Personas or Voice of the Customer?


People hate to waste money on marketing.

You will always remember the campaign that flopped, or the ad buy that generated nothing, or the marketing plan that collected dust on the shelf. For years, marketers have been banging the drum on how people need to understand buyer personas in order to market effectively. If you’re not familiar with persona marketing, it’s basically that you should identify and document the habits, personality traits and desires of your key buyers. Then, when you design brand identity or marketing campaigns, you determine how that will appeal to your personas. People even name personas, like “Will these ads connect with Martha?” A typical persona would be:


Bob is a CFO at a mid-market company. He starts work early and ends late. He’s overworked so he’s looking for ways to save time. He’s stressed out all the time. Outside of work he belongs to a Harley Davidson club, but he can’t go on rides where there’s no cell service. He does crossfit but hates lima beans.

You can see that part of the info is useful, but it’s not particularly actionable. Does it really capture what this prospect wants? Can you use that info to design a Web site or ads that connect? How would this info help you write proposal copy? The most important question: how would a persona tilt sales in your favor? The short answer is personas don’t help as much as some marketers would like. Done badly, they can be the worst of marketing initiatives: busy work that doesn’t result in a strategy advantage. So personas won’t give you a leg up on your competition, what should you do?

This is where “Voice of the Customer” marketing comes in to play.

The fact is, the best people to guide your messaging are the ones who have already had experience with you – the people who have actually paid for your products or services. There are several reasons for this. First, businesses typically want to attract more of their best customers. They can even be easier to attract given that you have experience in meeting their needs. You have case studies that tell the story so prospects understand the valued you’ve delivered. Next, your best clients can describe in plain English why they chose you. This is one of the most important things a marketer can use: the actual words a client uses – not marketing jargon that sounds important or high minded but doesn’t work.

How do you get the voice of the customer?

Marketers need to ask the right questions of the right people, then see the trends in the answers that can be used for great campaigns. This the core of our brand messaging process. When we can have brief phone interviews with 15 to 20 people who are a company’s best clients, we can ask questions like:

  • “What did the company do to make you happy?”
  • “What does the company do best?”
  • “Why did you choose to do business with this company?”

You can see that these questions do a great job of getting the voice of the customer. When we get answers like, “I chose this company, because they offered consulting before the sale to really understand what I needed” we have a concrete thought that helped close a sale. This is much more useful than a listing personality traits. Whole campaigns that connect with the right prospects can be made just from a single idea like this.

The moral of the story: always ask yourself how efficient your marketing efforts are, and if they are generating a competitive advantage. Sometimes, creatives come up with creative ways to spend time on work that looks smart but won’t help move your business ahead.