Why Email Marketing Needs to Move Beyond Personas

Emily is 32 years old. She’s a white female with a college degree and works in a law firm, making approximately $90,000 a year. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids, where they love to hike, camp and stay active outdoors. A bargain hunter, Emily rarely buys products at full price, is always in search of the best deal and has little brand loyalty, since she’s constantly chasing discounts.

Now that you’ve met Emily, you can begin to build a marketing plan that plays to her demographics and preferences. Based on her lifestyle, she may be interested in a loyalty program where she can earn points. Highlighting discounts via email or product pages will catch her attention and serve up deals based on her budget, increasing the chances of a purchase.

The only problem? Emily isn’t real.

Personas like Emily’s were constructed to help retailers and businesses gain a better understanding of who their customers are, what drives them and how to keep them coming back. Fictional representations of large or important segments, personas provide three key benefits to the businesses that use them: helping shift their focus from themselves to the user or consumer; promoting better understanding of their audiences’ complex and diverse needs; and acting as a stand-in for situations where this information is inaccessible.

The problem here is not the intention of personas, but rather how most marketers execute on this strategy. According to Customer Think’s State of Buyer Personas survey, 57% of respondents did their first-ever buyer persona development initiative within the last two years, but despite those efforts, only 15% found them effective. What’s more, nearly 60% said they were frustrated that their buyer personas were based on typical product management and sales intelligence. How could retailers possibly meet their customers’ needs if they’re building personas based on company initiatives?

The hard truth is that many retailers are still putting company goals first instead of letting customers lead the way. Not all hope is lost, however. Fortunately, we now have access to treasure troves of customer data, as well as AI and machine learning-powered tools to help us make sense of the customer journey. With these tech advances, retailers no longer have to look at perceived notions from different customer segments, but can hone individual customer preferences to deliver a truly personalized experience.

However, to achieve this, retailers need to drill down to the individual level -- otherwise there is simply not enough granularity to deliver the valuable experiences that today’s customers not only want, but expect. Individualization is the next progression of personalization -- one that understands why customers are on your website or in your store, and captures that intent by truly understanding each shopper at an individual level.

While true personalization results in a 20% increase in sales and an uptick in return visits, only 15% of marketers go beyond broad segments and simple clusters and a measly 10% of top-tier retailers say they are highly effective at personalization. It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to shifting from personas to personalization to individualization, but it’s critical to keep up with -- and stay ahead of -- today’s shoppers.

Marketers can begin thinking (and executing) at the individual level by implementing these tactics into their personalization strategies:

  • Mine customer data for demographic information
  • Map the individual customer journey (and anticipate where they will go next)
  • Serve customers content that aligns with their goals and preferences -- not just the brand’s
  • Continue to test, measure and evolve your approach to meet customers’ tastes, which change over time

A truly personalized marketing strategy begins and ends with the individual customer, and with access to more information, advances in technology and a customer-centric mindset, marketers now have the tools to achieve this. 

3 comments about "Why Email Marketing Needs to Move Beyond Personas ".
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  1. Kasey Luck from Bold & Zesty, October 8, 2017 at 1:24 a.m.

    Excellent article! And we always come back to the most important point (which is at the corner stone of email marketing):

    Serve customers content that aligns with their goals and preferences -- not just the brand’s

    Granular and proper segmentation also allows for more effective email drip campaigns (since you can run a few variations based on customer groups and their preferences). Here are 3 emai drip campaigns EVERY BUSINESS must have:

  2. Kasey Luck from Bold & Zesty, October 8, 2017 at 1:24 a.m.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 9, 2017 at 12:02 p.m.

    Make sure you NEVER give your personal information to any of these people. It is none of their business. Advertising will not end and messages to sell their products and services will still find their way to you. Being profiled in every step of your being strips you of your person until you become a servant to a higher powers' design. If you don't like it the aforementioned, you are on your way.

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