"Most agencies and organizations rely on the collection and analysis of demographic data from secondary sources, such as demographers in census bureaus, national or local epidemiological studies, or commercial market reports and databases, to make decisions about segmentation and selection of priority groups. Much of the thinking of most marketers, not just the social ones, is colored by questions about age, gender, race, ethnicity, martial status, occupation, size of household and by other demographic information that also lends itself to easy questions (for surveyors) and quantitative analysis. Though relied on for all sorts of health and social policymaking, these data do not provide the understanding of a priority group that leads to insight and effective marketing and communications efforts.
One way to address this shortcoming is to design segmentation and consumer research efforts that have as a primary objective the creation of archetypes or personas (these terms are interchangeable and are used by many advertising, design, and communication professionals). An archetype or persona represents the essence of a priority group, often captured and presented in caricature form, though it is not unknown for agencies to hire actors, develop scripts, and videotape scenarios to develop an in-depth understanding of a group and also be able to communicate that understanding and empathy to clients and stakeholders. These personas or archetypes might be developed for current or desired users of products or services as well as for people who engage in a behavior we are trying to change or who are open to trying a new behavior.
A persona representing a priority group we have identified might include
♣ A fictitious name (“Harry,” for example) and picture or photograph.
♣ Demographics and life stage (such as age, education, ethnicity, family status, children in home, career focus).
♣ A description of Harry’s values or approach to life.
♣ Harry’s emotions and attitudes toward the behavior being targeted or the product or service being offered.
♣ Actions Harry would likely take when interacting with our organization or as a consequence of exposure to our marketing activities.
♣ Places (life path points) and media where Harry can be reached.
♣ Personal traits that are relevant to the puzzle we are addressing and to how we and Harry might solve it together. These traits should help staff and partners connect with the type of person who is your program priority. Examples might include Harry’s hobbies or interests, attitudes toward health or climate change, a source of pleasure or inspiration for him, a habit Harry deserves, a habit Harry wants to kick, something in Harry’s life that is under control or out of control.
♣ A fictitious quotation from Harry that sums up what matters most to him with relevance to our offering (for example, the underlying benefit or value proposition Harry is seeking or what motivates him to try new things).
This archetype distills our understanding of the priority group members, insight into what motivates them, what emotions resonate with them, and what actions they are ready to undertake. However, describing the persona is also a creative opportunity for staff and collaborators to bring the person to life for themselves and others. Any and all data sources can provide valuable inputs for the development of a persona. Data should not be limited to what is gathered in formal research activities but can include things we learn from interactions we have with people from a priority group in our daily lives. Some research purists will take issue with this last point, but that makes my point. Developing understanding and empathy is not a research project - it comes from experiences we have with people.
Personas for Priority Groups to Address Concurrent Sexual Partnerships
As an example, the following three personas were generated to synthesize research findings for a campaign developed by PSI to increase discussions about concurrent sexual partnerships (CSP) and encourage reductions in CSP prevalence among three priority groups (PSI, 2010).
Married and/or Cohabiting Urban Man
Munya is 35 years old, married with two children. He values his children and aspires to send them to better schools. He lives in a low income suburb and runs a small business fixing cars. He owns a modest car and aspires to buy a better car to improve his “status” especially among his friends. He also aspires to own a home in one of the affluent low density suburbs. Munya’s life is very busy, as running his own small business is demanding. He finds his sex life boring and seeks extra marital partners to meet his sexual needs. Munya has two “small houses” Nancy and Rutendo. Nancy has been Munya’s “small house” for about 5 years and she really understands him. Rutendo is beautiful and fun to be around. He normally sees both of them every day. Munya does not use condoms with Nancy as he “trusts” her though he uses them inconsistently with Rutendo. Munya occasionally spends time with his drinking buddies, watches television and listens to the radio. He occasionally worries that maintaining small houses is expensive, but at the same time thinks the girls are worth it.
Single Never Married Woman
Fadzi is in her early 20s, single and a college student. She lives in a one room rented accommodation. She likes to party, braai, dance and drink at places such as outdoor entertainment spots that include Mereki, Globe Trotter, Car Wash and IBs. She loves having the 3 C’s (cash, car and cell phone) and other luxuries. She has several friends that she hangs out with and confides in her closest friend, Mona. She has several partners and uses condoms with some of them because she does not trust them. She is more worried about pregnancy and the disappointment and embarrassment to herself and her family. Fadzi does not believe that being involved in overlapping sexual relationship will prevent her from realizing her full ambition of being a graduate, running her own business and getting married. She believes that having more than one sexual partner at the same time makes her more popular among her peers.
Married and/or Cohabiting Rural Man
Gibson is a 32 year old married man living in the rural areas. He has three children and also looks after his brother’s children. He runs a butchery at a rural business centre in Mhondoro. He spends most of his time at the bottle store, drinking beer with friends and relatives. Gibson has several girlfriends and occasionally sleeps away from home and his grandmother covers up for him. He trusts his “small house” Ropa and his “sweet sixteen” Rachie and does not use condoms with them as he believes he is the only man in their lives. He uses condoms with Audrey and Nyasha and other casual girlfriends because he worries about the risk of HIV infection. He wants to succeed in life and provide well for his family. Gibson hopes to expand his business and looks forward to a healthy life. His sex life at home is boring and he spices it up by having extra marital affairs though he is worried about being discovered by his wife and mother. He listens to the radio and reads the newspaper whenever he gets access to one.
Many social marketing and social change projects overlook the development of a persona. Yet if we are to create programs that serve people it is important for us to have a person in mind - not a collection of numbers - before developing a marketing plan and designing relevant strategies and tactics. The practice of developing a persona is virtually sacrosanct among advertising creative staff, designers, and social marketers, where a vivid portrayal of a typical member of the priority group is a necessary precondition to the development of products, services, and communication campaigns that will have an emotional resonance with that group (Brown, 2009; Lefebvre et al., 1995; Roberts, 2005; Sutton, Balch & Lefebvre, 1995). The challenge is to create a persona that rises above a stereotype and is someone with whom staff can engage. That is, we need to construct a persona that is not met with “so what?” responses but that inspires people to ask, “What would Harry (or Munya, Fadzi or Gibson) say about that idea?”
An understanding of our priority population that is assisted by a vivid persona, or spokesperson, will also help us communicate internally about priority groups in policy and strategy discussions. Numbers in a data table communicate one set of attributes about people; photos or drawings, names, hobbies, passions, and a vivid understanding of people’s daily lives (or life flow) convey a quite different set of attitudes and feelings to employees, partners, and stakeholders. Archetypes and personas help to create a shared understanding and empathy among all of the concerned parties about the people they wish to serve. And as with other processes described in this book, it is highly desirable to make the development of the persona a co-creation exercise with representatives from the priority group as well as with employees, existing customers, partners, and stakeholders. All of these perspectives can contribute knowledge and understanding to create a platform for the design of the social marketing program."
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: HarperCollins.
Lefebvre, R. C., Doner, L., Johnston, C., Loughrey, K., Balch, G., & Sutton, S. M. (1995). Use of database marketing and consumer-based health communication in message design: An example from the Office of Cancer Communications’ “5 A Day for Better Health” program. In E. Maibach & R. Parrott (Eds.), Designing health messages: Approaches from communication theory and public health practice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 217–246.
PSI. (2010). Concurrent
sexual partnerships in Zimbabwe: Using DELTA to develop a marketing plan for a
complex behavior. Washington DC: PSI, Global Social Marketing Department.
Roberts, K. (2005). Lovemarks: The future beyond brands. Brooklyn, NY: Powerhouse Books.
Sutton, S. M., Balch, G. I., & Lefebvre, R. C. (1995). Strategic questions for consumer-based health communications. Public Health Reports; 110:725–733.
Adapted from: From: Lefebvre, R.C (in press). Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being and the environment (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, expected 2013).
Image from Slice|Works.