The WHO has to precede the WHAT

By Phil Vollrath, Vollrath Associates, Inc.,

And I’m not talking about rock bands here.  What I am talking about is WHO do you want to receive your brand content, which has to precede the WHAT, or messages and tactics you choose to communicate with them.  I fear that so much of the discussion today centers on the tools in the toolbox, including social networking, rather than if the toolbox even contains precisely what we need for our public relations, marketing and lead development campaigns.

Who are Your Stakeholders?
The goal of campaigns must be based upon understanding and deepening relationships with one’s stakeholders.  To do this, one has to research and identify the lives of these stakeholders by interviewing them, and come up with profiles, or personas, of each..  We are already familiar with famous political personas as in Soccer Moms and Joe The Plumber.  And in president Obama’s State of the Union Address, the person in attendance who has cancer but cannot get treatment because his cancer is a pre-existing condition. These are not market or job descriptions, but rather descriptions of persons, or again, personas.


At Marquette University, where I teach part-time as an Instructor, our senior advertising and public relations campaigns all begin with profiling the personas of customers.  For example, a typical campaign approach begins with, ” Meet Lauren, an account executive for a Chicago public relations firm, whose day begins at 6:30 a.m. as she checks her competitors’ blogs and her client’s Facebook page…..,” then goes on to describe in detail, hour by hour,  the rest of Lauren’s day. Ad agencies do this routinely, and so should everyone else seeking solid results from their marketing content.

Meet Your Persona
Wikipedia defines marketing personas as “fictional characters created to represent different  user  types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way…..they are a tool or method of market segmentation.”   It goes on to describe these personas as, “useful in considering the goals, desires and limitations of brand buyers and users in order to help guide decisions about a service, brand, product or interaction space….”   The Council of Public Relations Firms has issued a White Paper, Stakeholders 2.0, How to Build Better Social Media Campaigns (, which describes consumer stakeholder personas based upon their online activity.  The White Paper cites Forrester’s Groundswell methodology which identifies seven distinct social media personas including “creators,” “critics,” “collectors,” “joiners, ” and “spectators.”

Personas profile real people, and what they do between when they get up and go back to bed. This includes what they do and who they meet with during the day, the problems and challenges they encounter and how they solve them, the leisure or recreational activities they perform and when, which movies they see and restaurants they choose, what turns them on or off, how they relate to friends and family and much more.  Do they vote on products they like or dislike, engage in causes or campaigns and connect regularly with others such as in Facebook or Foursquare, or in blogs? All of these are vital in shaping persona – based customer profiles.

Thinking and Acting like Them
By building personas, you begin to think and act like the people you are studying.. You will talk and write in their language and offer ideas they can relate to, like curiosity, security, relaxation, or having cake and eating it too.  And when you do this, you will improve the precision and efficiency of your message content. You will also create campaigns that resonate with and connect with real people who also are your customers.  If people see themselves in your products or services, you will greatly improve your ability to reach them with your marketing or brand messages, tactics and media (social and traditional), and achieve positive results at the bottom line.

Persona-based marketing can also be utilized to improve message content so vital in connecting with any other stakeholder–based group including employees, investors and shareholders, government officials, educators and the media, for example.  In every case, the WHAT will do what you want it to, only if it connects to, you guessed it, the WHO, which is YOU!

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