October 24, 2019

Three ways you need to rethink your use of personas

POST WRITTEN BY
Allison McKeon, Audience Planner

Allison is an Audience Planner on the Brand & Insight team and brings her previous experience as a Media Strategist to ThirtyThree. She designs and executes research into persona development and audience targeting, providing insights which inform media strategy and employer brand positioning.

Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more.


The best brands are built by sending the right messages to the right people through the right channels. And personas play a critical role in doing just that. These profiles help bring core audiences to life, giving us a glimpse into their behaviors, motivations, frustrations, and more.

But audience groups are complex and, recently, some marketers doubt that personas can accurately represent a particular demographic. In our experience, personas can be a valuable tool in your organization’s arsenal to build and manage your employer brand. To unlock the power of audience personas, here are three things to avoid:

Making assumptions

Some assumptions are supported by statistics; it’s true, for example, that 87% of engineers are male. However, making presumptions about what motivates an audience, how they prefer to be communicated with, and which channels they use, means our communication tactics will likely be less engaging and, as a result, less successful. That’s why it’s crucial to challenge any preconceived notions about an audience by undertaking research, ensuring that personas are developed based on tangible facts rather than anecdotal experience or hypotheses.

Research insights prompt us to think strategically and break through the clutter to reach talent when and where they’re in the most receptive mindset. For example, it’s often theorized that tech talent prefers to consume information online, so digital content is much more likely to resonate with them than out-of-home, radio, or print media tactics. But, research into this talent pool might also reveal that more creative uses of digital technology, such as podcasts or Spotify, are also very effective channels to reach them through.

Using too much detail

When it comes to developing personas, there’s such thing as too much of a good thing. Detailed information, such as favorite food or hair color, can help humanize your target audience in a memorable way. But over-developed personas can become too narrow, limiting your talent pool. For instance, creating a persona with two children and a spouse provides insight into what might influence decisions about career opportunities. However, this same information might exclude ideal candidates without children or spouses, simply because they don’t check every box.

To avoid this, we use icons instead of photographs, which help to eliminate unconscious bias when it comes to aspects like race, age, and gender. This also allows us to pay close attention to the unifying factors that are the most relevant, such as motivations, behaviors, and consumption preferences. Keeping personas broad enough to be inclusive, while still narrow enough to accurately target an ideal audience, is a delicate and crucial balancing act – one that should be rooted in insights.

Not incorporating your employer value proposition

We’ve established that building personas supported by rigorous research, which also strikes the right balance between detailed and inclusive, is key to developing a stronger employer brand. But this alone isn’t enough. In order to be useful, personas need to target the right candidates who will thrive within your unique culture and working environment.

It’s important to identify which elements of your employment offering matter most to the people you’re trying to reach and why. Different things will matter to people working in different roles and in different locations. With this understanding as a foundation, you can then appropriately infuse the pillars of your employer value proposition into each persona. The most powerful campaigns are the most personalized; when tailored to your organization, personas act as a ‘North Star’ for communications, allowing you to flex messaging and make a greater impression on your people.

We live in a world where taking pride in individuality is celebrated. So, it’s not surprising that audiences are not made up of groups of wholly identical people. Any effort to represent them needs to be carefully handled, leveraging concrete facts and data and avoiding guesswork. With a thoughtful and insights-driven approach, audience personas can be a highly effective tool to enable employers to connect with their people in a more meaningful way. And, who doesn’t want that?

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