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User personas and other worthless marketing techniques

Marketing strategies will always include some amount of useful and wasteful techniques. Here are some tips on how to evaluate what’s the right way to use your time the most effectively.

I remember the first time we went through the process of creating user personas.  It was quite a day.  I was so excited about the concept and the conversations we had.  We generated so many of them, bought stock photos that fit their profiles, gave them names like “Steve Smith”, “Judy Jones”, or “Hugo Hernandez”, and debated their interests.  Did they like to go skiing for vacation, or were they beach people?  What was their favorite movie?  Were they adopted?

In the end, we had developed quite a list of people, and we tried talking about them as if they were real humans, but we always devolved to using actual clients as references to behavior or experience.

It wasn’t until we really started focusing on our ideal customer profile that I realized how much effort we put into those profiles with very little value.  Now, I’m not going all in on the insignificance of user personas; that’s not the intent of this post.  We still like to do discussions around users and personas during our process. Still, going back to time vs. value, I do question some of the things that we’ve all determined are extremely important to building a strong brand strategy.

With the speed of our world and how agile we need to be as marketers, I have recognized the importance of breaking our own habits and making sure we aren’t doing things just because we’ve said they’re part of our process (or job protection?).  I believe it’s important for marketing teams to keep themselves honest about what they’re doing and how much it’s impacting their results.

So.  How do we keep doing the right things?  Here are some techniques we use to evaluate our own efforts.

The Scientific Method

I believe strongly in the 80/20 rule (or 70/30) rule when it comes to what we do and what we try out.  Consistency is essential, and it should rule our world as we approach content, cadence, and process.  However, experimenting is the only way we can genuinely find new tools to add to our repertoire.  It may even replace some things we do that aren’t providing results.

Priority, Effort, and Impact

Something we learned from our product development days is some functions are mandatory, some are costly, some might have a significant impact, and others are not that important.  Drawing a line in the sand of what you’re willing to take on, sorting them by the value they might bring, and then the time they take to implement will help bring clarity to what’s really worth your time.

Reduce Your Load

I think one of the crucial outcomes of the above methodologies is that it requires you to leave some bandwidth for new ideas, and if you’re running an effective team, it means you must cut some of the fat.  In agile software development, we are constantly analyzing our velocity.  It gives us more insight into what we can do within a given time frame.  It also keeps us honest about not taking on too much.  If your task list keeps growing at a speed greater than what’s being completed, it’s time to evaluate how much we do at once.  In the great words of George Lucas, “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

You may not have the same opinion of user personas as I do, and you may find them extremely valuable.  That’s why I’m redacting my repulsion towards them.  But the point is, there are probably things you do that you ask yourself, “Why?” I think it’s healthy to do that, and while one approach may work for Steve, it just might be a complete waste of time for Judy.

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