Thursday, July 28, 2011

The customer persona: When to use it and when not

One of the hot emerging tools in the marketing world is the concept of the persona.  The idea behind a persona is to take a clearly definable segment of your customer base and invent a prototypical member of that segment.  You detail that member in quite a bit of depth.  ("Here is Roger.  He's 27 years old and has an IT degree from San Jose State.")  Your persona should contain the key information about what drives purchase decisions.  These data include:
  • Roger's key motivators at work
  • His key objectives
  • His important worries
  • His connection to the budgeting process
  • And the like.
You write it all up in a crisp document - some people include a picture - and circulate it for everyone in your organization to see, so that they know what this meaningful segment of our customer base looks like.

Do bear in mind that Roger is not a real person.  I didn't find a customer and detail him.  What I did was use my knowledge of many customers in this segment to create a composite who was the most accurate representation of what is typical among this segment.  Your persona should not be an outlier on any meaningful quality of the segment.  If the majority of your buyers in this segment have MBAs, then give Roger an MBA.  If the majority are male, make Roger male.

Also note that personas need to be fact-based.  You need to take genuine knowledge of the customer and use it to answer these questions.  If you don't have genuine knowledge (and if the questions matter), then go get it.  Otherwise you're not disseminating customer knowledge, you're just engaged in MSU.
MSU = Making Shit Up
Some people are persona die-hards.  Many people never use them.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  I believe the extent and nature of my use of personae is directly connected to the needs of my company.

When to use personae
  • When you have clearly defined segments that differ from each other in meaningful, actionable ways.
  • When you have enough facts at your disposal to be confident that your personae are accurate.
  • When this knowledge is not already ubiquitous or second nature to a large number of people in the organization.
  • When more compelling facts are not available to govern your decision making instead.
  • When the company is positioned to take advantage of increased customer understanding.

And of course you wouldn't use them when circumstances are more or less the opposite.  To wit,

When not to use personae
  • When you don't really understand who your target customers are.  Under these circumstances personae can make speculation into gospel and stifle learning and innovation.
  • When you lack a relatively small number of clearly defined segments who would warrant changes in your approach to them.  If there's only one meaningful segment (as I once read is true of premium wine buyers), then the persona is less important.
  • When everyone in the organization already has a deep appreciation for the facts that govern purchasing behavior among your customers.  In this case personae can just turn into busy work,
  • When more indicative data (such as metrics and statistical behaviors) are available to drive decision making instead.  Many e-commerce businesses, for example, have clear factual understanding of how consumers behave in different circumstances.  This knowledge is more compelling in making appropriate decisions than a persona would be.
  • When the company can't apply them.  Sometimes it's an all-hands-on-deck situation.  Or the high priority initiatives are so crystal clear that your actual behavior won't change based on personae.  In this case they again turn into a distraction from the real goals and are best omitted until you have a chance to use them properly.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What will my new job mean to the Tim Callan on Marketing and Technology blog?

In light of yesterday's announcement about my decision to join Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services as Chief Marketing Officer, one obvious question is what will it mean to the Tim Callan on Marketing and Technology blog?

It will not mean that I discontinue writing this blog.  As I've explained in an earlier post, I created, authored, and ran a very active and widely read security blog when I was at VeriSign.  During those five years and 439 posts, I often thought about interesting marketing, sales, or technology topics that were outside the very specific scope of that blog.  When I eventually decided to kick this blog into production, it was so that I had a place to discuss those topics.

I don't see how my new job will cause me to have fewer of those ideas.  If anything, working in a vibrant and interesting technology space tends to give me more of them.  I don't share confidential information on this blog, and I'll continue not to do so when I'm working at Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services.

The only potential obstacle is that I might get super busy and have trouble finding time to write.  But I was super busy at VeriSign, and I still managed to put up eighty posts a year, so I figure I can handle that as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tim Callan to join Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services as CMO

I'm very pleased to announce that today I accepted an offer to join Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services as Chief Marketing Officer.  The company provides software and services to monitor and protect your online corporate identity - including domain name registration and management, online brand protection, and new gTLD consulting services.  In addition to being a successful, well run company, Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services offers a very high value benefit to corporations at reasonable prices with very little effort needed on the customer's side.  I was a customer in a previous life, and I was always impressed with how much I got for the budget I spent.  Now I look forward to introducing others to this opportunity as well.

I'm taking a couple of weeks off to tend to some personal affairs before plunging into this next adventure.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why I love a good metaphor

My career has put me in the position where I often am explaining complicated matters.  It might be how a technology works, or how an ecosystem functions, or the behaviors of certain markets or segments of the populace, or any number of elusive topics.  In these circumstances I have found that there's no surrogate for a metaphor or an analogy.

Let's take the example of when I was on the other end.  Early in my career I was in charge of product management for a line of products that depended on sophisticated image recognition technology.  We were soon to release a new image recognition engine, and the VP of core tech (whom I'll call M) and I had retreated to a conference room to figure out how we'd describe the new innovations in this engine.

M kept speaking in similes.  "It's like a map of Florida," she would say and then elaborate on that analogy.  Or "It's like a pointillist painting."

The conversation wasn't coming to resolution with the alacrity that I desired, so I rather impatiently said, "Why don't you stop telling me what it's like and just tell me what it is."

M looked at me for a moment and then turned and wrote a very long mathematical equation on the white board.  It was utterly unintelligible to me, as one needed a Ph.D. in a specific field of mathematics even to understand how this technology worked.  M said to me, "That's what it actually is.  Now, let's get back to talking about what it's like."

And that's where the analogies come in.  A responsible analogy can distill down the important aspects of a complex subject and make the salient points intelligible to large numbers of people who are missing the highly specific information, background, or education to make sense of the direct details.  In my seven years at VeriSign I was dealing with issues of security and trust and therefore found myself frequently discussing locks and safes and automobile air bags.  These familiar items provide an understood context and framework that we all can grab on to.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Strategies for market leaders

A reader recently e-mailed me with this question,
There are many books / experts on what to do as the "new guy" taking on the market leader, but ... what would you say if it is the other way round? When you are the big guy v the new entrant ankle biters.
That's a great question, and I'll try to get into some detail in later posts about leader and challenger strategies.  There is much to say on both.  Let me start with a few general principles here.

  1. Leader and challenger strategies are mirrors of each other.  In other words, if the challenger has a certain technique it can use to usurp the leader's position, then the leader's strategy is shaped in part by the presence of that challenger's strategy.  The leader's play is to neutralize the challenger's play and vice versa.
  2. Therefore, all those challenger books and experts are leader books and experts as well.  Know your enemy.  These are the weapons that will be directed at you.  Study them and make your plan to defeat them.
  3. Every strength is a weakness.  Leaders have lots of strengths.  Savvy challengers will be looking for the vulnerabilities that lie in these strengths, the ones the leaders can't afford to walk away from.  Wise leaders look for their own vulnerabilities before others find them, and then they try to find ways to plug the holes.
  4. Innovation will happen, whether you want it to or not.  Leaders tend to prefer the status quo as a general rule.  Smart challengers will try to break the status quo.  Oftentimes leaders find themselves in the position of resisting change.  That's a dangerous game to play.  Change is like a river.  Sometimes you can block it for a while, but the pressure just builds and builds, and when it finally does come it's fierce and devastating.  Smart leaders recognize that rivers cannot be blocked permanently but that sometimes their exact path can be influenced.  Smart leaders seek to influence that path.
  5. Stay nimble.  Another fact that can't be denied, especially in the technology space, is that no matter how well we think it out, we'll always be surprised.  To stay on top you have to accept that you can neither control nor predict the market.  You can help direct and shape it, but you have to be humble about even that.  Instead, you must keep your eyes open and be prepared to change your assumptions and plans based on what the market throws at you.