Personae in Marketing: Once Useful, Woefully Outdated

persona marketing


Humans make most of their decisions about spending or affinity based upon emotional state.

So says Forrester CMO Victor Mulligan in an interview on Forrester’s CX Cast. Though emotional connection has always been important, his research shows that emotions are becoming even more central to success.

Referring to Forrester’s original research, Mulligan predicts that the percentage of customers who “have the inclination to…move spend based upon a poor experience, an emotional response, or simply to experiment” will surpass 50%. In 2015, it was 39%.  

In other words, your customers will have no problem dropping you in favor of a competitor that offers more emotionally attuned experiences.

Increasingly, emotion is triggering the ability to switch easily.

But even as A.I. emotional intelligence gains ground, many businesses still rely on persona-based marketing and product development.


persona marketing

The aim of persona-based marketing is to segment a given audience into coherent identities. This technique of archetype descriptions simplifies the marketer’s task by chunking the audience.

Instead of marketing to the faceless masses, businesses narrow their targets. They figure that their biggest customer segments include “people” like “Tom, the slovenly father of four who’s dissatisfied with most aspects of his life. ” Or “Sally, the serial-dating hipster with an MFA who’s considering taking a yoga-teacher-training course.”

Or profiles that are maybe less specific.

The aim is to capture the essence of a group of people. You do this by observing their browsing and buying habits, behavior, attitudes, pain points, and price insensitivities.


But personae aren’t the answer to the marketing world’s problems. In a recent blog post on Gartner, Research Director Chris Ross wrote:

Lightweight personas are often more stereotype than persona, and can end up providing marginal marketing value and even worse consume an embarrassingly large amount of resource to create. Are personas a waste of time and money? Absolutely not! Personas are not the problem, bad personas are the problem.

He doesn’t downplay the importance and utility of well-designed, researched personae. Instead, he calls attention to the things personae overlook.

persona marketing


Think about everyone you know who might fit into the same persona profile as you. Would their emotional reaction to various stimuli always be in line with yours? Maybe, maybe not. But the science of marketing doesn’t cotton to complacent uncertainty.

Chris Ross went on to explain how to supplement persona-building with a more nuanced model. His first suggestion was — you guessed it — emotions.

Personas that fail to explore emotional dynamics provide a very flat view of consumers and lack the depth that can potentially form more interesting and engaging messaging and content.

Emotions are not static, they shift and evolve depending on where a consumer may be in their journey and the urgency or implication of their decision. Savvy marketers recognize a richer, holistic view of emotion renders higher quality personas.

Scientific techniques can bridge the gap between the academic study of emotion and its practical application. On the Forrester blog, Victor Mulligan expressed his optimism about this:

…the gulf between the science of emotion and the business of emotion is closing, creating a set of new tools to convert great experiences into sustained growth.

But what should marketers do to track emotions? Again, Mulligan on Forrester’s CX Cast,:

It’s really important to look at your Customer Intelligence Suite and make sure that you’re not looking at one dimension but many dimensions that when brought together give you a pretty full view of customers and allows you to move from sort of ‘I get them’ to ‘Now I can anticipate them and design the kinds of experiences that trigger the responses I’m looking for.’


In the case of Persado customers, these brands have an audience base of millions. Reaching them as people rather than as an amorphous mass is a problem that can only be solved by artificial intelligence because the scale is too great for human marketing teams to handle.

Combining the insight of cross-channel device data with emotionally resonant content tailored to individuals will bring people-based marketing practices to a different level.

We know that the mathematically best-performing, emotionally attuned message still will not resonate 100% of the time to 100% of your audience. Beyond vertical-specific, beyond regionally specific, finding the right emotion for each person is shifting the paradigm of personalization.

There are countless ways to express a single message, but which way is the most compelling for a given person? Our thousands of experiments have shown up to a 500% difference in performance between the most relevant and effective emotion and the least.

persona marketing


Persado’s complementary approach to persona design is to identify the emotions that work best to inspire action for each unique audience member. We call this their Emotive ID.

The Emotive ID will go beyond the persona model. Sufficient data will allow our cognitive-content platform to automatically design message variations for each person with each campaign, across channels, and throughout the customer lifecycle.

Persado adds layers to your marketing practice — a vital addition to your Customer Intelligence Suite and a scalable, efficient, effective solution for putting that intelligence to use. With Persado, we will not only develop the most effective segmentation for your audience, we’ll also take action on the insight gained.