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Do You Have Too Many Personas?

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. —Abraham Lincoln

According to the internet, renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Whether she said it or not, it’s still a funny sentiment, mostly because it contradicts what all of us “precious snowflakes” have been taught since our first day of kindergarten. For marketing purposes, Mead’s concept is dead-on. You have to assume that people have so much in common that they can be grouped into segments—single-digit segments. If you’re looking at your marketing plan and see a dozen or more target personas, you probably have too many.

What’s the magic number of personas for my business?

Well, it depends on how much return you’re going to get on the investment. Can developing 15 personas result in increased leads and ultimately sales? Then maybe the expense is worth it. It also depends on what tools you have at your disposal—are you targeting customers via social media, print magazines, email blasts, or event production? Customizing the cover image of a print publication for each market segment will be more expensive than switching out images on a webpage.

Most industry experts will encourage you to divide your customer base into no more than six or eight workable personas; but it really depends on your approach. You can nest micro-segments under meta-segments, or create a way for customers to navigate themselves into a combined persona. Online clothing retailers, for example, are inherently segmented, with content based on gender and size classifications. For this lucky bunch, users will automatically navigate to their target segment based on what they’re shopping for.

Some B2B companies are able to easily divide their prospects into personas based on industry verticals, roles within the company, or the size of the company. If you’re able to customize the customer experience based on easily obtainable information, it might make sense to have more than eight personas. But if you’re targeting customers based on intangible psychographic details—people’s attitudes or beliefs, for example—it becomes dramatically harder to decipher and address.

In any case, you should be testing and tracking everything (which is another reason why more personas create exponentially more work). You’ll know you have too many when you see customers disengage from the process—no matter how much personalization you’ve created, they’re still wandering off mid-sale. Use your valuable resources to attract and retain the best customers. If you do it right, you’ll make them feel like the “absolutely unique” people they are, without breaking the bank.

Learn more about building and targeting your buyer personas on the blog.