But why not just use traditional sociodemographic methods of analyzing target audiences to shape your approach—applying the characteristics of a particular population, such as age, gender, ethnicity, education level, or income, to get the same results? Increasingly, these methods aren’t always effective as a tool to develop your messaging. The Gen Z audience is just one example of this: Often, we see communications that are being developed for “young people,” but instead it is older people who engage with them. This mismatching of sociodemographic targets and communications is all too common.
“Often, we see communications that are being developed for ‘young people,’ but instead it is older people who engage with them.”
In contrast, personas can help everyone from copywriters and designers to marketers and even government policymakers communicate more effectively through their direct insight. Personas are based more on the profound motivations of people, and so can be far more useful than sociodemographics for communicators.
How personas can influence behavioral change
Personas offer a powerful way to quantify complex societal movements and trends, and to even predict them in a way that remains valid and useful for years to come. In this sense, they can be a powerful tool for shaping messages that rally people together around a particular cause. As just one example, take the four personas created by Wide. Each represents a different segment of Gen Z, a key audience for many climate communicators trying to encourage positive climate action.
“Personas offer a powerful way to quantify complex societal movements and trends, and to even predict them in a way that remains valid and useful for years to come.”
These personas can be used to drive positive behaviors and to find new ways to communicate with people about the climate, through messaging based on a solid understanding of how the target audience already thinks and behaves. Often, messaging around climate change attempts to address the same people—those who are well-connected with these issues already. The purpose behind creating the four personas is to find ways to also raise awareness among those who are disconnected from positive, constructive, science-based messaging around climate change.
Bridging these kinds of gaps is crucial. When we don't directly address those who feel disconnected from an issue such as climate change, they will seek out more extreme ideas such as conspiracy theories, and we lose them completely. Of Wide’s four personas, these people (“The Abandoned”) are the largest group. Their numbers are growing but they can be brought back by communication that speaks effectively to them.
Here are some quick tips for engaging those who are hardest to reach, which came out of recent research and Climate Connect workshop conducted by Wide and ICF, on how to engage “The Abandoned” on climate issues.
- Don't just focus on climate issues. Talk about what matters in their lives and listen to them instead of trying to convince them on climate first.
- Involve youth in decision-making in a meaningful way, through schools and NGOs. Take a local approach and focus on impact.
- Don't use 'top down' communication. Avoid jargon, make them feel part of a community, and use language that focuses on benefits.
- Choose a trustworthy messenger to communicate and own the message. Research micro-influencers and use them to build momentum behind your message.
Read more about climate personas in our helpful guide.
Using personas to reach new audiences
As communicators, we want to change minds and inspire action. To do this effectively, we also need to target new audiences who are often harder to reach. We can convince them to take positive action and to change their behaviors by using the specific language and the ideas that matter to them.
Personas are the perfect tool for doing this; people engage when they see themselves or a friend who matches one of the personas. In this way, personas put a human face to issues and ideas that can often seem remote and irrelevant to our own lives—and can be used to create powerful and compelling communication that encourages us to act.