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What's the Difference Between Personas and Market Segmentation?

Steve Surdez

Many marketing agencies disparage the traditional while embracing all things modern. Businesses with developed marketing programs often do the same.

The truth is, however, this is a false dichotomy, a false choice.

When you research a marketing topic online, you’ll find a very clear line drawn between what’s called modern marketing-see Inbound, persona development, demand generation, AI, and automation-and more traditional terms like outbound, market segmentation, direct mail and print advertising.

Marketers build this new versus old barrier to differentiate not necessarily to educate.

The truth is there's value to be found in traditional marketing strategies and tactics in certain cases, just as Inbound has less value for certain audiences, industries and markets. The key is to not throw away or embrace one approach soley based on current trends or popular sentiment; outbound and Inbound approaches, when balanced properly, can often yield stronger performance than Inbound alone.

A prime example of blending “old” and “new” becomes evident when you consider Inbound marketing’s foundational persona development in the context of traditional target market development and segmentation.

Developing great personas without understanding how to geographically and demographically segment your market will result in weaker results, as will deploying traditional marketing segmentation without fully developed personas.

When combined, personas and more traditional market research and segementation are a marketing force like no other.

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So, What’s the Difference Between Personas and Market Segmentation?

First, we have to understand that there’s a lot that goes into establishing a target market. This information includes geographic and demographic data as well as personas.

    • Geographic Considerations. A “traditional” target market approach would likely research and document geographic boundaries of a business, which could include a mile radius from a central retail location (i.e. 10-15-20 miles out as primary, secondary and tertiary geographic markets), or buying patterns in certain zip codes. It all depends on the individual business.

Geographic Target Market

      • Research could be conducted on lead sources and sales by identifying zip codes of consumers, thereby pinpointing geographic hot and cold spots for business as well as geographic areas of untapped potential.
      • A map could be created indicating the boundaries of these geographic markets.
      • Additional research could be conducted by buying mailing lists or hiring an outside company to conduct market research using pre-identified customer demographics to further substantiate the market’s boundaries.
  • Qualitative Considerations. To effectively define the target audience within a geographic boundary (or even if there are not geographic boundaries) a demographic profile must be constructed and then subdivided.
    • Research should be done on age, income, assets, gender, occupation, marital status and a host of other available demographic data points.
    • This research should include existing clients and customers as well as prospective clients and customers via traditional market research techniques.
    • Once you have a demographic profile of your customers and prospects, you can segment them out into sub-types and by location.

As we’ve written about extensively, building personas is both an art and a science. It’s critical to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. In many cases, traditional approaches to demographic profiling yield more accurate qualitative data than what’s espoused in many persona circles; on the other hand, the Persona process is fertile ground for the art, or the narrative, psychographic component of segmentation.

The website SAILTHRU puts it best: “On the one hand, market segmentation identifies pieces of your audience based on broad commonalities like geography, profession, or marital status, while personas are highly specific representations of particular individuals within segments.”

  • More traditional target market development defines the parameters of the sandbox
  • Demographic or quantitative segmentation divides the sandbox
  • Personas (a mix of quantitative and qualitative data) frame how you attract individual groups within sections of the sandbox

There are many places where the boundary between segmentation and personas blurs. In many cases the blurring is a result of the size and financial strength of an organiziation. A larger company might be able to more clearly dilineate traditional market research from modern persona development whereas a smaller company might not have the capacity to pay for market research lists or focus groups-they gather what they can.

For smaller organzations with smaller budgets and fewer resources, limited primary source research yields to more anecdotal segmentation. For large enterprises that can afford more robust quantitative data collection, a hybrid and clearly separated traditional and modern Inbound approach can yield outstanding results. 

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It’s About Drilling Down

It’s is important to remember that target markets, market segmentation and personas are not mutually exclusive items, they’re part of the same whole, each with a role to play in attracting and converting customers.

persona development frederick maryland 

Think of it this way. Personas are the logical end point of a gradual focusing process. Think of Google Earth. You start with a view of the entire globe; you hit the zoom button, and the earth gets closer and more defined. The more you zoom the more details emerge, until you eventually find your own home shown in more detail than you’d probably like. The more detail you have, the more you learn and understand.

Geographic markets yield demographic strata and demographic segmentation provides the capacity to create accurate, actionable persona narratives and profiles. 

Yin and Yang

At Illumine8 Marketing & PR we firmly believe in deploying marketing approaches that make sense for our clients. In some cases, we might take an all digital, Inbound heavy approach; in others, we’ll create a hybrid traditional-Inbound program. The point is there is still value in traditional marketing tactics and in “old-school” market research. The key is smart implementation and execution and not blindly and unquestioningly following the crowd.

Inbound Marketing Frederick MD

“Traditional” market segmentation (market research) and “Modern” Inbound Persona development are like Yin and Yang, seemingly disparate things that are actually, when you drill down deep enough, complementary forces within a more complete whole.

Illumine8 Marketing & PR can help you blend the best of traditional market research with strong persona development to increase your lead generation and conversion rates. Reach out to us, we’d love to learn more about how your audience interacts with your business.

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