Here's the gist of an email I just received from Jennifer, a product marketing manager at one of the oldest, largest technology companies in the world.
"I had a call with our team this past week to get started on a user video for one of our products. Except for me, the rest of the team was very product/engineering focused. I was the champion of the non-technical end user."
Prior to the call what I did was flush out a persona profile for the user and send it around to the team for their agreement and/or input. Everyone agreed to the persona.
Because we had already decided on the elements of the persona, we were able to decide what not to include in the user video."
Kudos to Jennifer. With a minimal investment in an "ad hoc" persona, she solved some of the problems that confound every tech industry marketer, namely:
1. She avoided the time and friction that inevitably accompanies a project guided by a team whose only reference point is deep knowledge of the product.
2. Given the circumstances, she created content that has the best possible chance of being relevant to the company's target buyers.
Persona purists may be distressed that I'm recommending such a "research-free" approach to persona development. But think about the alternatives available to Jennifer. If she had tried to delay the project and justify a full-fledged research project, what would have happened? She would have been turned down and the video would have been made anyway.
Note that the key to Jennifer's success is that she asked the group to collaborate and agree on relevant details about the persona before they met to discuss the video. Once the committee members approved the persona, it was a natural outcome for them to rely upon its details for subsequent decisions.
You'll get no argument from me about the value of in-depth interviews to support buyer persona profiles. But in the absence of time, budget or other resources, isn't it a good idea to identify and align around whatever data exists about the buyer? Aren't ad hoc personas a perfectly reasonable approach when the risk of being wrong is small?
Over time and with a bit of commitment, the validity and details about an ad hoc persona can be continuously improved. Messaging, segmentation and program strategies derived from personas can be monitored for insights that feed back into the persona profile itself. We may not like it, but stealth mode is frequently the most pragmatic way to approach a strategically critical, non-urgent task.