Gen Z To Marketers: Ditch The Persona

Marketers loves to create personas -- those data bios and photos that personify target consumers as if they were political candidates. We think personas humanize our research, pinpoint the bull’s-eye for media, and demonstrate we understand our consumers.

Yet Gen Z, the 68 million 10- to 24-year-olds who comprise every marketer’s dreamscape for lifetime customers, defy our characterizations.

Gen Z-ers influences $150 billion/year, roughly one-fifth of all consumer spending. They set cultural trends in fashion, music, entertainment, and technology. They are the vanguard of popular commerce.

Nearly half of Gen Z-ers are non-Caucasian; one in four is Hispanic, one in six is Black, and one in five has an immigrant parent. A recent Gallup survey found that 21% of Gen Z-ers identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender -- nearly four times the rate of older U.S. adults. As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, they have incredibly diverse habits in technology, social platforms, and media usage.



Try to capture such diversity in a few personas at your peril. 

This points to the broader challenge of any marketing persona that may misrepresent an audience.

Here’s a quiz: How you would illustrate the “persona” for football fans, dish soap buyers, or stock investors? Did you conceive Middle Class Charlie, Busy Mom Mary, and White Collar Weston? Well, women now account for 46% of Super Bowl viewers; 45% of grocery store trips are made by men; and women and minorities now account for one in three high-net-worth investors. Those silly personas were off by a demographic mile.

It’s time to toss personas and instead design campaigns with matrices of demographics and corresponding modalities.

Plot the 25 or so major types of your future customers on a grid that defines the modes in which they enter heightened interest for your product. Then match each mode with data signals that can be picked up from search, mobile apps, travel patterns or contextual alignment. Plan media for these touchpoints, and you can match communications to the ways real people engage with your brand.

It’s fun to pack marketing plans with photos of consumer personas, but we end up selling fictions to ourselves. Gen Z is showing us we need to systematically recognize and satisfy the behavioral diversity of all our present and future consumers.

3 comments about "Gen Z To Marketers: Ditch The Persona".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. John Luma from iLumaNation, August 23, 2022 at 7:24 p.m.

    For anyone working in advertising, promotion, marketing, etc, this is a useful message. Yet it can only happen one way: Creative people, ie, imaginative, emotionally searching, dream-pursuing-in-real-life people, do not ever think in "matrices and modalities." And the marketing metrics folks who do this all the time, need to work with the creative people from the beginning of every project to figure out how to make it happen. The metrics leader(s) needs to pinpoint the touchpoints, and then lead the creative team through the hurdles in bringing that to life. Otherwise, it will never happen. Writers, creative directors and producers have to be shown "the yellow brick road" is a worthwhile path to the Emerald City.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, August 24, 2022 at 6:55 p.m.

    A great comment John.

  3. Heather Vaughn from CI Design Inc., September 1, 2022 at 1:46 p.m.

    There are some wonderful points in this article. But it is a little short-sighted in assuming personas aren't still valuable, even in very diverse generational demographics. A persona by nature is going to leave out someone within a given category, but it can be an anchoring tool for marketers (and creatives) to visualize the audience as they consider what behavior they are attempting to influence. Also why it should be paired with a journey map and/or user story whenever possible! Persona-usefulness is also highly dependent on the product or service. In the "pop quiz" example, those are largely mass-market appeal products. The work isn't nearly as nuanced as it might be for other industries, especially those that serve B2B. 

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications