Do you remember learning to type? Initially, you might have used just two fingers. Then, you switched to using all ten fingers. At first, you probably typed more slowly and made more mistakes than you did with just two fingers. Maybe you even had a moment where you wanted to quit and go back to your old method of typing.

This is what happens with financial brands and consumer personas. Logically, you know that consumer personas are an important technique for marketing, but if they aren’t creating the results you want, you may be tempted to go back to your old methods. 

Consumer personas are key to driving digital growth, but as useful as they are, they’re only helpful and create value when done right. Let’s take a look at five ways your consumer personas might be failing your financial brand. Once you’re able to articulate exactly how your personas are falling flat, you'll be less likely to abandon them and more equipped to improve them.

#1: Projecting onto the Persona 

Intrinsically, we believe other people are more like us than they actually are. So it’s easy to project our own reality, our own qualities, onto consumer personas. 

For example, once, as I was guiding a marketing team through the consumer persona workshop, the CEO walked in. After we explained the exercise to him, he stepped back and paused, then said, “I connect with that guy right there” and pointed to an older persona image—one who looked just like him.

This is simple human nature. It’s easy for us to emotionally connect with the people who are like us, but difficult to form that same connection with those who are different from us. 

Consumer personas can help bridge that gap—but only if they reflect the true target consumer and not your own projected dreams, concerns, and so on.

To prevent this projection, conduct one-on-one interviews with your target consumers, examine the consumers’ emotional experience with the brand, and facilitate lead experience testing of your website.

# 2: Describing Only Buyer Demographics

When it comes to persona development, one of the biggest mistakes I see marketers make is to just profile their buyers’ demographic traits, instead of defining their buyer’s questions, concerns, hopes, and dreams.

Right now, the vast majority of financial brands define their market segments or audiences through demographic data: age, sex, education, occupation, income, and so on. But this isn’t good enough. You can’t connect emotionally or empathetically with data, something many financial brands, unfortunately, just don’t get yet. In fact, in our research, we’ve found that 68 percent of banks and credit unions have not created or defined consumer personas that include the consumer’s questions, concerns, hopes, and dreams. 

The reason consumer personas are effective is they help us understand why consumers behave the way they do. To get to that why, you need to move past demographics, which you do by collecting thick data. That leads us right into the next common mistake.

#3: Lacking Thick Data

Thick data is the qualitative information collected from a subset of individuals to better understand their emotions and the motivations behind their behavior and choices. Thick data provides insight into why people do what they do.

Thick data shows you: (1) the current emotional reality of your ideal account holder and where they feel stuck by their questions and concerns, and (2) the bigger, better, and brighter future your ideal account holder wants to create by realizing their hopes and dreams.

You must go ALL in (Ask, Listen, and Learn) with thick data for your personas, whether it be qualitative one-on-one interviews or quantitative surveys or just talking with your frontline salespeople. If you don’t have the thick data, you don’t have anything.

#4: Developing Too Many Personas

In creating personas, you want to look for common patterns across key market segments, and then develop several unique consumer personas according to those patterns.

However, you need to keep in mind what resources you actually have as a financial brand to take action with these developed personas and apply them. 

Let’s say you identify seven key market segments you want to target and thus create seven different personas. Then when you go to apply these personas, you discover you don’t have enough resources to create targeted marketing for each persona. Either you end up stretching your resources too thin and put out ineffective marketing campaigns, or that work you went to creating so many personas goes to waste.

Creating personas isn’t an all-or-nothing task. Start by developing just two to three key consumer personas. You can always develop more later, as your resources allow.

#5: Relying on Focus Groups 

Many financial brands use focus groups to gather the data that forms the basis for their consumer personas, but focus groups are flawed, as they often lead to groupthink. Instead, focus on gathering one-on-one data as much as possible.

Digital secret shopping testing is an excellent option. Through a recent industry study we conducted that included more than 300 financial brands, we found 94 percent of bank and credit union websites have never undergone any type of digital secret shopping testing. 

This is a huge missed opportunity, as we’ve found that our Digital Secret Shopping Studies that focus on usability, emotional experience, and lead experience produce far more valuable insights for consumer persona development than focus groups. With these studies, you’re letting customers tell you exactly what their questions, concerns, and needs are, without external influence that could bias their responses like in a focus group.

Commit to Your Consumer Personas

The absolute worst mistake you could make is to abandon consumer personas entirely. It may take time and some trial and error to get them right, but it’s worth it.

The more you practiced ten-finger typing, the better you got, until you were typing far faster than you were with two fingers. Similarly, the more you work at creating consumer personas, the more effective they will be.

I’ve worked with hundreds of financial brands, and I’ve seen firsthand how consumer personas can drive digital growth. So commit to your consumer personas, watch out for these five common pitfalls, and keep tweaking and adjusting until you get it right. Eventually, you’ll look back and wonder why you ever did it any other way.