Persona Non Grata: Moving From Marketing Personas to Marketing Personalization

By: on May 31, 2017

I am a marketing persona, and so are you.

In fact, we’re likely the same marketing persona. If you’re reading this, chances are that you work in marketing for a small-to-midsize business (SMB), just as I do. We probably share similar concerns.

As a result, we’re lumped together in targeted marketing personas designed to help other marketers create content that appeals to our interests.

Yet your goals and benchmarks are probably very different from mine, and both are probably different from those of “Chad Inboundly,” the theoretical marketing persona created to appeal to us.

I bet Chad looks like this. You’re the worst, Chad.


In an era of increasing personalization in everything from online shopping to streaming entertainment services, marketing personas just don’t keep up with the times.

That’s why many marketers are turning from marketing personas to “marketing personalization,” a data-driven marketing automation process that creates individualized—and far more personalized—customer experiences.

In this article, we’ll talk about the shortcomings of marketing personas, the benefits of marketing personalization and the best ways to transition from the former to the latter.

Marketing Personas: Out With the Old

In the article Rethinking Personalization: The Principles of Personification (available to Gartner clients), Gartner analyst Andrew Frank notes that many marketers can’t afford to ignore the importance of leveraging consumer data in digital marketing:

These considerations have led industry leaders to seek a new term to distinguish true personalization from the targeting of aggregated segments whose individual members remain anonymous. Marketers often use the term “persona” to identify and characterize a segment of interest; a new term, “personification,” describes the emerging process of activating anonymous persona-oriented data in marketing.

Frank gets to the heart of the problem with personas here—they’re based on generalized customer segmentation rather than hard data about actual, individual customers.

An example of a devilishly handsome, lightly fictionalized buyer persona


These persona identities have a history of being useful; we’ve written about them before, and in fact use them in our own marketing efforts here at Software Advice. But trends move fast in the digital era.

Marketing personas—based on a combination of interviews, general consumer segment data and marketers’ gut feelings and conjecture—are a less effective way to reach customers than personalized forms of marketing, based on increasingly available anonymized data from actual customers.

Robert Richardson, the president of Richardson Marketing, puts it bluntly.

“Persona marketing gives you a theoretical look at who your customer ‘might’ be,” he says. “Personas are insulting and rarely give you a real look at who your customer is.”

Personalization, on the other hand, “gives you an inside view into your customer’s likes, wants, and real-world activity.”

Marketing Personalization: In With the New

Melissa Williams, content strategist at Brand Meets Copy, defines personalization marketing as “taking actual facts about one specific person and marketing to them based on what we know to be true about them thanks to data that was collected.”

Williams goes on to point out that this data comes from a variety of sources: “Sometimes the data is provided willingly, such as in the case of surveys or interviews with the customer, and sometimes it’s based on algorithms that determine online habits.”

One of the two key things that differentiates personalization from personas, then, is data.

Using your various feeds and sources of data to create personalized content for your customers will allow you to automate the ways in which your message reaches specific customers at specific points in the sales funnel.

Act-On’s funnel report dashboard, a potential source of valuable customer data

Thus, the second key differentiation between personalization and personas is specificity.

Whereas personas are generalized for particular customer segments, personalized marketing is directly one-to-one, utilizing that data to create specific content for specific customers.

As Williams notes, “if you market, say, a particular item to someone in their Facebook newsfeed that they were just looking at online, it will catch their eye, and potentially their wallet.”

Transitioning From Persona to Personalization

Making the change from marketing personas to marketing personalization is easier said than done. While personas require some research, legwork and marketing instinct, true personalization requires data that can only really be provided by software.

James McMinn, a digital strategist at Matchbox Design Group, explains that, “Businesses can personalize with great accuracy based on all of the metrics and analytics that are out there or that are given to them openly by the consumer.”

Those metrics and analytics require a data source, and the easiest and cheapest way for an SMB to obtain that information from their customers in a useful format is with software.

Marketing analytics software will enable you to manage your marketing leads, emails and social media in a way that captures the data of your customers and performs valuable analytics on that data.

This will provide you with information about such things as demographics, business size, industry segment and predicted purchasing behavior.

A data-driven analytical dashboard in Net-Results

Once you have this information, according to McMinn, you can use it with other marketing automation tools to create personalized marketing campaigns: “If you cross-reference your data, make sure you act in context, learn from past mistakes and even do social media monitoring in real time.

Then you will probably nail the personalization you are looking for and from there you can use that data to make duplicate audiences over and over again.”

Conclusion and Next Steps

Personalization definitely takes a bit more effort than marketing personas, but, done right, that effort is fully worth it. You will be targeting your customers with one-to-one, actionable campaigns that engage them more directly than you ever could with segment-based personas.

As Andrew Frank concludes in Rethinking Personalization, “By understanding both [personification’s] technical and human dimensions, you can create more effective marketing experiences that speak to audiences as individuals.”

If you treat them like individuals, those customers will feel the difference, and will be much more responsive to your marketing campaigns, giving you better results and sales.

With this knowledge about marketing personalization, here are some next steps to consider:

  • Email me at for more information. I’m happy to help you figure out what your own marketing needs might be and to connect you to one of our expert software advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation!

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