“Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Oh, won’t you please take me home.”

In the immortal opening lines of their song, Paradise City, Guns N’ Roses described themselves and their ideal listeners– those looking to make the most of the good times while it lasted. Their audiences weren’t looking for Dvorak or teeny-bopper music makers, neither were their savage breasts soothed by the heavier and darker music that were being made. They wanted something in the middle and Guns N’ Roses made camp right there.

Brands too deploy a similar strategy. From their looks (i.e. logo and design language) to their voice and behaviour, brands aim to reach their target customer. In the past, we’ve discussed voice – an integral part of your branding exercise. In this essay, we look into personas. They are the crash test dummies (no offense intended) that enable brands to find and connect with their target customers.

A persona is a character you create based on your brand’s attitudes, values, personality traits and more. For instance, if your brand had 2 balls left and four runs to win and MS Dhoni was at the non-striker’s end, would it take a single and let Dhoni finish the match or decide to score the winning runs on its own?

If your brand was seated next to a customer on a 16-hour flight, would the customer be bored out of their skull or would he/she exchange numbers with your brand. The traits, attitudes and values mentioned before shouldn’t be universal; rather it should reflect your brand. This way, the personas you create are more in line with your brand.

Think of your brand persona as the leading man in your brand’s movie. Would it be Batman or would it be Ganesh Gaitonde or would it be Jack Dawson or would it be Hawkeye Pierce?

A good persona must be a splitting image of your brand. While this may seem daunting, it’s not. If you’re about to create personas, here’s where you need to start.

Anything and everything begins with a “why”. Similarly, why should your customers care about your brand? This is just one of the many “whys” you need to pose in order to understand the collective mindsets of your customers. By understand your customer’s problems, you’ll know where and how your brand fills the gaps.

If your personas are authentic, it can help you find common ground with your customers and also improve brand communication, establishing trust with them. So, don’t be afraid to dig deep into your brand’s psyche. This helps you find nuggets of crucial information that can shape your personas. Not every persona is the same. While personas may share commonalities, they are different much like people. Great minds may think alike but great people aren’t alike.

Starting out with a series of “whys” will help you understand your customers better and also lay the foundation for the tasks ahead.

Let’s talk brand essence. No, it’s not the way your brand smells. It is instead your brand’s core characteristics. Simply put, what defines your brand? Apple is defined by trendsetting technology, innovation and simplicity. Coca Cola is defined by the little moments that spark joy and happiness between two or more people. Essence is usually two or three words that can best describe your brand.

If you’re puzzled, here are some simple questions, that’ll help you arrive at an answer:

  • What would your brand look like? If your brand walked into a bar, who would -be interesting in buying it a drink?
  • If a customer struck a conversation with your brand, what would they talk about? What would their vocabulary be? Would they greet each other with a substantial “hello” or a casual “hey” or would it be formal?
  • Where can a customer find your brand? Would your brand be at a shopping mall or a business convention? A seedy watering hole or a high-end pub? A McDonald’s or a fancy Italian eatery? A Café Coffee Day or a Starbucks?

These questions will help you get started and along the way, you can pose similar questions to craft your personas. Look into brands from the past for assistance. Who was Volkswagen’s target customer? Who was Air India’s target customer? While human interaction with brands may have changed, human behaviour remains the same. Your personas too are the same.

Nike’s products create achievers because their personas are competent athletes who endure through the hardest of times. Apple’s products create path-breakers because their personas are influential characters who want an edge over the rest. Jeep’s personas are an adventurous bunch of characters who endure almost anything much like the company’s products – all-terrain cars. Chivas Regal wants to align itself with a sophisticated crowd – the ones who don’t want to be associated with rotgut. They also want their products to be associated with “winning”, “wealth” and “sophistication”. Look at your products and add an extra layer to your personas.

To make your persona authentic and accurate, model it after your customers. Find out what your customers like and don’t like. Surveys are your friend. Create a set of non-complicated multiple-choice questions or simple yes/no questions that don’t take too much of the user’s time.

Similarly, if you have a sales team in place, ask them about the customer. No Army General has sat in his ivory tower and planned a battle. He has a reconnaissance team take a closer look at the areas, talk with battalions and only then, acting on reliable information, will the General make a decision. Same applies when you’re battling for a spot in your customer’s mind. The information that you receive from your sales team will be ideal in developing personas.

In the previous paragraphs, we’ve talked about getting in touch with your customers. However, you needn’t get in touch with anyone who has bought a product once? They don’t make up for those who buy the same product, all the time. Here’s where Pareto comes in. The Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 rule states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If you were to apply the rule in sales, 80% of your brand’s income comes from 20% of your customers. This 20% is far more important than the rest. They are brand loyalists. Your personas should align with their interests and pet peeves.

Coke doesn’t care about the person who only orders their beverages to even out the taste of a whiskey or rum. They care about the customers who see their products as an ideal form of consumption while chilling with their friends. They represent the “Open Happiness" mantra while the part-timers getting soused on a Jack & Coke or a Cuba Libre do not.

Write as much as you can about your personas. Create a mental image but don’t let that be final. Refine as much as possible. Create a big set of interests and weed out the ones that could be commonly affiliated with the general populace, unless it directly affects the brand. People around the world love Golden Retrievers but that doesn’t mean you get to count them out – especially if your brand is Pedigree.

A brand persona must ideally include the following information:

While this is often followed by interests and dislikes, feel free to add more criteria. Remember, the more refined your persona is, the more authentic and accurate they can be.

You just finished your first persona. Pat yourself on the back and get back to the drawing board. Having just one persona is like an army full of chickens – actual chickens – led by a Private who just landed in a war zone.

So, how many personas is enough? It all depends on the size of your target market? If you want only a certain demographic to invest in your product, you’ll need at least four to six personas, if your product is for two or more age groups, your personas will increase in number. The idea here is to capture the essence of the 20%.

Personas are the key to finding and understanding your target audience and also enabling them to connect with your brand from a personal standpoint. Winchester rifles aren’t the same as Berettas in the same way Burger King isn’t the same as McDonald’s. The deeper you go, the better your chances of finding gold are.

written by Shreesh Shankar