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Published November 23rd 2018

The Dream of Data-Driven Personas

Knowing your customers is essential for successfully marketing a product or service. Guest blogger David Lloyd from Brilliant Noise is here to talk about bringing data into this important research.

With more data generated in the last two years than in the previous 20,000 combined it’s no wonder successful marketers are using data-driven personas to supercharge their strategy, content, and campaigns.

What are personas? The traditional approach:

Traditional personas use research methods such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, user testing, and surveys to gather data about who their customers are.

Answers are typically sought to questions such as:

  • What do they need?
  • How do they want to fulfil that need?
  • What obstacles are there stopping their current need fulfilment?

This information is condensed into personas, representing different types of user.

One of the first applications of personas was for user experience (UX) design. UX designers need to understand as much about their users as possible so that they can design based on their needs and behavior. The same is true for developers who need to empathise with users they may never meet.

Due to the crossover between designing user experiences and ‘customer experiences’, marketers have used personas to develop marketing, messaging, and campaigns. Using similar methods to UX practitioners they have attempted to bring the customer into the centre of all marketing functions (often known as a customer-centric approach).

However, due to the methodology used in their creation, traditional personas do not always keep pace with trends and rapid changes in customer behavior in the digital age.

Three common persona mistakes

There are three major criticisms of these traditional personas:

1. They are either too narrow or too broad to be useful

The emphasis on creating a ‘real’ user can lead to creating campaigns focused entirely on one customer (as opposed to seeing them as a representation of a much wider group of customers). Conversely, personas can be too broad, without any identifiable features that are actionable or unique enough to provide value.

2. They are biased towards customer responses

Asking customers what they think or what they did or what they believe is a great way to generate insights. But if too much of your research is skewed towards these methods, it can create bias in the data. For instance, users often report finding out about a product from Google search but then neglect to report adverts they’ve seen that stimulated them to do that search. In this case, our personas would overvalue search, and undervalue adverts.

3. They are not actionable

So you’ve got your persona and you share it with your colleagues. But nothing happens – they’re just stored as PDFs on a shared drive, never to be seen again. This is a researcher’s nightmare, especially after a lengthy and rigorous investigative processes.

Personas need to be actionable to work in the real world instead of collecting dust, which is why our approach goes a step further.

Data driven personas

We supplement the important traditional information gathering process with digital behaviors, attitudes and activities.

This data can come from a range of sources, including web analytics, social listening tools (such as Brandwatch), digital surveys and panels (such as GlobalWebIndex), and social media insights (via the social platforms themselves).

These tools allow us to create fast and scalable insights. We’re not waiting for months for survey data to be collected – we can adjust parameters in each tool when we spot new insights.

Additionally, data in these tools is updated in real time so as the marketplace changes we can iterate personas, keeping them fresh.

That means we can answer questions like:

  • What are our personas talking about right now?
  • Where are our personas posting content online?
  • How are our personas researching new brands/products online?
  • What devices are they using at each stage of the customer decision journey?
  • What are their attitudes and how are they affecting buying behavior?

The answers to these questions can provide useful insights for strategists to plan, creatives to find inspiration, and publishers to produce brilliant content. They also tackle the major issues with traditional personas by making them actionable, less biased, and created with real users in mind.


Personas are still a relevant and useful tool for delivering content that answers customer’s questions. They ensure you’re targeting the right people at the right time for a positive effect on your bottom line. However, without digital insights provided by new tools, you could be left with a relic of a bygone age. By using data driven personas you gain invaluable, in-depth knowledge to strengthen your marketing.

If you’d like to speak to our team about the powerful insights data driven personas can yield, please contact us.

This article was originally posted on the Brilliant Noise blog. Thanks to them for allowing us to re-publish it.

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