I'm just going to come right out and say it: I have an issue with customer personas as they are typically used.
I find that too often, the characterizations are just too broad: age 35-49, mom with 2 kids, shops online, moderate spending power. They describe everybody and nobody at the same time. Who is this universal mom, and what does she care about? Usually, I think, she must be exhausted because practically every consumer brand is trying to reach her, on every channel.
I find it far more helpful to focus on actual customers, and to hear their voices as authentically as possible. I like to hear the nuance, the texture, the things they love and feel frustrated by. I especially like to hear how they say things. I find that often they express the core ideas better than anyone else can.
When I was at Cranium, before people aired their rants and raves online, we kept a Shine Book. It was this incredible book of letters and photos we had received from our fans. It was so powerful to hear their stories, in their words. We consulted this treasured relic frequently. We read new letters aloud at team meetings and added them to the book.
Our brand essence was "play with your brain," and this was played right back to us in the notes we received, like these:
"Keeps you laughing, but also makes you think!" Diane M.
"[Cranium makes] great family games that stimulate parts of the brain often neglected by board games, yet keep it so fun that kids won't even realize that they are educational." David M.
It was so powerful to hear the things we cared so much about--bringing people together and getting them out of their comfort zones (usually through laughter), making sure everybody had a chance to shine, creating localized versions that truly captured the humor and the touchstones of different cultures--reflected back to us in our fans' own words.
"On Christmas day my whole family played it and we had a ball! I cannot begin to tell you how much we laughed. It was the most fun we have had in a long time." Jenny E.
"We all LOVE Cranium. (and especially love that it is truly a Canadian version--not just an attempt at pretending to be Canadian, like so many other games). I just cannot articulate how much we love Cranium!" Katherine, Canada
"Ich habe so viel Spaß mit allen spielen von cranium gehabt. es ist einfach SUPER!!!!!!!!!!!"
(You don't even have to read German to get the gist of that one.)
As we expanded to games, toys, and books for kids and preschoolers, we talked a lot about helping kids discover talents they didn't know they had, favoring cooperation over fierce competition, and creating experiences that parents would truly enjoy along with their kids. Our Shine Book captured exactly what that looked like.
"I haven't laughed so hard with the kids all year! I love that during the game each of my kids got their opportunity to contribute through an activity that they were particularly good at. I can't think of a time when $20 has brought more fun and entertainment to my family." Barbara B.
"[Cadoo] has made me realize how smart my kids are. And what a great sense of humor they have! They'll clean their rooms to get to play!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Rebecca N.
"We all play [Hullabaloo] together! I'm still surprised by new things that it asks us to do each time we play (today we were to grab our toes and walk--we were all giggling!) Thanks for creating such unique games." Becky M.
"A must-have for any family looking for ways to pull the gang out of the TV for some real human interaction." J. Lamar
"Your games are tops in our home! My 4-year-old never tires of them and I enjoy them, too! I recommend them frequently, not only because they're fun, but also because the instructions are simple, there's educational value, and they encourage positive play rather than fierce competition." Binnie S.
"I can't believe what a GREAT game Cariboo is!!! When my son got it for his birthday I wanted to groan because we have so many "board games" that the kids spread all over but don't actually PLAY! Not only does he play the game again and again, but he SHARES it with his sister (4 years old) and friends ... Get this ... without FIGHTING!!!"
"No grownups required, but we couldn't help ourselves. The kids were having so much fun [playing Hullabaloo], we occasionally joined in also. Everyone has equal chance to win each round, and I found that the kids were rooting for each other to win rather than trying to win every time themselves." Amy R.
We even heard from kids!
"Now that we have [Cadoo] we play it every day. When I shout who wants to play CADOO!? And everybody comes and plays including my parents! We go on playing for hours!" Chelsea M.
If you do a close read of these kinds of quotes, you can pull out some really interesting textural details that give evidence about what mattered to our fans: Quality time instead of TV time, simple instructions, the right mix of fun and educational value. And also what bothers them: games that get spread out everywhere but not played, that are too competitive or lead to fights, that require parents to let their kids win.
When Cranium was acquired by Hasbro, I inquired about receiving our fan mail. It turned out there was no mechanism for that. Customers could report problems and request missing pieces, but there was no channel for praise.
Let that sink in for a minute. No channel for praise.
So we had to get creative. This was in the early days of Twitter, and I found with some creative keyword searching I could tune back in to our fans. At the time, some brands were exploring how to tweet to their fans, but I found it even more valuable to listen. I started pulling quotes weekly and circulating them to our team so we could stay connected to our Craniacs during the transition.
@snash12: Any game that requires you to act out Jacques Cousteau is genius! I love Cranium.
@rachel32: My friends and I skipped the second half of the Super Bowl for Cranium. And it was worth it.
@brianbarone: Just sharpened a pencil with an apple peeler. Cranium and college sometimes lead to desperate circumstances.
Soon after, my colleague Jill and I had the opportunity to guide a refresh of one of Hasbro's signature brands, Trivial Pursuit. This exquisite brand had suffered from many years of trying to make it more inclusive through pop culture references and a general dumbing down of the questions. There was nothing like a Shine Book for Trivial Pursuit, so we used Twitter listening to get tuned in to our customer voice.
We kicked off an early team exercise by covering the walls of our off-site conference room with hundreds of quotes like these:
@murderpie: I didn't have time to glaze my cupcakes tonight because I was too busy claiming victory at Trivial Pursuit. And then dancing around in joy
@TheSenator: The trivial pursuit game with easy questions is for wimps.
@Corine_TWD: Having a perfect Sunday afternoon: pub lunch, open fire and Trivial Pursuit with friends.
@amorremanet: Today's moral: I may not have a lot of practical or useful skills, but you want me on your side for Trivial Pursuit.
@oOS3R4PHOo: Defeated the parents in trivial pursuit. They are awed by my superior intellect.
@Dyxie: “It's game night tonight at my friend Steve's house. I am bringing my Totally 80's version of Trivial Pursuit. I will be kicking ass.
As a team, we walked around and put stickies on the quotes that spoke to us. We rearranged them into groups and listed out the themes that emerged over and over. The general consensus had been that Trivial Pursuit needed to become more accessible, but what we heard pretty consistently was that its most loyal fans relished, well, kicking ass, just as @Dyxie put it.
These qualitative listening insights shaped a comprehensive quantitative study, and influenced both the kinds of questions we asked and how we asked them. And the quantitative results demonstrated that we were on to something. In fact, three distinct segments--with enough specificity to be helpfu--emerged:
Contenders, who play to win:
@joshuagates is exhausted (and victorious) after a brutal Trivial Pursuit match. Suck it losers.
Entertainers, who play to socialize:
@stephaniegrace: Drunken 90s Trivial Pursuit, 90 min imperial and best friends = best NYE ever
Ambassadors, loyal fans who play to learn:
@Becki345: @RozD Love Trivial Pursuit I have 7 versions of the game. Yes I like it that much
We addressed each segment with tailored products and more focused messaging. But if we hadn't been listening, or if we had rushed ahead with only quantitative research, we would have completely missed the opportunity and continued to alienate our contenders, the largest and most loyal group of Trivial Pursuit fans.