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Marketing Academy.

Buyer personas are dead. Here are the Modern approaches to understanding Customers

By Francesco Galvani, CEO of Deep Marketing, scientific communicator and Branding Strategy teacher

Let's abandon the masks and become human again

Today I want to focus on one of the biggest tragedies in our industry: Buyer Personas. These pseudo-figures that should represent our ideal customers are actually one of the main causes of the failure of many marketing strategies . They are masks that reduce the complexity of human behavior to banal stereotypes, delude us into knowing our customers when in reality we know nothing about them, and lead us to waste precious resources chasing chimeras instead of focusing on real marketing.

Let's look at the matter first, and then I will suggest the strategies used today by international marketing professionals and based on solid science.

The buyer persona problem

The idea of Buyer Personas was born with the best intentions: to create detailed profiles of our ideal customers in order to communicate with them more effectively. In this way, we can theoretically understand better how to communicate to them, we can know where to intercept them, we have excellent sales hopes .

It's a shame that it is based on a profoundly wrong assumption: that our customers can actually be traced back to a few typical profiles with well-defined demographic, psychographic and behavioral characteristics .

My friends, nothing could be further from the truth!

Human beings are multifaceted, contradictory, constantly evolving creatures. Projecting onto them our preconceived ideas about "typical customers" is an exercise in itself that distances us from reality instead of bringing us closer to it.

In fact, marketing science teaches us that customers of the same brand are extremely heterogeneous , much more than we imagine. They have profoundly different origins, values, lifestyles, personalities and purchasing motivations. The only thing they have in common is that they chose our brand, but for reasons that often escape us.

Profoundly different, but identical

At the same time, customers of different brands operating in the same market are substantially similar to each other. An only apparent paradox, due to the fact that all brands in a category share their customers in proportion to their market share (law of Duplication of Purchases).

Creating detailed buyer personas is therefore a futile exercise that leads us to see differences where there are none and to overlook the real heterogeneity of our customers. Instead of getting closer to them, we end up moving further away, locking them in unrealistic mental cages.

But it gets worse: Buyer Personas lead us to concentrate our marketing resources on narrow niches of customers, when we should instead aim to have the greatest possible penetration in the market. It's one of the many consequences of Double Jeopardy: big brands attract the majority of occasional customers (the Light Buyers ), who are the real source of growth for a company. Chasing niches is a losing game from the start.

Online buyer
The Category Light Buyer rarely buys from you, and this is his strength!

Category Entry Points: the key to speaking to real customers

So how do we communicate effectively with our customers if we can't rely on buyer personas? The answer is given by one of the most important laws of marketing, the Law of Prototypicality .

This law tells us that customers prefer brands that best represent the typical attributes of their market category . A successful brand is not one that differentiates itself too much, but one that perfectly embodies the characteristics that people expect from that type of product or service.

For example, if we sell beer we expect our communication to talk about conviviality, friendship, lightness. If we sell financial services, we want the brand to convey solidity, reliability and competence.

These are the "prototypical attributes" of the category, the characteristics that customers unconsciously expect to see represented.

The mental inputs

Category Entry Points (CEP) are precisely the "mental inputs" that allow customers to associate a brand with these prototypical attributes . They are the situations of use, the images, the metaphors that we evoke in our communication to ensure that the brand is perceived as the perfect representative of its category.

An advert showing a group of happy friends celebrating with ice-cold beers is targeting the CEPs of conviviality and light-heartedness. A campaign that talks about sound investments and professional advisors is evoking the CEPs of financial reliability.

When our communication engages with the right CEPs, the brand immediately becomes salient and relevant to customers. It doesn't matter what their individual profile is: those messages strike them because they speak the same language as them, they evoke images and situations that they recognize as familiar for that product category.

This approach allows us to remain in the vast market rather than chasing narrow niches, increasing our penetration potential. And at the same time to have a profound impact on customers, because we are reaching them where their minds are already predisposed to welcome our message.

Maintain a broad reach without losing relevance

But there is an objection you could raise against me:

"Ok Francesco, CEPs are a great idea. But how do we communicate them efficiently, without falling into the trap of wanting to reach too specific targets?"

Great question! Here we enter into the delicate balance between Reach, Frequency and Budget that every marketer must try to balance as best as possible. Remember: our goal is:

  • Maximize Reach (i.e. reach as many people as possible in the market)

  • While reducing Frequency (the number of times we show the same message to the same person).

The CEPs help us greatly in this endeavor. Since they are "mental inputs" shared by all potential customers in a category, we can use them to create extremely relevant messages while maintaining very broad targeting. We no longer have to chase narrow niches with hyper-targeted campaigns, but we can address the market in its entirety.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we will have to fire off our messages at random. A good media buying strategy remains essential to optimize the investment. But CEPs allow us to aim for a vast Reach without losing relevance , avoiding excess Frequency and keeping costs per contact low.

Little girl having breakfast
A great commercial is prototypical and taps into the mental entry points of the market category

How to do it, concretely?

Imagine you're launching an advertising campaign for car insurance. Instead of creating several ads for hypothetical Buyer Personas such as "Marco the city professional" or "Giulia the suburban mother", you can point directly to the CEPs of reliability with a specific example, then of safety with a metaphor, then of aesthetics aiming at an emotion, and so on. Benefits that bring together large target groups of motorists . Powerful and grounded messages with examples, use cases, emotions, metaphors, which talk about protection, about driving without worries, about being able to trust in the event of accidents.

With this approach you will no longer have to fragment your budget across a thousand different campaigns, each with its own micro-targeting. You will be able to concentrate your resources on one large campaign with a very broad reach, which will hit the mark with all potential customers because it addresses their unconscious needs and expectations related to the "car insurance" category.

Exploiting, among other things, the benefits of the Artificial Intelligence of advertising platforms.

This is the true essence of successful marketing: do not delude yourself into knowing your customers and being able to box them into fictitious profiles , but speak directly to their collective unconscious by evoking the images, situations, emotions that bind them to that type of product or service. CEPs are the key to doing this, maintaining a broad approach rather than chasing niche chimeras.

Embrace science and human complexity

Friends, marketing is changing. Or rather, it is finally returning to its scientific roots after a long period of pseudoscientific and esoteric drift. Buyer personas, with their reductionist approach and their claims to customer knowledge, represent the old way of thinking, now outdated by research evidence.

The new successful marketing is one that embraces the heterogeneity of human behavior instead of trying to channel it into pre-established patterns. Which focuses on market penetration rather than chasing ephemeral niches. Which speaks directly to the collective unconscious of customers, evoking the prototypical attributes that link them to a product category.

It's marketing that renounces illusions of control and oversimplifications to embrace the complexity of the human mind. A marketing that is based on universal scientific laws rather than on passing fads or gurus of the moment.

CEPs are a very powerful tool in this new vision. They allow us to remain faithful to the scientific principles of marketing while maintaining a broad-based approach, without giving in to the temptation to fragment the market into unrealistic sub-niches.

So no more Buyer Personas and their reductionist masks! It's time to embrace truly human marketing that recognizes and values the complexity of our customers instead of trying to channel it into pre-established patterns.

Marketing that allows us to communicate powerfully and effectively, reaching a wide audience while remaining deeply relevant to their unconscious needs. In short, marketing that becomes a science again rather than an exercise in fiction.

Follow me on this journey. Let CEPs become your new compass for successful marketing . And don't forget: we don't really know our customers, but that's not a problem . It's the key to speaking their secret language, the one that truly connects them to the products and services they need.

what to do now

Human, multifaceted, unpredictable: this is how our customers are. And this is how we marketers should be to best serve them.

And if you need a no-obligation consultation, Deep Marketing professionals are at your service . Please contact us. My team bases its work on science and fights every day against clichés, dishonest prices from agencies and gurus, and against impossible promises.

We are human, we are professionals..


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