In nearly every walk of life, goals are a major influence on what we do, think, feel, and the actions we take on a daily basis. For example, we may decide to skip the fudge brownie desert in light of health goals we are pursuing. On a much larger scale, goals are at work influencing choices and high stake decisions such as investments in new technology or services.
One of the largest influences on the conceptual development of personas has been the body of work and research on goals. More specifically, on what is referred to as goal-directed behaviors. A major theme in the social sciences, prior to and since the introduction of personas, is attempting to understand how individuals and groups make choices. It has been predominantly found and recognized that the pursuit of a choice or choices is largely goal-directed.
When Alan Cooper first introduced the concept of personas as an archetypal representation of users, it was in the context of goal-directed design. Whereby, the focus is on goal-directed behaviors within a usage context. Zeroing in on the premise that usage behaviors are driven by a variety of either single or multiple goals. This profound concept led to the development of a very precise goal-directed methodology for design. Whereby user personas represented an archetypal representation of users and their goal-directed behaviors and choices. Which, after being introduced nearly twenty years ago, has led to growth in the field of Interaction Design.
The Pursuit Of Choice
It is under this same premise that buyer personas were introduced. Primarily, focusing on the premise that choices and decisions are driven by a variety of underlying goals. In the pursuit of a choice or choices (decisions), buyers and customers are driven by as well as motivated by goals. These goals reside both on the conscious as well as the sub-conscious level.
This goal-based conceptual framework is the bedrock foundation of buyer personas. It has also led to a very precise and robust goal-directed methodology for buyer persona development. This methodology is designed to uncover goals and goal-directed buying behaviors customers and buyers exhibit in their pursuit of a choice or choices (decisions). Resulting in a modeled archetypal representation of buyers and their goal-directed behaviors leading to choices and decisions.
Goals Have Been Largely Ignored In Marketing And Sales
In the world of traditional marketing and sales, much of the focus has been on attempting to understand the “buying process”, or of late, the “buyer’s journey.” In the modern digital world, this continued focused on process leads to some very inherent problems. Which, accounts for many of the reasons why businesses continue to struggle in connecting with buyers.
We can break down these inherent problems into several areas:
- For much of the past few decades, with the focus on buying processes and journeys, the focus has been on trying to understand business decisions via comparable options. For instance, should we purchase software package A from Company A or software package B from Company B? This comparable options perspective spawned comparable competitive analysis on product criteria, buying criteria, SWOT analysis, Key Performance Indicators, Key Success Factors, Win/Loss analysis, Objections Handling, and more. The intent on isolating and influencing decisions based upon Company A or Company B being the better option. What has largely been ignored through this approach is the powerful influence of goals on decisions.
- The focus on buying process or buyer’s journey presumes the buying process is static and preferences remain the same. In the modern digital age, we are seeing multiple goals and choices emerge in multiple contextual situations. These multiple contextual situations result in multiple buying paths and decisions. Companies wishing to succeed today in a fast changing environment will need to attain deep understanding of the influence of multiple goals within multiple contextual situations pertaining to multiple decisions.
- We have seen a major shift in buying behaviors due to digital technologies. Whereby, an increasing degree of how people take actions and make choices is through self-directed behaviors. Businesses have largely attempted to understand this shift in buying behavior through the lens of “process.” With marketing, for instance, believing they now “take on” a higher percentage of the “process.” Ignoring the shifts in underlying goals and motivations reshaping why and how choices and decisions are being arrived at.
- There has been a growth of buyer profiling, miscasts and mislabeled as buyer personas, which are focused on process orientation as opposed to true understanding of specific goal-directed behaviors and choices. Most troubling to see are mislabeled buyer personas emphasizing a process-oriented focus on comparative options. For example, still focused on product and decision criteria from a comparative sense. Missing entirely the deep value obtained when you focus on goal-directed behaviors and the narrative of buyers attempting to fulfill their goals.
Goal-Directed Buying Behaviors Define Buyer Personas
Buyer personas and the development methodology can be very powerful in informing strategies on how to best connect and market to buyers. That is if they are truly developed within the intent and context of understanding the underlying goals driving people to make the choices and decisions, which are before them. It involves the use of a goal-directed methodology to understand buyers within this context.
A simple yet profound declaration can be made here. Which is, buyer personas are rooted and founded on the principle of understanding the influence of goal-directed buying behaviors. Within a larger context, buyer personas are an element of a human-centered approach to marketing focused on fulfilling goals. It involves using a goal-directed research and modeling methodology. If buyer personas are not developed within this context – then they truly are not buyer personas. Simply stated, what they represent is factors-based as well as process-based profiling of buyers.