In traditional marketing, the thinking goes something like this: get your product or message in front of as many people as possible, as often as possible, and eventually it’s bound to stick. It’s the old “throw a bunch of mud at the wall” orthodoxy. But lately a different, more targeted approach has been gaining favor. It suggests that theright message in the right place at the right time – even just once – can be far more valuable. In what’s become known as Impact Marketing, instead of reaching for the masses, you’re engaging precise demographics using messaging that has been specifically constructed to resonate with them.
As designers, our role in this process is to craft the visual message. If the purpose of successful Impact Marketing is to resonate deeply with a deliberately narrow audience, how do we make sure our designs have the intended effect?
User personas; that’s how. What are they? You can read more about creating user personas here. In short, they are imaginary, stereotypical consumers who are thought to be ideal users of a particular product or brand. Their beliefs, behaviors, routines, cares and concerns, though fictional, are based on solid market research and interviews. By creating this 3-dimensional picture of a hypothetical user, marketers are able to better imagine how real people might interact with a product or brand, and choose the best avenue to reach them.
And they get into a whole lot of detail.
Let’s say you have a client who is developing a healthy energy bar. Through market research, you’ve created a user persona named Brie. (Aside: I get it. The whole thing sounds a little A.I., but just go with it for a minute.) Brie is 28, recently married, works as an Executive Assistant making 50k/year. She tries to eat gluten-free most of the time, except for Sunday cheat day. She exercises 4 times a week, wants to open her own casual-chic clothing boutique within the next 2 years, and have kids within 5. She drives a Prius, worries about climate change, and usually votes Democrat. On it goes… the idea being that in imagining Brie’s everyday life and core values, you are able to identify the most effective way to connect with her. You may, in the case of this example, determine that your energy bar client’s advertising dollars are more wisely spent on sponsorship of a yoga festival than on a traditional TV spot.
Back on the design side of things, it’s our job to make sure the energy bar’s visual messaging aligns with and appeals to Brie’s identified core values. We already know she is active, health-conscious, and eco-friendly. So in marketing an energy bar to Brie, we aim for design that speaks to her vis-a-vis these existing traits.
One of the ways we accomplish that here at Shovel is by creating an Inspiration Board. It’s among the most important steps in our design process, whereby we assemble a collage of colors, fonts, typography, and existing collateral, logos and web designs that are relevant to our user persona. We identify what works, what doesn’t, and why; never limiting ourselves to any one field or industry. True, our client is an energy bar company, but we know our user persona, Brie, has a weakness for Lululemon and an expensive Suja juice habit, so we would throw these brands into the mix of our Inspiration Board as well. The Inspiration Board acts as a guide, keeping us connected to Brie’s daily experience and holding us accountable to a design that makes sense within the context of her life.
Successful Impact Marketing, as the name suggests, is all about leaving a lasting impression. The deeper we get into the world of our target demographic, the better we understand how to create that impact. User personas, when based on meticulous market research, can be a useful and illustrative tool to help us personify what would otherwise be data on a page. And perhaps that’s really the whole point of Impact Marketing – to remind us of the real, living and breathing people on the other end of our marketing, so we’re not just throwing a bunch of mud at the wall.