For digital innovation and business models to succeed, organizations must take the time to understand who they are trying to connect with.
Having a clear and accurate picture of who your customers are will help you generate brand gravity, design better products, and reduce the risk and cost of innovation.
One way to do this is to create personas—fictional characters based on your research and assumptions—to help make the ideal contact or customer more tangible.
“Thus the task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.”
A logical place to start is with the idea of 'customer jobs.' What functional, social, or emotional jobs do your users have? In other words, what do your customers need or want to achieve, in order to meet their functional, emotional and social goals?
A person's jobs correspond to their psychographic, sociographic, and demographic characteristics. Let's explore the relationship between these concepts to see where customer jobs come from.
Circumstantial data are the criteria often spoken of in marketing departments in the traditional mindset of customer segments. These can include information about income, education level, gender, age, home, location, and job title.
While this data is informative for some kinds of decisions and innovations, demographics can go further toward understanding what motivates a person by including more personally defining qualities. For example, a persona's business skillsets or their access to technology.
A 'functional job' is something the customer must accomplish to meet their practical needs. Success in functional jobs can be measured quantitatively. For example, getting to work on time, buying groceries, or saving money.
Psychographics are characteristics that inform what's important to a person's sense of psychological success and wellbeing. What is their purpose in life? How do they make decisions? What do they feel? Identity, archetypes, and worldview are a few ways to think about psychographics. For example, a person may care deeply about environmental issues, and express that through the archetype of Advocate, and see the world as a place where everyone has the power to make a difference. These qualities can tell us a lot about what they care about and how to connect with them around a shared purpose.
Emotional jobs correspond with a person's psychographics. When emotional jobs are accomplished, a person feels a sense of fulfillment and purpose. It's more difficult to measure success in emotional jobs, as they tend to be more subjective than functional ones. But it's worth the effort to try to understand these motivators because helping customers achieve emotional jobs—or sometimes just acknowledging them—can create a powerful relationship with your brand. Examples: increasing confidence, being acknowledged for excellent work, or seeing your loved ones thrive.
This is perhaps the most often overlooked part of a persona. The networks or groups a person touches are often the key to knowing more about them and attracting them into orbit around your work. We know that social needs and influences have an enormous impact on most people's choices and behavior, so if we want to have real relationships with our customers it makes sense that we should consider not only what, but who they care about.
A 'social job' is what the customer wants to accomplish in their relationships with their family, communities, and professional networks. Social jobs are accomplished in context, and metrics for success in these jobs are highly subjective just as they are for emotional jobs. But taking the time and effort to consider this aspect of your persona can be especially valuable when your goal is to generate network effects, because tapping into your customers' existing orbits gives you a head start on building your own. Examples of social jobs: keeping in touch with friends, being seen as a community leader, or earning the trust of coworkers.
It can be tempting to try using persona models to profile entire groups, entire companies or brands. While groups and brands can have 'personalities' and characteristics that you may want to consider collectively, if you try to convert those characteristics into one persona model for them you may end up with a persona that is too generic to be useful. Part of the power of persona models is being able to design for a specific human, even if they are fictional. If you're presented with a situation where you need to understand the motivations or tone that will be well received by Apple, it may be too broad for one persona. Instead, create several personas to represent specific types of employees you would expect to be part of that Apple group. Companies and communities are made up of individual people, after all, so designing with them in mind will give you a clearer idea of who will actually be engaging with your products or communications.
While persona models should represent hypothetical individuals, they can be used to identify commonalities between people. If you are working on an orbit strategy for your brand, you may have several different groups of customers who can be distinguished by their shared functional, emotional, or social jobs. People who use Nike products to achieve personal wellness goals (emotional job) likely have more in common with each other than they do with people who choose Nike because of the attention and status they get from showing off a new pair of special edition shoes (social job). And if you're thinking about different customer groups in terms of what contribution they bring to your shared purpose, personas who have common demographics may also share the ability and desire to contribute in similar ways. For example, established professionals with high income levels are probably more likely to bring financial resources or organizational contacts to the ecosystem, while college students may be more available to contribute time and effort through volunteering, and retirees may have spare time to give more extensive feedback about new products or initiatives.
One of the most well-known uses for persona models is to craft value propositions that speak to the needs or problems your customers already know they have, rather than explaining to them why they need your product. By clarifying what jobs a persona cares about, you can more easily test if your offering is suited to help them with any of those jobs. In this process, you can also easily see what other brands may be trying to help with those same jobs, where you need to work on differentiation, and even what makes your offering different in how it addresses those jobs. For example, a persona who is a parent may have emotional and functional jobs related to getting their child to school on time every morning. A cereal brand could approach this with a value proposition about making breakfast quick and easy, while a children's shoe brand could highlight how they've designed their shoes to be easy for kids to put on by themselves, speeding up the process of getting out the door. But regardless of what angle your brand takes to addressing customer jobs, persona models help you make sure your solution is connected to use cases that occur as actual problems to your customers based on what they care about and what they are trying to accomplish.
Persona models are useful for identifying the communication channels best suited to different groups of stakeholders, especially when examining sociographics and social jobs. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are used by young people to share content that fits how they want to be seen by peers. So those channels are well suited for messages that have the tone and relationship of a friend sharing something cool or funny. But you'll need to have a sense of how your teen customers want to be seen by peers (social jobs) if you want the message to connect and ideally be something they will share too. Psychographics and emotional jobs of different personas also can help define preferable tones for communication that match a company's relationships with them. For example, for a mid-career professional who wants to be seen as a trusted advisor, the appropriate relationship between your audiobook platform and them could be "research librarian:analyst." The tone you use when recommending a business strategy bestseller to them is going to be very different than the tone a makeup brand uses with their teen audience, and the recommendation may be better received on LinkedIn or Facebook than Snapchat. Both cases involve recommendations, and both involve social and emotional goals related to being viewed as a person with knowledge and insight, but the channels and messages are defined as much by the personas of the customers as they are by the brand who's trying to connect with them.