• How to brands take persona building from tick-box discovery to a process that actually fuels creativity?

The Psychology of Personas and Why the Model Needs to Change

30 May 2016
Thought Leadership
2 mins


It is true that from a behavioral economics perspective we are fallible, easily confused, not that smart, and often irrational. We are more like Homer Simpson than Superman. So from this perspective it is rather depressing. But at the same time there is also a silver lining. There are free lunches! - Dan Ariely

Pre-digital, when all creative had to be a one-size-fits-all message, we knew that we were generalizing.

These days, where digital infiltrates every facet of our daily lives, we can offer more personalised experiences - but we are still hanging onto old ways of thinking and simply making a few more generalizations instead of just one big one.


Why Do We Create Personas?


The reason for creating a persona is to be able to imagine the person that your brand is speaking to.

It is a snapshot of your target customer and the foundation for all of your marketing efforts, which is why it is pretty important to get it right.

Brands put thousands, even millions of pounds into researching current and potential customers in order to create a segment of the consumer population that best fits their ‘target persona’. However, if you stop at segmenting your target customer based on the socio-economic demographic of your sales history, you begin to lose sight of the fact that similar people buy the same thing - but for completely different reasons.

Take this for example. We recently found an example of two men, both aged 67, both married, both are from the United Kingdom, both are avid dog lovers, and both with considerable disposable income.

The catch? One is Prince Charles and the other is Ozzy Osbourne. You wouldn’t speak to them the same way...would you?

So, the question becomes: How do we take segmentation from tick-box discovery to a process that actually fuels creativity? And more importantly, a process that actually captures the motivations that drive consumers to purchase your product.


The Psychology of Building Personas


Consumers are emotional and irrational, so marketers need to start looking through a lens that begins to highlight the emotional drivers at play. Start thinking of your consumers as actual human beings and not the results of market research. They have feelings, emotions, and believe it or not – they are independent thinkers.

All marketers know how to do research to create a basic persona, but the best marketers are now starting to figuring out exactly what makes them tick.

At Lab, we have a unique model based on five popular theories from neuroscience and psychology:

  1. Triune Brain Theory - Paul MacLean PhD
  2. FIRO Theory - Will Schutz PhD
  3. Self-Relations Theory - Stephen Gilligan PhD
  4. 3 Needs Theory - David McCelland PhD
  5. Neuro-Linguistic Programming – Richard Bandler PhD & John Grinder PhD

We’ve synthesized these into a metaphoric model that we call: Monkey – Lion – Dog.  


Monkey – Lion – Dog


Essentially, we look at values, motives, and behaviours in terms of our contextual processes, our emotional processes and our rational processes. MLD exposes the fundamentally different motives within one segment of your audience – and they can be wildly different.

We recently worked with a property company who had segmented first time home buyers and first time renters into the same persona category because they have the same demographics. After employing MLD, the same property company saw that the intrinsic motivations of first time home buyers were entirely different than first time renters – and therefore the categorisation needed to change and the messaging needed to follow suit.

Some of our clients have enjoyed participating in this process so much, that they have immediately employed the new messaging in their everyday business.

So what’s the point? Why change a model that brands have been adopting for decades?

The answer is simple. The digital landscape is getting nosier every day and for brands to succeed, they need to figure how to cut through that noise and capture their consumer’s attention – and the only way to do that in today’s market is to appeal to their emotions.


Embracing Emotion in the Digital Age


Ironically, it’s the brands who embrace human emotion that are going to succeed in the digital age. 

Look no further than the highly emotional and personalised marketing strategy of Coca Cola or the neuro-led campaigns by Marks & Spencer.

Consumers don’t behave like economists used to think; driven by price, availability and perceived value. Consumers in fact, aren’t predictable at all. There are a range of emotional drivers that trump the logical thought processes every time. This can either be inconvenient or an incredible opportunity, depending on whether you are adding psychological insight to your strategic and creative processes – starting with creating your personas.


  • How to brands take persona building from tick-box discovery to a process that actually fuels creativity?

Meet the Author

  • Paige Guyan
  • Marketing Manager

Paige brings a decade of marketing experience to Lab. Paige has been a published journalist in the American music and fashion industries, and is now an Inbound Certified marketing professional within the UK digital community.

Keep up with Paige on Twitter @paigeguyan.