Whenever we begin customer experience type projects, one of the key ingredients for success is the creation of a set of clearly defined customer personas. Unlocking what we know about our customers and prospects; who they are, how they behave and what they need from us is the key to building processes and ways of working that drive successful long term relationships with the people we want to work with.
The process of creating these profiles is exciting and daunting in equal measure. We start the proceedings with stakeholders bubbling with excitement, keen to share what they know about their audiences. As we dig deeper, it gets tougher – we ask them to prove what they think they know, challenge their assumptions and push them for the ‘so what’ as we explore what these insights mean for how they connect and interact with their customers.
Whilst we could talk for days (and often do!) about the construct of customer personas and their many uses, some recent activity from some clever and inspirational folks (such as Gaby Barrios’ TED talk ‘Why gender based marketing is bad for business and Dylan Bogg’s article on gender in marketing), has got the Fresh Nous collective musing about the role of gender within the development of customer personas.
The basic demographics stage of developing personas is usually what comes first – ‘how old are they?’ ‘where do they live?’ and ‘what’s their gender?’. These are the types of questions we’ve all believed for years are fundamentally crucial to our understanding of an audience. These answers drive how we talk to customers, what we believe they need and where we can reach them. But is this still the case or should we be starting elsewhere?
Barrios asserts that gender-based targeting distracts marketers from paying attention to the needs of their audiences and the context in which they will interact with a product or service. Like so many things in life, it’s all too easy to stick with what we know and target based on something easy – gender. If we end up with a customer persona that is a woman we can easily (and lazily) make further assumptions such as ‘they’ll be focussed on their children’ or ‘they’ll enjoy daytime TV’.
We could all easily stop short of considering other, more relevant and useful factors within a persona such as:
- their opinion of your sector
- what they need from your product
- how they want your service to make them feel.
And, if you’re reading this and shaking your head, I challenge you to really think if you would push yourself to avoid such stereotypes in your marketing and customer experience activities.
For example, if you’re working in the fitness sector it is probably a lot more relevant for your persona to accurately identify what your customer wants to achieve with the fitness activity, where they exercise and how they motivate themselves than whether they are a man or a woman.
Indeed, younger audiences are certain that gender has a decreased role in decision making and behaviour. According to a J. Walter Thompson Intelligence report 81% of generation Z members strongly believe that gender does not define a person as it has in the past. This audience is also embracing the idea of gender nonconformity, with nearly 60% reporting that they believe forms should include selection options besides “man” or “woman.” When it comes to talking to these audiences, any evidence of a gender bias may well count against the businesses that rely on it.
When we’re building personas we always focus on how it’s crucial to back up what organisations think they know with solid facts. If we’re to focus on needs, behaviours and motivators more, then we’ll need to get equally as creative about where we get the validating evidence from. Any opportunity to rest on our laurels will be overwritten with the mission to secure insights which can substantiate what we know about our audiences beyond the demographic basics.