The Solitude of Northern Ontario Taught Me A Few Things About Developing Characters (and Customer Personas)
Last week, I drove nearly six hours north of Toronto to a remote lodge on a lake surrounded by nothing but Canadian boreal forest.
It’s one of those spots that not only makes a great set for a horror story, but also the perfect place to find peace and solitude.
It’s also a great place to write.
And that’s what I did up there; sat at a desk—and sometimes on a Muskoka chair—and wrote, working on a horror novel that continues to fall on the back burner. But up there, working on my manuscript became a priority.
Specifically, I worked on developing characters; understanding what makes them tick. I’m talking everything from their motivations, greatest strengths to greatest weaknesses and their individual quirks.
Marketers are familiar with this. We often create individual personas that define our ideal customer. Understanding who your customer is creates alignment around messaging when developing marketing campaigns. It helps with delivering the right services and with creating better products that address the needs of customers.
But what does it take to create a customer persona?
Consider the Customer Details
If developing fictional characters has taught me anything, it’s that being as detailed as possible is the way to go. Detail helps you develop a clearer picture of who your customer is, and it goes beyond just listing demographics. Because two people who are the same age, gender and race could have completely different lived experiences that make them behave in strikingly different ways.
Consider the Customer Journey
Each of the characters in my horror story are in different stages of their lives. And as marketers, we know that customers in different stages comes to the buyer’s journey. A customer looking to solve a problem your company provides is in a whole different headspace than a customer who has signed up for your podcast and newsletter. Considering the motivations of customers at the various stages of the buyer’s journey goes a long way in developing an accurate customer persona.
Consider Standardizing Your Customer Personas
Scaling your marketing efforts in mid- to large-sized companies comes with its own set of challenges. It’s why marketing departments should consider creating templates around customer personas, which can be used consistently during marketing campaigns or when developing products and experiences. Marketing is everything connected to the process of profitability and one way to remain profitable is ensure efficient use of resources and time. Creating customer persona templates helps with that.
The similarities between creating fictional characters and developing customer personas are uncanny. The success in developing either lies in being as detailed as possible and recognizing where in the journey your customer/character stands.
There’s always an array of tabloid magazines at the checkout lines in grocery stores.
Even amid the print media downturn, those magazines seem to thrive. The reason for their success? They talk about people.
Sure, most of the stories are sensational and many would argue, untrue. But tabloids do something to keep us engaged. They appeal to human emotions by talking about people.
There’s a simple lesson here for those who want to create engaging content in the B2B space. And no, it doesn’t entail using gutter tactics to engage your audience.
Instead, the lesson is to focus on humans. And less on your products or services.
You can, of course, talk about your products or services—just centre it around people. How did your product or service serve people? How did it help them grow? Save money? Succeed? Make their lives easier?
No matter what industry you’re in, there’s one subject that intrigues everyone: people. Talking about people leads to more powerful storytelling, and as this Harvard Business article notes, storytelling is an effective way of helping your audience learn new things.
Good storytelling, especially stories that involve people, sticks in the minds of your audience. Good storytelling is often remembered longer than stats or facts about your product or service.
Consider this point when you’re crafting that new product or service case study or writing that blog post on the latest update to a product your company sells.
And the next time you’re in a supermarket glancing at those tabloids, think about how you would tell your company’s story if it was on the front page of one of those magazines.
Cadillac had a big following back in the 1970s and 1980s, with some of the most loyal customers in the industry.
The Cadillac brand was defined as “The Standard of the World.” In 1976, its share of the luxury car market reached 51 percent—a peachy picture all around.
But from another vantage, the picture was bleaker.
When looking from the angle of customer equity, it became clear that Cadillac’s customers were getting older, and the average customer lifetime value was falling. At the time, the average age was 60, with many Cadillac customers purchasing their last car.
Meanwhile, BMW was winning with younger customers—who were at an average age of 40. This gave BMW higher customer lifetime values.
In the following years, Cadillac’s growth eroded while BMW market share grew. By the 1980s BMW overtook Cadillac.
Cadillac has now changed its tune, promoting itself as “The New Standard of the World” and focusing on its “power, performance, and design” to grow its customer base.
What’s the lesson in all this?
As marketers, we need to care about customer lifetime value and customer equity as much as we care about current sales and market share.
Our brands depend on it.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.