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Talk to me, not at me.
Ross Perot is quoted, “You can’t imagine how many companies don’t talk to their customers.”
You wouldn’t believe how many companies talk AT their customers instead of to them, especially in their advertisements. Business owners can get lost in worries of messaging, branding, large scale marketing and budgets. They start to view people as numbers, as metrics to be measured. They can lose sight of who they’re talking to, seeing only a monochrome mob of bodies. On the other side, customers can fall into seeing the company as just a wall of people, uncaring and deaf to their needs. Without a specific person to connect with, they become dehumanized while being told that “their call is very important”.
We all need to be reminded that every marketing message is ultimately received by an individual, not a group. Companies need to connect with every person that they serve. The best way to connect is face to face, which is why it’s best to craft Personas for your business to use. Personas create a face that customers and businesses can connect through in more than just their advertising. When applied, Personas can make your ads more effective and your business more money. So let’s dive in.
A Persona, for our purposes, is defined as an identity or character used by a company to interact with customers and the public. These are the representatives that appear in ads, marketing materials, training manuals for onboarding new employees, product documentation, newsletters, in messages across any media: audio, video, or printed. To be clear, a Persona is not a side character used in ads, but the main character. Personas should not be villainous or other types of foil characters, as that can make a negative impression of the company it represents. A Persona should also not be a representative for the customer but for the company or product, and the Persona should not be silent.
Personas need to entertain, inform and connect to be effective. They need to grab attention and keep it, convey information with authority, and need to get the audience to emotionally invest in them. This ties into the same principles from Ray Bard for writing a best selling book in which you need the Big Idea, The Nuts and Bolts, Entertainment, and Hope. You need all of the aspects to have a good Persona, though you don’t have to show every aspect in every ad. This also factors into the Relevance/Repetition scale, where the more relevance your message has to a person, the less times you have to repeat it for them to retain the message. If your Personas are crafted or chosen poorly you are adding repetitions to your message, which can cost a lot of money.
The Character Diamond should be used to craft a Persona. The Character Diamond is a versatile tool that can also be used to define the company personality, writing villains and other characters, and studies of advertising, to name a few applications. The Character Diamond is made of four descriptive traits known as the First Impression, the Surprise Reveal, the Vulnerable Flaw, and the Core Identity. The vertical axis of the First Impression and Surprise Reveal allows the character to be noticed by the viewer, while the horizontal axis of the Vulnerable Flaw and the Core Identity allows the viewer to connect with the character. How true the character remains to its diamond grants it credibility and authority with the viewer. This makes them a very versatile character that can be used across a number of situations that the majority of characters in advertising cannot.
Most companies make the mistake of taking shortcuts to fix a problem in their industry and in their industry’s advertising instead of crafting a true Persona. These limited personas tend to be function focused and choose to fix or fulfill the most obvious of the three functions they need – entertaining, informing, or connecting. When this happens, most of these characters fall into one of three role categories: Mascots, Spokespersons, or Personalities, respectively. Each of these is specialized and can quickly fall short as a Persona when used outside of their function. These are the types of characters that true Personas will be compared to.
The Mascot is a specialized character that is used as a symbol of a group, or in this case, a company or product. This is the character type that excels at entertainment. Mascots usually grab your attention and keep it. They can be simplified down to an iconic level and still be recognizable. They are also very easy to identify with the company, even if the design of the mascot doesn’t fit with the rest of the messaging. The easiest to identify mascots are for sports teams and cereals because they’re used to define the word. These are the characters you laugh at, smile with, and cheer for. They’re brightly colored and act outrageously compared to others.
A Mascot doesn’t have to be a cartoon though. A famous example would be Ronald McDonald from McDonald’s.
Ronald is entertaining and fun, following the logic of cartoons and clowns in the ads he appears in. He is fully there to entertain and make people smile. The downside is that Mascots do not have a lot of substance to them. They are commonly one-dimensional characters limited to one liners and gimmicks. When advertisers try to stretch the Mascot to either connect emotionally or deliver with authority, the results feel awkward or disconnected, trying to create depth where there is none. Mascots can work when the need for emotional impact is low, there is little technical detail to the product or service, and the reputation of the company is in good standing. If complex information needs to be given at some point, they will need a counterpart to be introduced, even if that new information is simply the toy of the week in the Kids Meal.
The Spokesperson is a specialized character that delivers messages that promote, build, and maintain the company’s position. These are the mouthpieces that have true authority to inform compared to the other two types. A Spokesperson can deliver technical information and are most trusted with messages they give. They can also be deeper characters than Mascots or Personalities because their authority comes from the knowledge of the product or service as well as of the company. They can put their reputations on the line because they actually have one. These are the business owners, the tradesmen and the specialists that know what they are talking about. You see them in commercials for HVAC, for mattresses and cars. A great example is Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Colonel Sanders can speak about the working conditions because he owns the business. He can speak about the quality of the food because he invented the recipe and the process. No one else has that authority. Spokesperson personas may have authority, but they have limited or no emotional impact. Any sort of connection to the character must be earned over a long period of time. Spokespersons also do not grab attention on their own. The product or service the company offers must grab that attention instead. If a Spokesperson tries to be entertaining or connecting, it usually creates the opposite effect.
Spokesperson personas can work for a short time when the company’s products or services need to be explained without being distracted by entertainment, and when they don’t have a lot of competition in that marketplace.
The Personality is a specialized persona that is either interesting or popular that the audience connects with emotionally. These are the celebrities and the infamous, the most known of all the character types. Using a Personality as a shortcut for emotional connection with the customer, they have instant recognition and high visibility because they do things outside of the commercials and marketing that the company does. That fame tends to attract an audience for fame’s sake, which can be put to use by a company. This is one of the oldest tricks in the advertising business because it keeps working, at least for short periods. If this person buys from us and that person is well regarded, then buying from us will make you well regarded too. One of the easiest examples of Personality driven advertising is Capital One.
They are in a competition heavy field that has little difference between products and no technical information to convey, so they rely on the celebrity of the Personalities in their commercials to sell to their customers. The problem is that Personalities have little to no authority to give information like a spokesperson does. They are known to be a smile for hire and their appearance in commercials for other companies can change how your company is perceived. Also, if the celebrity ever falls from grace the companies using them in their commercials are left scrambling to repair their own reputations. If the needs of the company changes, they may need to switch character types altogether.
An additional note is that these principles still apply whether the personalities are real or imaginary persons.
Personalities can be of use to forge connections when there is little difference between a company and their competitors, as long as they already have a large enough audience and don’t need to convey new or challenging information. Mascots, Spokespersons, and Personalities end up falling to pieces when the needs of the company shifts. The more the customer wants and needs to hear a different message, the more these representatives start to talk at the customer instead of to the customer. In turn, the ads and the messaging becomes hollow, irrelevant, disingenuous. Once that damage is done you have to use a new character starting the whole process over.
The True Persona
The better process is to craft a true Persona from the start. Crafting Personas using a Character Diamond ensures that they are more versatile at entertaining, informing and connecting with your business’ customers as needed. They can shift between the roles of mascot, spokesperson and personality without becoming stuck as one and without causing disconnect because the depth of the character is built into them. A great example of a Persona crafted well and used effectively is Bobby from the Morris Jenkins commercials.
Bobby shifts between each of the functions of entertaining, informing, and connecting with ease, sometimes within the same commercial. This built-in versatility of Bobby made him useful for a long marketing campaign with over 40 commercials across multiple years, to the point where the local news covered the end of the commercials featuring the character.
So take the time to have a true Persona crafted for your business using the Character Diamond. It will allow them to shift between entertaining, informing, and connecting as the company needs it to. Whether the Persona is a cartoon or a real person, the character depth from crafting one will protect it from failure. Lastly, recognize and identify Mascots, Spokespersons and Personalities to guard your business from using them or to help them build their characters into true Personas. Whether the Personas we create are cartoons or real people like the owners themselves, they will stand head and shoulders above the other Mascots, Spokespersons, and Personalities they are competing against.
If we take the time and care to craft Personas for your business, it makes it a lot easier to keep talking to your customers instead of at them.
- Craft The Face Your Customers See, Connect Through Personas - January 23, 2024