Irresponsible reporting and customer personas

Individual as we are, we're all influenced by the behaviour of our peers.

Giving people examples of others behaving badly is a really bad idea. Deadly, in fact.

It is also why is this Telegraph headline is so stupid and irresponsible:

“Why are so many middle-aged men committing suicide? New figures show that men in the forties and fifties are twice as likely to kill themselves as the rest of the population.”

Talk about telling middle aged men that “more people like you are committing suicide”.

You can reframe the same facts as:

“only 19 people in every 100,000 commit suicide, showing that this is a rare event. Most people would never contemplate such a thing, and so if you have ever had thoughts along these lines, you should seek help”.

I use this extreme example because using behavioural techniques, whether knowingly (or unknowingly) can have powerful effects. Even unintentionally. And you might be using them unintentionally. It's why we have press guidelines that caution on how suicide is reported, because research shows that inappropriate reporting of suicide may lead to imitative or ‘copycat’ behaviour.

Look at, for example, how case studies and customer personas are often touted as a way of “getting into the mind of the customer”.

NOPE. It's a bit more subtle than that.

Let’s say you run a Tennis club, and you’re chasing outstanding member subscriptions. The thing is, knowing that Colin is 45, likes cats, and drives a VW Golf isn’t going to help you.

What we should be doing is trying to work out how to talk to Colin about his place in the world. What he sees as his relative ranking.

Each of us vary on how we rank ourselves, compared to others, depending on context we’re in.

We use other's behaviour as a cue for what we should desire. For what’s acceptable. In behavioural geek-speak, it’s called a descriptive norm.

Here’s how to put these two social influences together – let’s say you want to Colin to pay his tennis club subscription on time.

This would be a descriptive norm:

“Dear Colin, your subscription is still outstanding. Most people in the Ealing club have now paid….”

And this would be a relative ranking:

 “Dear Colin, you’re in the last 10% of people who haven’t paid for their tennis subscription.

Put them together:

 “Dear Colin, We’re sure it’s just an oversight, but you’re in the last 10% of people not to have paid their subscription for the coming year. Most people in the club have now paid. Paying your subscription in time helps us to manage the services for everyone who uses the club, and so we would be incredibly grateful….”

Of course, it’s possible that Colin will now take comfort in having 10% of people to keep him company in being late. That’s why we always recommend testing behavioural interventions!

So, if you get asked about customer personas and case studies – just remember that:

  1. Customer personas work when we look at who the customer is influenced by. What they care about. How they are seen by their peers, for example.
  2. Case studies work when we show the customer how people who are similar to them have behaved.

Lastly, check look around your own workspace for examples. I worked for a huge company where every Friday we'd get an email from cleaning services, complaining how everyone always left out-of-date food in the fridges.  A great example of using a descriptive norm to tell everyone that leaving their sushi in the fridge for 8 days straight was what everyone else did too!

Any questions or queries – let me know, I'd love to hear them. Have you got an example to share?