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Crafting Personas & FABELs from Scratch

A reframing of how to segment and target

Have you ever struggled with creating a persona for your product, or service business?

If you have then you’re not alone. I’ve struggled with it, and it’s especially tough when you’re creating a brand new business and have no data to work from.

In this piece I want to explore the concept of crafting these fictional personas, audiences, Tribes or FABELs.

But first off, I‘d like to spend a little bit of time on the issue of labelling. When considering the creation of personas, we will inevitably hit the wall of stereotypes and labels. What we need to be mindful of is that when we stereotype we do it from the point of view of the individual we’re trying to identify with and not from a place of bias or prejudice.

Society nowadays has gotten to a point where we too quickly add labels to everything, positive and negative. As soon as something is new, different, or odd, we label it and that label becomes an emotionally laden target.

Which is one of the reasons why I’d like to move away from individual personas and more towards what audiences want, what a group wants. And yes anyone that has done marketing will instantly say that’s what persona’s are, an individual that represents a whole group. But I’d like to reframe it fully to a group. As Seth Godin calls it, a Tribe.

To do this, we need to start from the basis of what actions we want our audience to take. From there we define what behaviours are required to motivate those actions and then which emotions underpin those behaviours. And all of this is done from the lens of what your goals are as a business and what your audience’s goals are, what problems they are trying to solve.

An example to give a little bit of context, imagine you are a startup that has developed a medical adherence app. Your goal is to get people to download the app, for which you can make money. This however is not your audience’s goal. Your audience’s goal is to have a solution where they can be prompted to remember to take their medicine at the right times. In essence, you need to think about the possible person or group behind the action that you want them to take. Who is this group?

What is a FABEL

As I mentioned, persona creation was never easy for me. I could do it, but I struggled with the mindset of creating a single fictional individual that needed to represent a group’s motivations that were based on a variety of demographic elements.

The issue I had was that it felt like the process removed you from the group as a whole, and it very often meant that you needed a decent amount of data to have anything of value. Even doing a quick google search on segmentation and targeting leads you to any number of guides whose main point of recommendation is to either go out there and gather data from your customers to determine the personas that exist there or use the data you currently have. A bit difficult if you’re so new that you don’t have any customers, or your customer base is so small or broad it’s currently not feasible.

Back we come to this idea of Tribes from Seth Godin. You look at a group of people, an audience at large, and determine the behavioural needs, wants and desires of an entire group. These are far more simplified than those of individuals.

To use a somewhat crass and blunt example, let’s create a quick persona, we will name her Jill, she’s single, female, in her mid 30’s, has a job in a large organisation where she’s in an upper management position and her hobbies include kayaking, following that on Instagram, and she enjoys listening to heavy metal on a streaming platform. What we have here is a fairly complex individual who is supposed to represent a group of people. What I suggest is that we rather follow the Tribes idea and just go for the simplistic groups, moving towards the Kayak Holiday group that’s active on Instagram or the heavy metal group that just wants new tunes.

Nothing of this is groundbreaking or new, and if you’ve read anything of mine recently, then you know I’m more about reframing mindsets so that we can all understand things a little bit better. Afterall there’s more than one way to learn.

If you read my article on making your goals EPICQ, then you know I might have a thing for amusing acronyms. And thus for creating behavioural audiences I made the acronym FABEL. And as such, we can craft FABELs when determining how to segment and target our audiences.

FABEL stands for a Fictional Audience’s Behavioural & Emotional Layout. It’s just a fancy string of words that state how you can craft a rough framework of an audience group and what (or would) motivate them emotionally to adopt a behaviour that enacts a particular set of actions that gets them to achieve their and your goals. Phew…that’s a mouthful.

How to craft a FABEL

Crafting your own FABEL is done by following a certain process. I do this on projects with my clients who wish to improve the engagement of their audiences.

As a business, you will likely know who you would want to target with whatever it is you are offering. You have a rough idea of who your audience is or could be. To reuse the medical app example, your audience would be patients who need to take their medicine at regular intervals over a long-term period to stay healthy.

With that, we determine what the goals are and the goal alignment between the audience and the business. Your goal is to get downloads and users. Their goal is to get reminders to take their medication at the right times. The alignment is that you provide a service they need and their use of it keeps you afloat.

With that, we build or look at your organisation’s audience’s journey flow map, this is how they go through the experience, from A to B and C, similar to a customer journey map.

In my case then, this tends to be by looking at how we can improve engagement. The journey flow map shows the various steps and actions that the audience would take to get from A to B and so on. It looks at where the discovery, onboarding and drop-off points are, and where the points of interest and pain points are.

This is our basis because from here we start to craft our FABEL. The journey map gives us points where actions occur, positive and negative. We can then hypothesise the emotions that occur at these points and what behaviours they underpin that lead to those actions.

As we want to keep our FABELs as straightforward as possible, we want to have the emotions be as basic as possible, therefore I use something akin to the Wheel of Emotion from Robert Plutchik. This uses 8 basic emotions in pairs of opposites.

  • Joy-Sadness
  • Anger-Fear
  • Trust-Distrust
  • Surprise-Anticipation

And just looking at these we assume what the likely emotion is that the audience would experience there and then build on that with behavioural motivations they might have. This then is how we craft a FABEL.

Naturally, this is all hypothetical, based on what we want the audience to do. It cannot take the place of good data. Once you are ‘live’, then continue to refine your FABELs to be ever more accurate with real world information.

Expanding upon the FABEL

The idea of crafting a FABEL is not meant as a replacement for good market research or data-supported segmentation and targeting but is meant more as an addition at the very start of the overall process.

The purpose of crafting a FABEL is to have a concept of something that can be targeted and that helps guide an initial push before data can be gotten, and the push is then refined and iterated upon.

Just as with other methods, FABELs should be refined with data gathered from analytics and metrics. And with data comes information on additional aspects and characteristics of your audience. Examples of what I tend to use and ask when expanding on my FABELs are answering questions that are based on the HEXACO and OCEAN personality traits framework.

The questions I try to answer with the data are:

  • How open to the experience is the audience? Curious or Cautious?
  • Does the experience agree with them? Do they enjoy it or are they critical of it?
  • How sensitive are they to the experience? What emotion(s) was elicited? Does it make them nervous or are they confident in it?
  • Are they going through it with efficiency and understanding or are they lost or careless in taking the actions required?
  • And so on…

Further additions to refining my FABEL are determining how much guidance the audience may need, how easily influenced they are, their attention to detail, level of focus, attitudes towards complexity and decision making, and more.

A final step, in the case of my work, is gauging the audience’s engagement by getting first-hand feedback through an engagement questionnaire based on Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow theory.

All this comes together to create a more solid basis for segmentation and targeting the FABELs.

Final Thoughts

As with many of my articles, I aim to look at and reframe concepts and perspectives, so that others may better understand them or feel that they are more applicable to them.

And as I stated at the beginning, creating and labelling fictional individuals as a starting point can lead to several issues, creating prejudices or promoting locked perspectives. Rather I’d want us to craft audience groups and tribes. This offers us a level of flexibility as we’re looking at group behaviours rather than individual behaviours then.

Group behaviours, at least initially can be kept simple and broad and allow for more refined versions later one. I would say that this is better than what many persona building guides offer. Which is very often a full deep dive into building a specific individual that relates to a group, and which is inherently based on sufficient data gathered by a well-established business. Not what every new business might be able to do.

As a final note to always keep in mind, obviously crafting and building upon data is always recommended. As soon as you have something, start measuring it and then go back and refine it, change it or craft anew to incorporate the real-world data that you have acquired.

That way your FABELs won’t just be imagined, but real-life stories worth hearing and learning about.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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