Emilie Sheehan

Who is that man?

Who is that blue-eyed, chiseled, silver fox staring back at me?

He has travelled; he has seen the world. He has water-skied in New Zealand and travelled through Europe. He is fit, healthy and able-bodied. Always has been. He’s always up for a game, whether it’s squash, tennis or cricket. He’s pretty good at all of them, but he wouldn’t brag about it.

He has a family, nuclear – mind you. He and his wife have been together for 30 years. His kids are sporty, creative and academic. He worked hard his whole life, and moved steadily up the career ladder to the C-Suite. The stress hasn’t got to him though – he carries it well. The only lines you see on his face are those that tell a story of ups, let’s forget about any downs. He hasn’t had to fight any battles of discrimination or inequality. But he knows other people have to.

He’s an SMSF holder. He’s an adviser. He’s a digitally-engaged gen-Xer who loves to collaborate. He’s who every financial services organisation the world over turns to when they are looking for a responsible, professional, but ruggedly approachable, older man to represent who they want to think their audience is. He is fondly referred to by the team at Yell as ‘Persona man’.

He encompasses the ideal pre-retiree, for every business. Or does he?

Persona man has become a running joke in the office, as a team member discovers a new use of the same stock photo model. He’s appeared on social ads, collateral, and many, many websites. He’s everywhere, which is the problem. He represents two key issues in how marketers connect with their audiences, the generic way they perceive customers and their inability to truly differentiate their brands in a crowded market.

Who is your customer?

It can be tempting to take short-cuts and the safe option of using that good-looking, silver fox to aspirationally personify your male high-net worth customers (the customer that seemingly every financial firm is coveting). It’s easy and it’s comfortable.

But rather than doing so, we would encourage you to stop for a minute and consider whether he really represents your customers, and your brand.

We know that women invest, there’s marriage equality in Australia, and that there are many ethic groups under-represented in the media. No one fits a cookie cutter character, and relying on stereotypes means that significant portions of the population are left out.

Delving deeper and truly understanding your customers will provide you with creative solutions that deliver better results.

People don’t identify with perfection, they identify with personalisation and personality. Using real people, rather than airbrushed stock photos, will help you build a stronger, more real connection with your customers.

Of course, not everyone has the budget to conduct a photoshoot with real customers for every campaign. But if we are looking for authenticity and trust in our marketing (and we should be), then choosing the same white, mature, middle-class stock model that people have seen 100 times before (whether they recognise him or not) will disenfranchise and disengage your customers.

Your images are your brand

Imagery is the fastest way to build a connection with your customers and prospects. They should communicate your brand and be representative of your customers. They matter.

Customers are more discerning than sometimes we give them credit for, and can spot stock imagery from a mile off. Using generic imagery that’s been seen countless times before fundamentally devalues your brand, reducing differentiation, authenticity and ultimately credibility and trust.

There’s a massive opportunity to differentiate brand values by tapping into authentic imagery. See for yourself. We just spent 20 minutes trying to find a brand that used real people to illustrate its website and couldn’t find a single one that broke the mould of using generic stock imagery, or obvious models. If you can find a brand that’s using non-generic stock, or real customer images, then you’re doing well.

Get real, it’s easier than you think

Luckily times have changed and there is now a lot more on offer than clichéd shots of a man ‘doing business’ or twenty-something women smiling at the camera holding their mobiles. Believe it or not there are high-quality, natural and diverse images out there. Getty and other stock sites have made conscious effort to broaden their offering to embody the world we live in. It requires broader thinking, more rigorous searching and more demands on your agency – you can do it, there’s no excuse!

Give tired Persona Man a break (he’s exhausted!) and stop relying on the safe-haven of tried and tested. It’s time to dig deeper and first understand who you are truly representing how you can communicate your value to them. Create connections through imagery that talks to them, as they are, not what you aspire them to be.

Once you’ve done this it should be easy to avoid generic Persona man (even if he does have excellent hair).

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