Gen Z To Marketers: Ditch The Persona

This story was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.

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.

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