Triangle AMA members had the opportunity to hear Glen Drummond, Chief Innovation Officer of Quarry Integrated Communications explain the method of using “Personas” to look at our customers and our business differently.

Drummond began his presentation with a challenge for members of the audience to reconsider what constitutes “real” work. Using examples from the airline and telecommunications industry, he demonstrated how the frontier of value-adding activity changes as markets mature. While we habituate ourselves to the notion that “real” work involves material, science, and objective reasoning – it can be demonstrated that conceptual, imaginative activity creates consumer value and allows us to grow our business. This is especially the case in industries that have matured to the point where tangible differences between competitive offers have narrowed, and where customer experience becomes the strategic frontier of differentiation.

Drummond then proposed that the sum of our education and professional training tends to work at cross-purposes with the development of our capacity for this new “real work.”

For instance, in order to develop great customer experiences, Drummond drew upon the concept of “flow” – as illustrated in the context of successful and unsuccessful experiences with the set-up and configuration of a new purchase such as furniture, or home electronics. In order to anticipate properly how to make this experience flow for consumers, empathy and imagination are required. Yet the training we receive that biases our individual and collective thinking processes toward “objectivity” offers a barrier to this “subjective” skill.

Enter the “Persona” – imaginary people (or at least a narrative representation of customer insight) that can be used to stimulate individual ideation and can also be used as a form of evidence for group decision-making to make customer experience better.

As Drummond illustrated through thought-experiments conducted with the audience, people do have a remarkable, and deeply engrained capacity to project future outcomes– to make uncanny guesses – based on “character” and story. This is a fundamental reason why personas have proven to be so useful in designing experiences that flow well for customers.

The Apple iPod ads are a great example of how to communicate the value proposition through the experience and without using words.

Drummond did raise a concern however with the use of personas. If these constructions are imaginary – can they also be “fake? “ He went on to illustrate not only how that can be the case, but also provided a number of tips for members of the audience on how they can inoculate themselves against the risk of fake insight masquerading as personas.

The presentation wrapped with the observation that in times of unprecedented pressures on business, it may feel like an odd time for playful thinking. But for marketers, who want to focus on creating new value through better customer experience, this might be precisely the time to add new skills in playful thinking to their existing arsenal of professional talents.

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.