Three Reasons Brands Need Persona- and Roles-based Marketing

The past few years have brought more change and excitement to the marketing profession than any of the 19 years I’ve been a marketer. I have witnessed firsthand what many thought leaders — SiriusDecisions, Forrester Research, Bryan Kramer — are calling the digital transformation of marketing.


Cloud, mobile, social, analytics and big data technologies are the lava powering this tectonic shift. It’s reordering the continents of Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing. It’s creating a new Pangea: Human-to-Human (H2H) marketing. This makes me happy. Marketers have always been  storytellers. And today, we are in an enviable position to  market directly to buyers, customized 1-to-1, and at scale. We no longer have to rely on the dehumanizing shorthand of mass  marketing. And that’s where persona- and roles- based marketing come into play.

Here are three reasons why, in this digital world, personas and roles matter.

1. Drive empathy

Whether we’re buying for ourselves or our employer, we’re still people. People have both logical and emotional buying triggers. As recent studies have shown, we’re less rational than we think we are. Developing personas and buyer profiles, based on actual behavior and psychology, helps us better understand the rich set of logical and emotional motivators our target audiences experience.

2. Tell more impactful and compelling stories

If we better understand our buyers’ motivations, we’re in a much better position to develop value propositions, messages and content that are more targeted, more impactful, and more compelling. Data-driven personas and buyer roles move brands away from one-off transactions. We move towards more authentic brand experiences that directly appeal to the entire influence cycle:

  • Belief – “I believe your story is relevant to me.”
  • Action – “I want to learn more about your promise, and even purchase what you’re promising.”
  • Advocacy – “You did such an amazing job delivering on that promise, I want to tell the world about it.”
3. Make better marketing decisions (when done right)

I used to be an engineer, so the squishier aspects of personas in the early days really bothered me. They just didn’t seem very actionable. The advent of data – social media monitoring, keyword analysis, A/B testing – has changed that. There’s now a deep quantitative and analytical component to developing, and constantly refining, buyer roles and personas. This data bases your marketing squarely in the real world, rather than in John Wanamaker’s world:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half. (John Wanamaker, US department store merchant, 1838 – 1922)

The Art of Marketing conference has devoted a session to this topic in the Brand Management and Integrated Communications track. Rachel Young from SiriusDecisions will be covering the theory, and I’ll be covering the practical applications and results seen at IBM.

We hope you’ll attend our session to learn more. Feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments section as well. I’ll try to answer them in the session Q&A.


About Jacques

Jacques Pavlenyi is VP, Programming at San Diego AMA. Since joining IBM in 1998, Jacques has launched web-based data services to the chemical industry; marketed solutions to mid-sized companies, and most recently directed the worldwide portfolio marketing team for IBM enterprise social software solutions. He has presented and paneled at industry conferences, including the BtoB Marketing Summit Boston 2003, the Independent Games Conference Austin 2008, the Video Search Summit 2008, and VoiceCon San Francisco 2008. Jacques is working hard to understand how the intersection of B2B, technology and digital are transforming marketing, especially how innovative new technologies like social media can add value to B2B marketing. He is also an avid choral singer, with 30 years of experience, most recently as the co-founder of the a capella group Pacific Sound San Diego.