Building a narrative and the power of personas

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In March of this year I attended an IABC Ottawa event on building a content strategy. It was a great evening, featuring a panel and discussion with four very experienced content strategists.

But one part continued to perplex me: The concept of using personas, a fictional representation of a real customer or audience member, to better tailor your medium and message.

Why limit yourself to one particular (fictional) person? What if the personas you create fail to match with the people you are trying to reach? And how do you even create a person, anyways?

A two-hour event wasn’t long enough to get into any of those details. But Kristina Mausseur, one of the panelists, was a big fan. She jokingly offered them up as a solution to nearly every question the audience had.

It wasn’t until I started the Digital Marketing Certificate at the Telfer School of Management that I found out why. Personas are an essential part of any digital marketing strategy, from creating user journey maps to anticipating the future needs of your customers.

I’m sold. But now you must be asking: Why personas?

Simple. Because the narrative matters. It’s what takes your static numbers on a page and turns them into a living, breathing, three-dimensional human.

What’s more, you’re not just reacting to data. As one person in the class pointed out, it also allows you to anticipate needs. You can get inside the head of a person and think: What would they do next?

A persona can help you tell what a person wants and why they ended up coming to your door in the first place. It’s the same reason why we read books about specific characters, why movies zoom in on particular people’s lives.

La La Land isn’t about a generic group of people trying to make it as actors in Los Angeles. It is about ONE person trying to make it as an actress in LA. We know what kind of clothes she wears. We know what kind of car she drives. We know how she reacts when she spills coffee on herself. We understand her motivation in ways that aren’t possible by looking at a large swath of people.

When I started this course I expected to be swamped with numbers, learning words like market share and audience reach. Perhaps those are still on the way.

But for me, knowing that the power of narrative is an equally potent force in marketing is reassuring. It means that the storytelling ability I’ve spent years crafting in a communications/journalism role will find a new lease on life.

So if you’re a journalist, communicator or anyone who even enjoys a good book and are looking to dive into content marketing, don’t check your penchant for narrative at the door – embrace it.

Mark Brownlee is a journalist-turned communicator who is a candidate for the Telfer School of Management’s Digital Marketing certificate.

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