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As our clients and blog readers will know, Kayak's team members are big proponents of applying buyer personas to marketing goals in order to understand the various audiences on the receiving end of lead generation efforts.

For us, it’s a matter of common sense: if you don’t know the individuals who will purchase your products or services – and the people in their lives who serve as influencers – how can you hope to create content and offers that motivate them to act?

It's not secret, however, that many people (and some experienced marketers) tend to confuse personas with demographics. That’s understandable because the two are related, but they certainly aren’t the same thing.

To understand why, and why the difference is critical to comprehend, let’s take a look at some of the details…


Demographics are Essentially Statistics

Demographics are useful in putting together marketing campaigns (online and off), but they should be used as a starting point rather than a guiding principle. The numbers help you draw an important picture, but they don’t fill in the details by themselves.

As an example, let’s take some hypothetical data that a client might give to us about their typical customer:

  • 43-year-old Male
  • Divorced
  • College Aged Children
  • Homeowner
  • $80k Annual Income

All of this is useful information. It might give us a sense of where this person lives, where they get their news, which establishments they are likely to frequent, and what sorts of solutions they can afford.

None of this data, however, tells us anything about background, motivation, or intent. And without those pieces of information, we either have to make assumptions or simply operate in the dark.

Neither of those is going to be a great choice when marketing budgets, careers, and the future of a business are on the line. That’s why personas become so important. They add depth and colour to the demographic outline, making things more real – and more actionable – at the same time.


Personas are About Detail

Let’s see what happens when we go beyond the demographics and turn our persona into an actual person. Let’s imagine for a moment that we have spoken to some of our customers, built in some of the details, and gone beyond the most basic facts.

What we might come up with is a persona I’m going to call “Joe.” Notice that we give our marketing personas names, because our content and offers have to appeal to people, not statistics. It’s easier to think about them as a fully-formed individuals when we give them lifelike monikers.

Back to Joe. A little bit of homework tells us that he is the 43-year-old divorced father of three girls that he absolutely adores. The first two enter college soon, and the third is only a few years away. Knowing that, what do you think will be the most pressing issues on Joe’s mind?

College expenses will be near the top of his list of concerns, of course, but the biggest influences on his decision-making aren’t going to be strictly financial. You can bet Joe is going to miss his daughters. As they go off to college, one-by-one, he’s going to worry for their safety and security.

And, he’ll probably be a little bit nervous thinking about how often he’s going to see them, given that the time he could spend with them will overlap with the time devoted to their mother, their friends, and even new boyfriends. There are only so many Thanksgivings, New Year’s holidays and Reading Weeks to go around.

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Deeper yet, Joe is going to wonder what kinds of friends his daughters will make as they settle into school. Will they spend their time focusing on their studies, or partying their education away? More importantly, what can he do to put them on a path toward success and happiness?

There's also Joe’s own happiness to consider. What will happen when he finds a new girlfriend? Where is his career headed? Now that retirement isn’t as far off as it once seemed, how can he balance planning for that with a desire to provide for his daughters?

Each of these factors is a big weight on Joe’s mind – even if it’s on a subconscious level – as he looks at your content and evaluates your offers. None of this is strictly evident from the demographics, but it’s all relevant when it comes to figuring out what Joe really wants and needs from the world.

If the statistics told you what he might be able to afford to buy, the persona shows you what he truly desires and the lengths he will or won’t go to in order to satisfy those psychological needs.


Ultimately, Buyers Make Emotional Decisions

It is well-known that human beings make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize them with facts. When you understand that, it’s easy to see why personas matter more than demographics, even if one is built upon the other.

Accurate statistics help you build detailed personas. Those, in turn, help you to understand the buyers and influencers you need to attract to your website. When you can “get in their heads” and really feel the struggles and challenges they are facing, you’re ready to start creating offers that get a response.

Don’t fall into the trap of confusing personas with demographics. You need them both, but without enough detail in your buyer profiles, your inbound marketing campaigns are always going to be hit-and-miss. To make sure you have enough detail when you start your next campaign, download our free checklist for aligning your campaign with your buyer’s persona.

get started with our persona-targeted campaign checklist