Let’s Talk About…Brand Personas

One positive outcome of the current marketing revolution is the recognition of how important and useful Customer Personas can be in creating targeted, strategic and ultimately satisfying customer experiences that lead to enhanced business results.


When combined with the customer engagement strategy of the inbound marketing / sales funnel and real-time social media conversations, Customer Personas give marketers a tool to influence the step-by-step evolution from an anonymous-yet-interested-party into a known and engaged relationship and ultimately to a sale.

Yet sometimes the process fails, even if the marketing team is following best practices of content, analytics, lead gen and lead nurturing. Which leads to the question: Is there another variable at play that complicates the powerful simplicity and revenue delivery model of the marketing / sales funnel?


Not surprisingly I vote “Yes,” and the variable I want to focus on here is the company / Brand Persona. Because interestingly, while marketing teams are learning to spend tons of effort on developing Customer Personas there does not always seem to be the same vigor (or evangelism) about developing the company or Brand Persona – the Ying to the Customer Persona Yang.


To be clear, I am not talking about the hard work every successful company does in developing its brand and brand-standards, in identifying and maintaining brand truth, in building brand awareness and maintaining brand loyalty. This is about something a bit different and perhaps a pivot or two can help.


Pivot One: The Johari Window


The Johari Window is a behavioral model developed by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (Joe-Harry) to help individuals and teams understand themselves and others and to work more effectively together. Since the Johari Window is all about relationships it is a great tool to apply to brand.


The model is based on four windows or quadrants. The two on top represent what people other then ourselves – for example our customers – know about us or our brand. The two on the bottom represent what people, or our customers, don’t know. (Notice that it’s customers rather then us who are the constant, one of the reasons this tool translates so well.)


Top Quadrants (known to customers) include:


1. Open Area: Everything a brand knows about itself plus everything customers know. (An example of an Open Area is the way Starbuck’s customers know that every year the Company comes out with a special holiday cup.)


2. Blind Area: What customers know about the brand, but the brand doesn’t know about itself. (That the snowflakes, snowmen and other winter symbols on the Starbuck’s holiday cup signify “Christmas” and without those symbols, at least for some, the cup is just — wrong.)


Bottom Quadrants (unknown to customers) include:


3. Hidden Area: What the brand knows about itself but its customers are unaware of. (For example, prior to its release customers did not know that the design for the holiday cup would be plain red or green with no snowflakes, although Starbucks certainly did.)


4. Unknown Area: Stuff about the brand that goes unrecognized by both the brand and its customers. (What the lack of wintery symbols really means in terms of Christmas. If it will effect Starbuck’s business long term. If the guy who started the controversy is real or is a fake. If the design on the Dunkin Donuts holiday cup is a response to the Starbucks controversy. Why as a society we are even paying attention to any of this anyway?)


The quadrants of the Johari Widow are seldom equal. For brands that understand their Personas and their customer perceptions the Open Area will be the largest of the four.


Pivot Two: Archetypes


First advanced by psychologist Carl Jung in the early 1900’s, archetypes were a way to understand people and relationships in terms of universal, definable and recognizable characteristics. In the last 20 years they have also come to be used as a way of looking at and understanding brands. (There are some great presentations about this on Slideshare for those who might be interested.)


This model is based on 12 archetypes including the Magician, Everyman/Woman, the Ruler and the Explorer. Each or the 12 archetypes has a number of fundamental attributes and each falls into one of four quadrants; Change, Belonging, Order or Knowledge. For example:


  • The Magician is in the Change quadrant and is known to transform and create using imagination and (secret) powers. Steve Jobs and Apple are often mentioned as representing the Magician archetype.


  • The Everyperson is in the Belonging quadrant. Like the Billy Joel song the Everyman type likes you (and things) just the way you are. They don’t want magic, they want baseball, hot-dogs, apple pie and Chevrolets.


End Pivot


So imagine a group of marketers. They do the deep and important work to develop Customer Personas. They analyze the data in their current database – which because they are forward thinking includes all sorts of really interesting information.


They contact sales and customers to understand the sales and buying cycle, the challenges and goals of the business and who their competitors are.


They identify the types of individuals involved in the purchasing process, what role they play, what keeps them awake at night and what makes them happy. They get real quotes from real people to breath life into their story telling.


They build terrific Customer Personas that cause a cascade of “ah-ha” moments throughout the organization and then they launch the marketing campaign.


Or perhaps they go one step further.


They dig a little deeper and also investigate their own Company (Brand) Persona and then they map Customer and Brand Persona together. Perhaps they find that all is well and both are in alignment. In that case, all they have to do is hold onto their seats. The funnel is going to work like gangbusters.


But what if the match is not made in heaven? What if the Company’s Brand Persona is Everyman, happy with “staying the course” but the Customer Persona is a Magician looking to “transform the world.” That kind of disconnect is not that rare. Consider a conservative medical device company whose target customer is a hotshot orthopedic surgeon and you can see what might happen. Instead of success, dashed expectations.


Yet here is where knowledge is power. By recognizing the disconnect between the two Personas, and so identifying the potential trouble spot, the marketing team can adjust their strategy.


I am not saying that a company should completely change its Brand Persona or that it even could (although sometimes I might want to say both.) But rather, by recognizing the problems with fit, marketing can craft a messaging strategy or program that both acknowledges the disconnect and finds an authentic way to overcome it.


By making brand-self awareness part of the sales and marketing process, whether through the Johari Window, the brand archetypes or other discovery tool, marketers enhance the likelihood of success.

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About Barbara St. Clair