Part 2: Deeper Insights Through Better Persona Profiling

By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—March 14, 2014

Marketers are ultimately trying to persuade people to make a decision. Whether marketers are tasked with creating brand awareness, which may lead to a consumer making a decision to patronize the brand, or are tasked with direct marketing for a specific call to action, the marketer’s goal is to persuade people to make a decision to buy their product or service.

Our work in Progressive Persona Profiling began with this simple premise of using the science of and research that currently exists around human behavior as it relates to decision-making. We believe that the current form of stagnant personas isn’t accurate for today’s buyer who is empowered to conduct product or service research on their own.

“Bounded Rationality is the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.” Herbert A. Simon, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations” (1978) coined the term bounded rationality “as an alternative basis for the mathematical modeling of decision-making, as used in economics and related disciplines; it complements rationality as optimization, which views decision-making as a fully rational process of finding an optimal choice given the information available.” Simon also coined another term in the science of decision-making: “Satisficing, which is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.”

While the bounded rationality philosophy may have been relevant to the pre-Internet world, the instantaneous availability of information renders the concept obsolete as it was written. The basic principle of bounded rationality can still pertain to the information that is currently available to a user in their search; however, we consider this to be unbounded rationality.

Progressive Persona Profiling is foundationally based on the unbounded rationality idea of decision-making with the understanding that the unbounded piece of this philosophy now means whatever information is available to the world through the Internet, which is still vast, and through the living document nature of the Internet, which is truly unbounded for the future, while still being finite for a particular moment in time.

In marketing, unbounded rationality translates into an always-on marketing ecosystem that provides information to the prospective buyer on the buyer’s terms and time, and in their space. This is unlike interruptive or disruptive marketing that attempts to interrupt or disrupt the buyer in order to deliver a marketing message and hopes that the message will result in the buyer following the call to action.

The creation of Progressive Persona Profiling has been heavily influenced by other important individuals whose work centers on buyer behavior, such as:

Howard & Sheth (A Theory of Buyer Behavior)
Francesco Nicosia (1966 The Nicosia Model of Consumer Behavior)
James F. Engel
Roger D. Blackwell
David T. Kollat (1978 Consumer Behavior)
Alan Cooper and all who followed him in their collective persona work
Additional influence has been seen from the recent area of customer experience, which has now developed into a well-practiced discipline.

The five buyer stages consisting of awareness, consideration, inquiry, purchase and loyalty have become obsolete, unable to effectively accelerate complex purchase decisions due to their lack of granularity. The five buyer stages also fail to take into account the homeostasis that some audiences find themselves in. These are audiences who are satisfied with what they have and distracted by other issues and problems, and who only start to pay attention to a marketer’s message when they see or hear a compelling event that relates to their company and career, or experience an event that is life threatening.

Progressive Persona Profiling allows marketers to gain deep insight into the buyer’s need or want state, along with their thinking, feeling, experience and consideration during each stage of the modern buyer’s 10-stage journey. The first step of the process is to perform primary and secondary research to gain a deep and thorough understanding of the target audience, competitive landscape and overall market conditions that may influence the buyer along this 10-stage journey.

The various theories of buyer behavior all take into account buyer variables, such as consideration, thoughts, feelings and experiences. The theories tap into the logical (thoughts), emotive and evoked (feelings), experiential and attitudinal (experience), and analytical (consideration) powers of the brain. While Howard & Sheth’s work details several more variables, such as perceptual bias, sensitivity to information, personality variables, predisposition, inhibitors, comprehension and attention, to name a few, we believe that the basic four variables (thought, feelings, experience and consideration) encompass the other named attributes. Perceptual bias and inhibitors are covered in the variable of experience as is predisposition. Comprehension and attention are covered in the variable thinking, as is attitudinal attributes. Motive and intentions are covered in the need or want states at the top of the grid in the graphic below.

As with traditional stagnant personas, one target must be chosen as the subject of the persona. In a B2C instance, it is recommended to start with the segment that has shown the highest propensity to purchase. In a B2B environment, the marketer may choose several key decision makers who work together to make a group decision. If it is a group target, a single Progressive Persona Profile must be constructed for each member of the group, as each will have different points of view regarding the purchase. Traditional stagnant personas can be, and are, the starting point from which a successful Progressive Persona Profile can be built.

Once the research has been completed and analyzed, a first draft of the Progressive Persona Profile is crafted, which is the hypothesis of the profile. Measuring the hypothesis against the actual research allows for honing the Progressive Persona Profile into a realistic depiction of a buyer’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and considerations as they move through the buyer’s journey. Our analysts, researchers and strategists work together to develop the final Progressive Persona Profile.

The main subject matter of Pillar 3 in KERN’s The 8 Pillars of Demand Generation for Revenue Acceleration is target-audience marketing through Progressive Persona Profiling.


While the above example of the Progressive Persona Profiling grid shows every stage of the buyer’s journey and the states of thought, emotion, experience and consideration, in order to discuss the process, we’re going to examine separately each need or want state. We will do this in our next blog.

We need to be very clear that the research process is the most important and vital step in creating a Progressive Persona Profile. Both primary and secondary research are needed to correctly inform the strategists creating the Progressive Persona Profile. Once the hypothesis version is completed, more research is used to validate or challenge the insights reported in it. Going forward, real-time analytics delivering relevant data to the strategist are utilized to update the Progressive Persona Profile. This enables the Progressive Persona Profile to be a living document.


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