How Thoughtful Audience Personas Can Result in a Communication Bullseye (or Better)

Carnegie Higher Ed Aug 26, 2020 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Although it seems incredibly archaic in the on-demand content paradigm of today, not long ago, I found myself channel surfing through about two dozen sports channels on a hotel cable package. I landed on a competitive darts broadcast. While I can’t say I have any expertise in the game, what I did notice quite quickly was that a bullseye, the direct center of the dartboard, was not often the target of these bar-game-turned-sport professionals. Depending on the variant played (yes, there’s more than one way to play darts, apparently), it’s more strategic to aim for a triple 20 or a variety of different spots to reach a desired score.

In communicating with students, it’s true that what we think is a bullseye may not work for everyone. And in many cases, we don’t even know where the dartboard is or which score we need to land the coveted application or deposit. Audiences for higher education are shifting, and their attention through a mountain of information requires the most accurate and authentic human connections. Carnegie Dartlet approaches audience segments through research we call “Darts.” I like to let our clients decide whether the moniker is an homage to the game or simply a play on our company’s last name, but the core of Darts is the idea that we bring together audience demographics and psychographics in a unique, powerful, and innovative way.

Demographics and similar lifestyle variables are wonderful in the sense of availability. In a data-driven world, knowing the cars people drive, the magazines they read, and when they overindulge on their birthday cake is readily, perhaps eerily, available. The problem is that these facts, while great for message targeting, rarely tell us what to say or how to say it. 

Personalized messaging is a winning strategy

Through a nationwide survey, Carnegie Dartlet found definitive evidence that people prefer messages and stories that reflect their individual personality. While this is not a surprising result, it’s one that arms communicators with the other side of the demographics dilemma: by knowing peoples’ personalities, we know how to speak to them. Of course, there’s a catch. Personality information is not as easily obtainable as a birth date or subscription to Bulls Eye News (this is a real magazine, and I urge you to look it up if you don’t believe me).

Luckily, there is strong evidence that points to personality propensities based on demographic clustering. In other words, when considering groups of people with similar demographics, patterns in personality begin to appear. If your current students (or any other audience) are clustered by demographics, and people in those demographic clusters can fill out a strong personality survey, those consistent trends can be applied later so any prospective audience with a certain demographic makeup can be given a best-guess personality. It won’t result in a bullseye every time, but at least we know where the dart board is.

Connecting the demographic to the psychographic

The Darts process begins with demographic clustering of your institution’s current audience. These clusters are unique to every school, reflecting your enrollment funnel and offering areas of both high success and future potential. Then our team meets your students. In highly interactive sessions, our strategists and research analysts learn in-depth personality information directly from students. Talking about various student groups on campus, our workshop participants give us key insights about where your students hang out, what motivates them, how they communicate, and most importantly, the core archetypes of their personalities. This is followed by an online survey of as much of the student body as possible, connecting known demographic clusters to personality profiles. If your audience doesn’t cohabitate (like an online student body or alumni base), then the Carnegie Dartlet team has a separate process that takes place entirely online.

Using this wealth of qualitative and quantitative data, Carnegie Dartlet creates student persona profiles, which we call Darts. Beyond typical persona descriptions that only offer lifestyle and demographics insights, our profiles include motivators, archetypal personality depth, and a core messaging attractant, which acts as a key to unlocking storytelling for each Dart. If returning to the dart metaphor, this is training your arm to hit the right spot in the right situation.

Darts can then be identified as a propensity through demographic clusters, and our clients can receive regular data tagging of their enrollment pipeline to show who to message with each attractant. Further along in the process, schools can also include quick and strategic questions on inquiry forms and applications to further customize the messaging experience for students. Some even go as far as creating different landing pages on their websites for students from different Dart segments.

Playing smarter

Ultimately, knowing your audience and how to connect with them is at the heart of the Darts research. Regardless of your level of fandom for bar games involving sharp objects, it’s undeniable that knowing the location of the dart board is the first step to appearing on a late-night sports broadcast that curious researchers end up binging when channel surfing. And be it for obscure sports fame or enrollment and communications success, always trust that knowledge will help you lead the pack.

Questions? Reach out to Carnegie Dartlet today to learn more about the efficacy of thoughtful audience personas.

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