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Embrace Digital Personas Now Before It's Too Late

As marketing continues to evolve, so do the tried and true exercises marketers have been doing for decades. Persona development is not exempt from this trend. Traditional persona development is still a powerful tool for marketers to use. However, as the normal middle continues to flatten, targeting these personas with traditional means will prove to be less and less effective and profitable over time.

Beats, Greasers, Anarchists and John Birch

In the pre Mad Men era personas that resided in the normal middle (see below) were developed using known attributes, presumed behaviors and/or demographic data. This worked well because outliers were few and far in-between. Marketers were able to personify just a narrow few consumers that resided in the normal middle and use massive media buys to reach them.

With few choices in television channels and AM radio, the media choices were very limited. The media that was consumed projected the popular, “normal,” values of the time on the population. This created a highly concentrated normal middle.


Hippies, Punk Rockers, Computer Nerds and Intellectuals

As time went on communications technology improved, computers and video game consoles started to move into the home and cable and satellite television became available. These innovations helped outlier personas communicate better than they could have in the past and more media choice became available. This grew their enlistments and led to further dispersion of what Seth Godin refers to as “weird” personas in the outlying areas of the curve (see below).


Plastic Surgery Addicts, Green Party, Tea Party and No Impact Man

Fast forward to the present age and the curve looks very different. Mass, world-wide, Internet and smart phone adoption allows people to connect in new, effective and efficient means. Social media creates virtual water coolers for the normal middle to further immigrate and congregate in the outlying zones. What were once considered persona deserts now have a larger population than the aforementioned normal middle. As a result, future profits and business growth reside in the outlying regions of the curve.


The Realization

Traditional persona building helps target the normal middle – which is quickly shrinking. This is why traditional paid media and outbound marketing is losing its effectiveness. In order to personify and target today’s outliers, marketers need to embrace, develop and target digital personas.

Digital Personas

In order to create and leverage digital persona profiles marketers must rely on technology to both capture Big Data and use it effectively. Big Data is at the core of context marketing and content personalization. The goal of which is to get as close to one-to-one marketing as possible by delivering the right content to the correct person at the best time on the channel they prefer.

As a result, tracking and understanding people’s digital attributes, digital body language, up and downstream click data, sales funnel position and device preferences are important considerations for effectively identifying and building outlying digital personas.


As the Information Age begins to wane in favor of the Social Age, Seth Godin’s bell curve of normal and “weird” people will continue to flatten and eventually trough. This will be powered by an explosion in commercial content development and sharing – it’s already started, too. Marketers who can best leverage digital persona development, organic content promotion, content personalization, context marketing and Big Data will be best suited to thrive in the near future. The newer the generation, the greater the expectation is for one-to-one marketing.

Image Credit: @Chelsindy

Join The Conversation

  • Nov 4 Posted 3 years ago 6 one way half ...

    You are quite correct in noting that personas need to be updated and expanded. But the use of inferred data (by observation of "liking" or site visits or post content), only goes so far. For example, I like superhero movies, but the online ad agencies infer that also means an interest in other "action movies" like "The Expendables 2" or in "action" video games. Both of these assumptions are based on still generalized data and both are absolutely wrong. I don't like video games (never have since they began with Pong) and I don't like suspense thrillers no matter how many explosions or gun battles they contain.

    I called this kind of marketing "throwing spaghetti at the wall". It continues to hurl ad after ad at you in the hopes that something will "stick" to you and then it is "done". I much prefer when I am asked what kind of ads I want to see than the guesswork that currently goes on. I would periodically visit Google's ad preferences page to gauge what they tried to guess about my interests and they were frustratingly off base. I would try to figure out where such ideas may have arisen, appalled that looking up a country that appeared in the news gave rise to travel ads. I don't like to travel, either. I finally opted-out of "personalized" ads from them as they were not any more relevant that what random ads might come my way.

    Yes, I did have the option to choose vague, general categories of interest, but were so broad as to not really matter. It was as if they really didn't care what I was willingly asking to see, no real category break downs (i.e., literature and arts; really, Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel and Joyce Carol Oates, all together?).

    Print and broadcast audiences are always going to be general, but social media marketers have a real chance to do more than presume that a Facebook "like" necessarily means that I actually like them. Although Syncapse interviewed 2,080 people about why they "liked" a brand on Facebook, and 49% said that they were doing so to support a brand, several other reasons account for the remaining 51% and some of those reasons were not entirely an endorsement of the brand. (

    All I am supporting is that more direct, specific feedback be made available for us to share rather than the far too broad (Google) or star ratings (Facebook's newsfeed surveys) currently in use. Because, frankly, I don't "Like" anything right now.

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