Personas are people, too!

 

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What do I do with all these personas?!

Susan Howlett brought me a question her class had asked about personas that had “stumped” her. It takes a lot to stump Susan so I figured, if Susan’s stumped and her class is stumped, you might also be stumped. This post is an effort to de-stump-ify you if you are, in fact, stumped by how to handle personas.

Before we get to the question, let’s be clear on what a persona is. Personas help you decide how to most effectively engage with your believers. They are a fictional representation of your ideal supporters. They help you get into the heads and hearts of the types of people who would be part of one of your target audience groups. What do they care about? Where do they get their information? How do they engage with organizations online? (For a blow by blow on how to create personas, download this awesome resource from Hubspot.)

A very specific point before we move on: If we’re being honest, we rarely write a piece from the perspective of the reader. Instead, we use ourselves as a proxy, i.e. we sit down and write something that we ourselves would want to read. If we like it, won’t everyone like it? No. What resonates with you and hits your emotional hot buttons doesn’t really matter. (Sorry to be harsh, but it had to be said.) What matters is what matters to those supporting your organization. So you have to get out of your head and into theirs. Thus personas.

Now that you know why you need personas and how to create them, the question then becomes: “If I have a whole bunch of personas and each of those personas is motivated by different emotions and, therefore, different words, how the heck am I supposed to make sure my annual report/newsletter/blog post/speech resonates with all of them!?”

The short answer is: you don’t.

The slightly longer answer is: you can’t please all the personas all the time. If you did that, you’d end up with boring, bland stuff that no one would want to read because you’d be trying to appeal to everyone. The whole point of having personas is to be able to craft messages that hit the mark for that particular persona, right? If you try to hit on everything that might possibly, conceivably matter to all of your personas at the same time, it’d be like unleashing a blaze of arrows at the same time—they’d go hither, thither and yon while never hitting the bulls eye. So sad.

Here’s what you do: you optimize each piece for one persona.

Every time you sit down to write something, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the goal of this piece?
  2. Based on #1, which persona does this piece need to resonate with most in order to be successful?

Optimizing for one persona doesn’t mean it won’t resonate with other personas. It means it will resonate most with the types of people you need to connect with in order for that particular piece to be successful. For instance:

Are you optimizing your event materials for ‘Sue the Sponsor’ or ‘Fred the First-Time Attendee’? (If you want more help on the event sponsor front, check out Shanon Doolittle’s amazing event fundraising video series.)

Is your Annual Report optimized for ‘Erin the Existing Donor’ Or ‘Patty the Potential Donor’? Erin will be delighted to learn more about what her donation has done, but really what’s in it for Patty? Usually not as much as we’d like to think. Optimize for Erin.

Is your newsletter really, truly optimized for ‘Dawn the Dutiful Donor’? If, based on your research while building your personas, you learn that the Dawns of the world prefer hard copy newsletters, then sending it electronically, although less expensive in the short-term, might be costing you money in the long run.

At first, optimizing for one persona will feel scary. But try it a few times and, usually, the results will speak for themselves.

Quick Tip: Zan McColloch-Lussier shared this tip with me many moons ago and it’s a really, really good one. Whenever you sit down to write something, write down the name of the persona for which you are optimizing. Yep, like write it down where you can see it. You’ll be stunned and amazed at how much more on target your messaging becomes when you have a crystal clear mental image of who will, eventually, be reading it. (Cuz as we covered above, it ain’t you.)

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Comments

  1. Erica – thanks so much for writing a post to help our class with this concept!

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