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Personas and Creative Versioning in the Age of Big Data

When I travel across the country and speak to companies in all different industries, one of the key questions I always end up asking is, “What is your current customer/prospect segmentation strategy?” In the age of big data, you would assume everyone has a complex answer about the way they integrate first-party online and offline behavior with second- and third-party data to drive differentiated user experiences. When it comes to product personalization, most companies are doing that but when asked about creative and design, the most common answer I get is, “We version by gender,” or “We version by product category.”

It’s estimated that the US alone spits out 2,657,700 gigabytes of internet data every minute*. Despite all that data, that’s usually it: male and female creative versions. Sure, most companies leverage some sort of personas, but those are usually developed through a creative process that has very little founding in data and is often a detriment. As soon as I see “Jennifer is a fashion-loving mom on the go who likes yoga and reads blogs,” I immediately ask how the brand identified “Jennifers” in the data, how her behavior is different than “Non-Jennifers” and if she responds differently to different creative treatments. The answer, almost universally, isn’t ideal.

Most companies need significant improvements to their traditional persona-based approach, beginning with leveraging what matters in the digital world; measured behaviors, correlation and causation, and decision motivators. Traditionally, companies develop buckets of Jennifers, Janes, and Davids, then look to their data to fill those buckets. In reality, you should be looking at your data to uncover motivators that influence behavior. Creative alignment in the form of versioning allows you to address these behavioral motivators, eliminating emotional barriers and accelerating time to conversion.

Let’s look at some example data over six months:

Customer A

Channel Engagement

  • 18 direct visits
  • 8 email opens
  • 5 product launch email clicks
  • 3 searches containing keyword "best"
  • 2 social ad clicks
  • 1 display ad click

Onsite Activity

  • 29 total site visits
  • Visited 18 product pages
  • Read 14 reviews
  • Used product comparison tool 4 times to compare 16 products
  • Added 5 products to wish list


  • 2 premium products
  • Average order over $500

What the data tells us: Customer A researches and compares products extensively and has a propensity for early adoption. They are likely to buy premium products and require a longer lead time to conversion.

Suggested segmentation strategy: The creative version should focus on quality. It should clearly convey personal benefits, illustrating how the product and its features will enhance their lives. Creative should include reviews, testimonials and third-party endorsements whenever possible.

Customer B

Channel Engagement

  • 4 promotional email opens
  • 3 promotional display ad clicks
  • 3 promotional email clicks
  • 2 social ad clicks
  • 2 social ad clicks
  • 1 abandon cart email click

Onsite Activity

  • 9 total site visits
  • Viewed 4 product pages
  • Viewed "See Deals" page 8 times
  • Abandoned cart 2 times


  • 3 sale products
  • 1 full price product
  • Average order $0-$250

What the data tells us: Customer B is likely to engage when there is a sale or deep discount. He or she is opportunistic and likely to purchase lower price items with little research.

Suggested segmentation strategy: The creative version for Customer B should be all about price and clearly convey the overall value.

Since differing behaviors and motivators can be identified within the audience, it’s likely creative versioning will be successful. There is increased potential to control cause and effect and influence different user behaviors based on unique creative treatments. Creative versions leveraging behavioral motivators and identified through actionable data, are more likely to have increased engagement and improve ROI.

And after all, at the end of the day, getting better ROI out of your audience and marketing campaigns is the sign of a job well done.