Marketing Persona Lessons from a Simple Bag of Tea

Sometimes, the most important lessons you can learn about online marketing – and indeed, dealing with people – aren’t the ones you get from blogs, surveys, or brainstorming sessions. In fact, I was recently reminded how important things like perspective and insight are from a simple cup of tea.

It all started with a visit from my mother-in-law. Being Chinese-Vietnamese, her English is a bit broken (to be fair, though, it’s infinitely better than my Chinese or Vietnamese). That means two-way communication between us can get a little bit interesting at times.

I asked if I could get her a tea, to which she smiled and nodded her head affirmatively. So I scurried off to grab my collection of premium flavoured teas. It contained all the classics, as well as my own favourites (chocolate mint, and blueberry). Whatever she might want, I would be ready to provide. Or so I thought.

She glanced over and froze for the slightest moment before smiling politely and waving my selection away. After a rather awkward moment of silence, she looked up and asked, “loose?”

And it dawned on me that she was looking for her regular loose tea, not the bagged or flavoured variety. Fortunately, I did have some in the pantry, and quickly got her a cup of tea that she held onto with both hands and smiled widely as she drank.

Digging Deeper In Search of Persona Insights

It wasn’t until later that I realized the extent of my faux pas. In speaking with my sister-in-law about the experience – in between guffaws - she explained that teabags are made from the dusty leftovers that remain, quite literally, at the bottom of the barrel. My mother-in-law was raised on fresh, high quality tea and drank it all her life – she knew the real thing when she saw it, regardless of how expertly an inferior product might be packaged. By offering her bagged tea, I had actually insulted her.

You could laugh this off as a story about cultural differences, some insensitivity on my part, or even the vagaries of the tea production industry. On a deeper level, though, it’s a good analogy for the way a lot of us think about the buyers we claim to serve. Because we often think of ourselves as the “experts” in our fields, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of being sure we just know what other people mean, need, or want. 

Sure, sometimes we do, but we also need to listen, pay attention to the subtleties of client requests, and be aware of our own blind spots if we’re actually going to give customers the deliverables that really matter to them, and not just deliver what we think they need.

With that in mind, I’ll end the story by challenging you to think about your own buyer personas, and specifically, what kinds of assumptions you might be holding onto that maybe aren’t as accurate as you think they may be. 

Let’s be honest… are you inadvertently forcing a well-packaged ‘solution’ on someone who’d be better suited to a more custom alternative? Now is a great time to figure that out and improve the situation before you accidentally insult or dismiss an opportunity or prospect.

Just how well do you know your marketing personas?

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