The Customer Persona is Dead

As someone who has spent the majority of his career in marketing, trust me when I say that I have seen my fair share of persona documentation. In fact, for almost two decades in the field, marketing personas were a staple of any good marketing plan—the major indicator as to where to point the proverbial spears.

However, with a new era upon us—one that centers directly on mobility in all its definitions—the marketing landscape has changed forever. Now, customer personas are nothing more than an aged practice harkening back to a simpler time in marketing and sales: buying options were limited and the customer journey was well defined and unilateral.

But that is no longer the case. Now, with the introduction of omni-channel customer engagement, the customer persona is almost worthless: the generalizations of a buyer type have been replaced with single-user-profile information that is all about the real individual—and not a hand-drawn facsimile of a fictitious person.

Now, it’s at this point that I’m sure there are other marketers reading this who can feel their blood pressure rising in disagreement. They’re saying, that’s a preposterous proclamation, it’s especially blatant and disparaging of the sacred customer persona. But here’s the reason why it is in fact, dead.

A close friend of mine (and a C-level marketer himself) had a hilarious conversation a few weeks ago about this topic—one that centered on the two of us as individuals and that as a persona we are in fact the same person. For instance, we have the same job description, the same income, the same family structure and dynamic, the same age, even live in the same neighborhood. Furthermore, we have the same hobbies so we shop for many of the same things. Hell, our families even travel together and stay at the same places.

So, for all the marketers out there we would represent the ideal match and alignment with a buyer persona, correct? Wrong. In this case, although we have almost everything in common, our buying habits in terms of how we shop are polar opposites. Where I’m the guy who needs to touch and feel merchandise, speak with the in-store staff, inspect everything before purchasing, my friend is the opposite. He hates bricks-and-mortar interaction. In fact, he has gone so far as to buy a vacuum cleaner online and have it shipped to his house within 48 hours, even though the same item was available for a cheaper price at a store just five minutes from his house.

Thus, how does this play out in the eyes of marketers? Sure, the argument can be made that this is simply two variants of the same persona, but let’s do the math. If every persona has multiple variants, and each variant then crosses over every so often to the other variants, then how does one calculate the journey when more and more variables are interjected?

Then there’s the customer journey. Remember the good old days when we as marketers were responsible for defining the customer journey? It was a journey that resided in a well-established set of rules and boundaries in a unidirectional manner that brought the customer through set stages in a particular order. How I miss those days.

But now it’s a new world. A world where customers want to define their own journeys. With data being the new currency, customers want that data leveraged so that marketing materials, buying options, and their overarching journey is defined by them—not by us.

Being able to continually interact with their favorite stores online, in-app, and in-store—sometimes simultaneously—is the new paradigm: information continually building and being synthesized to create an experience unique to an individual. And, of course, with that comes an expectation they can shop how, when, and where they want under any circumstances and can receive highly customized offers for them and them alone.

How then does this play out? With so many tiny variants pertaining to so many types of shopping experiences, the old idea of customer persona is gone and replaced with an actual person. The person’s likes, dislikes, habits, wants and needs all calculated in real time to enable them to control the customer journey.

So, if personas drive your business, be prepared for the biggest evolution the world has ever seen, or you’ll soon find out you don’t know people at all.