A persona-hating content strategist

I’m about to open my can of crazy talk, so forewarned and all that.

Content strategy is still evolving as a discipline, and the toolkit that strategists use isn’t set in stone, though I think we’re starting to come to some agreement about what’s useful. Building personas is a standard marketing practice, though, that long predates the web. And personas are a tool that many marketers, content strategists, information architects and other web professionals use today to validate their web strategy.

And though I’ve been annoyed by marketers who cling to their personas for years, I’ve just recently gotten to the point where I have to get this off my chest.

I’m not opposed to a persona that’s based on real research and demographic information about your customer base. But I so rarely see that in practice. What I see a lot of are the rose-colored personas of the demographic you wish you had, or that you think you have, but actually don’t.

The problem is, even in today’s world of overwhelming data, we’re still basing a lot of our marketing decisions on our guts. And while that often feels right, research will tell us that it doesn’t always lead to the right decisions.

What’s the solution?

You absolutely have to know your audience. Period.

You need to spend time with your customers. You need to walk in their shoes, both as they use your product or service and as they live their lives. There’s just no substitute for real knowledge of your market.

And sure, if it helps you to put real data and real observations together into a persona named Shelly or Bob, go for it. Just don’t make up an imaginary person and think it’s going to clarify your strategy. It takes real information to make a persona useful.