Marketing Personas Miss The Mark On Cultural Context

Buyer personas have been the foundation of informed marketing campaigns for some time now. The idea of marketing to one versus marketing to many appeals to data-driven marketers looking to correlate data points with point-of-sale purchases as opposed to taking an antiquated firehose approach.

However, a glaring omission from most persona models is a deeper dive into changing demographic patterns and renewed interest in cultural backgrounds.

What are Personas?

According to HubSpot, buyer personas are semifictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. In essence, they shrink a broad base of unidentifiable consumers down to a few with a face, name, and backstory to guide marketers as they work to personalize the buyer journey.

Personas can be complex or straightforward and answer the questions who, what, and why? Answers come in the form of basic information like demographics, behavior, challenges, and goals. But as the spectrum for key identifiers like gender, sexuality, and ethnicity broadens, it's becoming increasingly clear that cultural context must be factored into the building of personas if they are to portray today’s consumer base accurately.



Cultural Context in Marketing Personas

Reimaging marketing personas through a cultural lens ensures the inclusion of contextual factors that influence the buyer. For example, when defining "who," marketers should look beyond demographics to include cultural self-identification. How one sees oneself affects brand preference, purchase behavior, and loyalty. If a consumer doesn’t feel included in the conversation between the brand and its audience, they are unlikely to engage, and even less likely to purchase.

When defining challenges and goals, it is nearly impossible to do that authentically without research that looks at a particular consumer base holistically, including its culture. Doing so gives marketers a different perspective on how target consumers see themselves and the brand's ability to solve their problem.

This is especially relevant for consumers who self-identify as someone from a marginalized background, including BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and disabled. Members of these communities face specific challenges and often have goals related to the communities they identify with.

Finally, the why. Personas are often thought of as a checklist of attributes. But in fact, the most effective buyer personas are narratives of these semi-fictional representations of your target audience. They paint a vibrant picture of a day in the life of your consumer that includes quotes about challenges and common objectives. These first-person accounts allow marketers to peek behind the curtain of culture, and design around those insights.

Unlike demographics and other identifiers, which can be ascertained through desk research, getting firsthand accounts can be difficult without first-party research. Social media and culturally inclusive research technology tools can assist with mining for stories that authentically articulate the challenges your audience is facing. Assigning these sentiments to personas humanizes them, making them more relatable to those tasked with meeting their needs.

Final Word

Marketing personas are a helpful tool to use throughout the value chain -- from strategy to execution. Defining who your consumer is before developing a marketing plan, buying media, or designing creative improves outcomes and reduces marketing costs.

To do so, it’s essential to boost your agency’s cultural competence, also a business imperative given society’s demand for transparency and equality.  Infusing marketing personas with cultural context enables marketers to better understand their consumers and ultimately create marketing campaigns devoid of insensitive, biased undertones and rich in cultural relevance, driving sales and brand affinity.

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