Why We Moved from Buyer Personas to the Message Framework

Tyler Pigott
Tyler Pigott

01.03.2019 | 3 min read

Buyer personas are the holy grail of content marketing. Without them, you can’t identify what topics your prospects want to read about, what questions your prospects have, where your prospects hang out online, or how they prefer to consume content (video, audio, images, short-form, long-form, etc.). Right?

Nope. We no longer sell persona development to our clients. Yet we’re hitting goals and seeing stronger metrics from the work we do for clients.

How do we do it? While we still do extensive target audience research (of course), we’re using a different tool that’s been outperforming personas: the message framework. In this post, we’re explaining why we made the switch.

How Personas Fall Short

Personas are fictional representations of the average buyer in a market segment. They’re based on market research, and they share demographic and psychographic information in the format of a bio. Using buyer personas is certainly better than basing your marketing strategy on guesswork. But personas fall short in several ways.

Personas Aren’t Always Based on the Right Information — Persona development typically relies on survey responses, customer interviews, and analytics. Surveys are sent out or interviews are conducted with existing customers and other individuals in the target market. Personas do a great job presenting quantitative data — things like age ranges, job titles, preferred media, etc. But they often neglect qualitative data — information on emotion, values, and the reasons why people do what they do and prefer what they prefer. Many marketers make assumptions in these areas that later prove to be incorrect.

Personas Don’t Provide an Accurate Representation of Diversity — The whole idea of personas is to consolidate individual data points into an amalgamated single representation of the group. Essential differences are lost in this process. While the marketer who creates the personas has a clear idea of the diversity in the group because he or she reviewed all the research, everyone else is limited to the narrow view of the one persona representation. These differences may make a huge impact on things like how messaging is phrased or what images are used in campaigns. Marketers need a broader perspective that accounts for diversity in experience, opinion, ethnography, and other factors.

Even if your company has several personas that represent the different market segments you sell to, you still aren’t getting the full picture if all you have to reference is your personas. How do you decide what your core marketing message should be? You need a framework that provides a full perspective and illuminates the common thread that truly unites them — the message that will resonate.

How the Message Framework Excels

The message framework is based on the qualitative data that personas so often miss. It digs deep into pain points, the why behind the pain points, what holds prospects back, the emotions that are stirred as a result, and how prospects define success. It relies on one-on-one interviews with people in the target market as well as experience of the sales team interacting with prospects. The interviews with ideal customers explore a range of information, including all the essentials that personas cover, but going beyond.

Communicate with a Story

The message framework is built around a story that shows the full picture of the hero (your prospect), the struggle (the problems you solve), the guide who provides helpful direction (your company), the plan of attack (your solution), the call to action, the avoidance of disaster, and the achievement of success.

Storytelling has been a marketing buzzword for years now, but few marketers are actually telling stories. Most still rely on jargon-filled abstractions. The message framework presents the key components of the story in concrete terms that can be easily visualized by prospects.

Messages that Resonate and Empower

The message framework results in a series of messages that truly resonate with the target audience on a deep level, prompting them to action. Marketers use this framework to develop copy that’s rich with imagery and emotion-creating language, all based on a broad spectrum of data on individual prospects. This messaging empowers prospects as the heroes who are leading the charge in solving the problem they face.

Define Your Competitive Advantage

Another benefit of the message framework is that it clearly defines your competitive advantage. It explains how your company uniquely guides your prospects to success, setting your team up as true experts with sought-after knowledge. It puts your unique value proposition (UVP) on display and helps prospects to realize that they can’t get what you offer anywhere else.

Making the Switch from Personas to the Message Framework

When we first started using the message framework, we were still creating personas. Over time, we realized that the message framework was doing all the work that personas were doing, only better and more robustly. In the end, we decided to ditch persona development and rely on the message framework as our primary method of conducting, organizing, and presenting market research.

And the results have been even greater than we originally anticipated. Not only are we crafting messages that resonate with target audiences, clients actually enjoy the process. 

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