people, because it’s gonna be frustrating for both parties. It’s a waste of time for everybody, so I think those kinds of decisions are important. But sometimes you can’t see those things if you’re just looking [00:49:00] at company size, title, revenue, how many locations they have. Sometimes you miss that story. But if someone’s really trying to impress their boss or they want to use something for thought leadership and it has to come from a certain type of partnership. It’s good to think about those things. Personas can generate a lot of really interesting conversations.
Stacy Jones: 49:28
- They can. [00:49:30] They definitely can and they can also end up I’ve seen where a lot of focus ends up being put into certain areas where when you go back to the brand again, they’re very dogged about what their expectations were and they don’t necessarily want to invest in looking at other personas that were discovered along the journey.
Susan Baier: 49:56
- Yep. Absolutely right. Ultimately, that’s a client’s decision [00:50:00] to do that. But I work with agencies and clients who are open-minded with respect to what they’ll find. I can never promise what we’re gonna find out so you have to have a little gumption sometimes to go into a process like this. But it can be really illuminating if you’re open to it. It really can.
Stacy Jones: 50:30
- [00:50:30] Is there anything that you had wanted to talk about today that we haven’t covered or that you wanted to share other insight on before we wrap up?
Susan Baier: 50:39
- I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Yeah. What I tell people, it can do the research, that’s great. Do the research. Even if you can’t do the research, whether a business owner or a marketer or an account supervisor for a client that can’t swing the research yet, I find that just thinking about things this way can really change how you [00:51:00] approach looking at a client’s ideal audiences and how you talk to them about it and where you go from there. Even if you can’t do the research, try thinking this way. Try putting demographics a the last thing you think about instead of the first.
Stacy Jones: 51:15
Susan Baier: 51:17
- You might be surprised what you come up with.
Stacy Jones: 51:19
- Yeah, have absolutely no doubt about that. Our team when we get a new client on board or a brainstorming for a new one and we’re lucky that we have a very diverse culture and age range [00:51:30] at our company and having everyone gather around a table and talk and speak about what their point of views are. It’s always surprising what angles people do come at for the same thing, with the same information.
Susan Baier: 51:44
- That’s right. We all have our blinders on and it’s not an individual failing, it’s just a reality, we all have limited experience so it’s really good to go hear what your prospective customers might actually want from you instead of what you think they want from you.
Stacy Jones: 52:00
- [00:52:00] Well I cannot thank you more, thank you so much for coming on today and talking to all of our listeners. Really greatly appreciated. I know I learned a lot. I’m sitting here thinking about all the things that we need to do for our own agency, not our clients even but our own agency right now, in this world, and revisiting that wonderful original subset of personas I have developed on HubSpot that maybe need to have a little bit of [inaudible 00:52:25] done.
Susan Baier: 52:27
- We’re in an eternally improving [00:52:30] process, right?
Stacy Jones: 52:31
- Of course.
Susan Baier: 52:32
- Keep working at it all the time as owners. But it’s been great to be here and to talk about this with you.
Stacy Jones: 52:37
- Well thank you and then Susan, we’ll certainly in the show notes include where people can find you but do you want to give just a little bit of insight about what you do on a daily basis and as a takeaway?
Susan Baier: 52:49
- Yeah I do research for small to midsize agencies and their clients so I’m helping agencies and their clients figure out what those audiences look like and what [00:53:00] they can be doing with them so that’s what I do day in and day out and I’m grateful to be able to do that.
Stacy Jones: 53:05
- Perfect. Well again, thank you from all of our listeners and myself and we look forward to chatting with you again in the near future.
Susan Baier: 53:12
- Thank you, Stacy, me too.
Stacy Jones: 53:14
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