Recently, several companies have asked me to develop customer personas for them. This allows them to then create representative customer types and better focus their sales and marketing efforts, using the voice and the language of those personas in their approaches. Customer personas are often driven by customer needs, personalities, and decision-making matrices, and they can work well for segmenting your market and understanding where the richest veins of potential sales can be.

It got me thinking, though, that it’s also important to understand how customers and prospects think and feel about your brand, and sometimes the best way to do that is to ask them about your persona. This involves projective techniques, often reminiscent of a Barbara Walters interview…“if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

And with farmers and other smart guys who work outside, you have to get them to play along, otherwise they will think you’re a little cuckoo.

However, when done right – without conscious thought – this type of exploration yields rich insights into how people think and feel about your brand. It helps prevent making the three biggest mistakes in creating buyer personas, and we get to the underlying truths in their perceptions. That can make advertising and communications very powerful stuff indeed.

For example, one time I was out testing some boring mission statements for an agricultural company that was a strong, but distant second in their marketplace. I could see the dismissal in our respondents’ eyes, so I switched to personification: “If [the brand] were a farmer, what kind of farmer would they be?”

From this line of questioning, we found that buyers perceived my client as a hard-working, roll-up-your-sleeves, beer-drinking kind of farmer who would give you the shirt off his back.The market leader was an out-of-touch paper pusher, resting off the accomplishments of the past, and who was not really interested in you or your production problems.

This simple change in approach yielded some amazing insights into both our client and the top competitor they were chasing. A very savvy advertising firm took these insights and created award-winning advertising that spoke to the heart of their customers and prospects. The company gained market share, increased top-of-mind awareness, and in general, moved the ball forward a lot during the two years they used this campaign.

If you’re looking for more connection with your customers, perhaps it’s time to find out a bit more about how they think of you. Let’s get started!