Digital empathy is a practical tool to foster a deeper, emotional connection with account holders in the increasingly transactional digital world. It's not about reducing your customers to mere data points; it's about making real human connections. But how do you elevate digital empathy at your institution? The answer lies in a seemingly mundane yet incredibly powerful concept: consumer personas.

The top 3 insights from this article:

  • The importance of consumer personas: Consumer personas, a semi-fictional representation of ideal account holders, play a vital role in enhancing digital empathy. 
  • Evolving from audiences to communities: Rather than thinking about consumers in terms of market segments, the focus should shift to perceiving them as communities. 
  • Avoiding pitfalls in persona creation: While consumer personas are crucial, their creation involves potential pitfalls, including projecting personal perspectives onto others, over-reliance on demographic data, and neglecting the importance of 'thick data'—the data explaining why people behave, think, or feel a certain way. 

Unraveling Consumer Personas

Consumer personas are a semi-fictional representation of an ideal account holder. It's built on two crucial pillars: market research and real-world data that resonates with your unique community and account holders. In a nutshell, it's a template that guides your interactions with your customers.

Related Content: As a Financial Brand, Focus on Consumer Personas, Not Demographics

Surprisingly, though, many financial institutions still rely on demographic data to define their audiences. While demographic data such as age, sex, education, and income can provide useful insights, they fall short of establishing emotional or empathetic connections. You can't connect with a string of ones and zeros, can you?

Beyond Audiences: Embracing Digital Communities

We need to elevate our thinking from market segments and audiences to communities, or more specifically, digital communities. The idea of a community transcends borders, zip codes, and cities. It exists in people's minds.

However, here's a catch. Almost 70% of financial brands haven't defined consumer personas, and without these personas, there can't be any empathy. Even among those who have established personas, many are failing to apply these personas to their digital growth strategies.

The result?

No empathy.

Related Content: Consumer Personas: Obtaining Executive Buy-In on Niching

When you ask financial brands about their ideal community, the answers are usually broad and encompass everyone between the ages of 16 to 65 with money to spare. But this, as James points out, is where many go wrong. Trying to be everything to everyone leads to being nothing to no one, especially in a digital growth strategy.

This mindset is a relic of past mass marketing strategies, where one message was broadcast to many people. However, digital growth strategies present an opportunity to segment communities into smaller, more defined groups with specific needs.

Many financial brand leaders hesitate to go down this path, fearing that by focusing on one group, they may miss out on potential opportunities with others. However, the reality is, growth is found by saying no more than yes.

James Robert relates this to his own experience at the Digital Growth Institute. Despite opportunities to apply his strategies to other markets and verticals, he chose to stay focused on educating and coaching financial brand leaders, demonstrating the power of staying true to your chosen path.

Navigating the Pitfalls of Persona Creation to Enhance Digital Empathy

Defining and applying consumer personas are the keys to unlocking digital empathy and subsequently, achieving digital growth. These personas bring clarity into who you're creating value for, allowing you to make real connections with your customers.

So, it's high time to elevate digital empathy at your financial institution. Remember, it's not just about understanding your account holders; it's about knowing them on a deeper level, just like a community does. 

Related Content: 5 Ways Your Consumer Personas Are Failing Your Financial Brand

Ttrust is the currency we trade on in the digital world, and communication is the key to establishing and expanding it. Communication isn't limited to just words—it's also about actions, or in some cases, the lack thereof. With this understanding, let's take a look at the five common pitfalls, or "persona pitfalls," as James Robert calls them, that financial brands need to steer clear of when working with personas.

Persona Pitfall #1: Projecting Your Perspective

The first pitfall is the projection of our own realities, experiences, and belief systems onto other people or personas. While it's easy to assume others share our perspectives, this is often far from the truth, leading to skewed personas.

Persona Pitfall #2: Solely Relying on Demographics

Secondly, many marketers make the mistake of profiling their account holders or prospective account holders solely through demographic data such as age, income, sex, and location. While these factors can provide useful insights, they fall short of offering a holistic understanding of a person's hopes, dreams, concerns, and questions.

Persona Pitfall #3: Ignoring Thick Data

The third pitfall is the lack of "thick data," which James Robert defines as the data that explains why people behave the way they do, think the way they think, or feel the way they feel. While "big data" provides information about who people are and what they do, it's the thick data that truly enriches our understanding of their actions, beliefs, and emotions.

Persona Pitfall #4: Developing Too Many Personas

The fourth pitfall to watch out for is the creation of too many personas. While identifying common patterns across market segments within a community is beneficial, it's important to take into account the resources at your disposal to apply this knowledge effectively. James Robert recalls advising an organization that had identified 57 different personas but was not using any of them in their communication or digital strategies. His pro tip? Start with one to three personas that you can use to inform your communication strategies.

Persona Pitfall #5: Over-Reliance on Focus Groups

Lastly, James Robert warns against the over-reliance on focus groups, which he believes often lead to groupthink and fail to provide the deep insights one-on-one conversations can offer.

The Power of Digital Secret Shopping Studies

Digital secret shopping studies can be a valuable tool for understanding why people feel a certain way about a digital experience. Here, at the Digital Growth Institute, we frequently conducts these studies, where we ask participants about their feelings towards a financial brand based on what they see on the brand's website. The emotions shared by participants during these studies directly influence their potential to convert in the future.

Related Content: Digital Secret Shopping Studies: Stop Giving Your Leads an Excuse to Leave 

The path to enhancing digital empathy through consumer personas isn't without challenges. However, by understanding these pitfalls and leveraging the power of tools like digital secret shopping studies, financial brands can create better, more effective personas that allow them to foster deeper connections with their communities.

A Story of Transformation: From Data Points to DNA

Having outlined these persona pitfalls, let's dive into an anecdote that James Robert shares, which illustrates some of these pitfalls in action. It involves a financial brand he worked with, helping their marketing team develop their very first set of consumer personas. The team was enthusiastic and dedicated, and they set out to explore the emotional experiences people had with their brand.

Through a series of one-on-one interviews, they identified patterns around customers' questions, concerns, and dreams. The team then wove this data into a narrative—transforming dry statistics into relatable, emotionally engaging stories. This approach was beneficial not just for the marketing team, but as a training tool for other departments within the organization, including the frontline and contact center.

An unexpected observer during this process was the CEO, who walked in during a workshop. When James Robert explained the purpose and methodology behind the persona exercise, the CEO paused and mulled over the information. It was interesting to watch as he pointed to an older persona image that closely resembled him, identifying that he could connect with it, but struggled to do so with the personas representing younger demographics.

This insightful moment helped the team recognize the potential pitfalls of projection, as the CEO unwittingly projected his worldview onto a persona. It also underscored the value of consumer personas, as they provided the CEO with a window into the minds and hearts of demographics he had previously struggled to connect with.

In the aftermath of this revelation, the CEO left the room with a greater sense of empathy, underscoring the importance of walking a mile in someone else's shoes—a feat that a well-crafted persona makes possible.

Putting Personas to Work

This experience wasn't a one-and-done exercise for the financial brand. They applied their newly developed personas outside of the marketing department—training their contact center, their frontline, and their sales team, and even putting up the persona posters in the boardroom. These personas—now given names like Josh, Susan, Victor, and Alicia—became a touchstone for conversations about strategy.

Previously viewed as mere data points, these personas were now seen as "real" people with genuine concerns, questions, and problems. Behind every data point was a human story, a real individual with unique needs and goals. The personas fostered a greater sense of empathy and connectedness within the organization. They reminded everyone that behind every data point and every number was a person—an individual DNA.

The personas served as a reminder of the organization's purpose—why they were doing what they were doing. They also drove digital empathy from the top down and transformed the organization's focus from commoditized transactions to people.

The Power of Digital Empathy

This story illustrates the transformative power of consumer personas in fostering digital empathy. Whether you're a bank, a credit union, or a fintech firm, adopting a similar approach can yield significant dividends.
By viewing your customers as real individuals rather than abstract data points, you can create a more personalized, empathetic, and ultimately successful approach to marketing and customer service.

Sharing these insights and learnings with your team or within your organization can also play a significant role in collective growth. Remember, we all get better together. So, until next time, be well, do good, and be the light in your organization. Be that catalyst that fosters digital empathy and drives a culture of understanding and connection.

Take Action Today:

  • Develop consumer personas: This involves understanding and considering the hopes, dreams, concerns, and questions of customers, not just their demographic information.
  • Embrace digital communities: The text encourages marketing professionals to move beyond thinking in terms of audiences and market segments and start focusing on digital communities. 
  • Avoid persona creation pitfalls: Avoid the five pitfalls outlined in the text when developing personas: projecting your perspective, solely relying on demographics, ignoring thick data, creating too many personas, and over-reliance on focus groups. 

After undertaking these action items, the marketing professional should integrate these insights into the organization's marketing strategy, always focusing on fostering digital empathy and building real human connections.

or more about financial transformation, reach out to James Robert Lay at the Digital Growth Institute.