Researcher Engagement

How Societies and Publishers Can Create and Use Personas

A brand persona can be defined as a “composite sketch of a key segment of your audience.” Personas are generalized representations of typical users or customers of a product, service, or organization. They can help an organization to understand the needs, behaviors, and preferences of the target audience in order to develop effective marketing strategies. Personas are important for customer engagement because they help organizations provide a human-centered perspective. When you’re running a marketing or brand building campaign, it’s crucial to understand your target audience deeply. In the context of scholarly societies and publishers, personas can offer the following advantages:

1. Understanding the target researcher base

A truly representative brand persona will help the organization get insights into the needs and expectations of the target audience, leading to the development of useful products and services. For instance, a publisher might find that a large number of target authors need language support services or help with disseminating their work on multiple platforms. Accordingly,the publisher can develop and market relevant solutions and offerings that meet these specific needs.

2. Improving author support and experience

Personas can help organizations to anticipate and address the common issues, questions, and preferences of their target audience, which can improve the quality and efficiency of author service and support. Personas can also guide the design and development of user interfaces, content, and features that are intuitive, appealing, and useful. For instance, understanding that the color red has connotations of prosperity and celebration in China, versus love/passion and danger to a Western audience can influence how you design your website, brochures, etc.

3. Creating an emotional connection and building brand loyalty

Every publisher wants to spread awareness of their brand and differentiate themselves from competitors to gain more submissions, readership, and revenue. A scholarly society also seeks to increase their member base and maintain member loyalty. A persona that resonates with relevant researchers (authors and readers) can help achieve these targets.

A guide for creating a persona for an academic society or publisher

Creating a comprehensive persona can seem overwhelming at first, but it’s actually a straightforward process that involves gathering and analyzing data and synthesizing your findings into a complete picture of your ideal customer. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Conduct user research

The first step is to gather insights into the needs, behaviors, and preferences of your target audience. You can use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and analytics.

2. Define the demographic profile

Based on the user research data, identify the key demographic characteristics of your target audience, such as region, career stage or age, discipline, and gender. This information will help you to create a persona that accurately represents your target customer archetype. Identify and understand the patterns that you find. In a scholarly publishing setting, the following points are key in defining an appropriate persona:

2.1. Mind the (generation) gap!

It may be argued that publishers’ websites have been designed for Gen X. However, Millennials (currently aged 27–42 years) are at their peak publishing streak, driving home the need to build websites and author experiences that appeal to this cohort of researchers. And why stop there—publishers must keep up and stay relevant to the emerging crop of “Gen Zs,” (born 1997–2012), the oldest of whom are just about embarking on their postgraduation. Gen Zs are more inclined toward organizations that are socially responsible. Millennials and Gen Zs value technology and innovation, prefer experiences over things, are progressive, and recognize the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Publishers and societies whose personas reflect these values are sure to stand out and be valued by early-career researchers, a key target demographic.

2.2 Determine the audience’s professional roles

Identify the professional roles or job titles of your target audience, such as researchers, professors, librarians, or editors. This information will help you to understand their activities and professional priorities related to their work.

2.3 Understand the audience’s goals, motivations, and challenges

Identify the goals and motivations of your target audience, such as advancing their research and career or discovering new knowledge. This information will help you to create content and services accordingly.

Explore the pain points and obstacles that your target audience faces, such as funding constraints, access to resources, or time management. This information will help you to develop solutions and services that address their needs and help them overcome their challenges. Let your brand story present and solve a unique problem.

Author experience” (AX) has started being discussed in academic publishing circles, given the striking shift in marketing focus from libraries or institutions to individuals (authors, reviewers, and readers). Therefore, AX is a trendy and pivotal aspect to consider when creating a brand persona.

3. Build a persona narrative

Use the information you have gathered to create a narrative that describes your target audience in a realistic and relatable way. It is easy for one to identify with an authentic, personal story. Publishers and societies can create compelling ‘About Us’ write-ups to humanize the brand, be proactive on social media, and put out content pieces that “speak to” the target demographics organically.

4. Test and refine the persona(s)

The persona should be regularly updated based on new user research and feedback. Continuously refine your personas as you learn more about your target audience, using them to guide your decision-making and communication strategies.

Once all this is done, you are ready to feature the persona in marketing materials and social media to help connect with your target audience and inspire them to engage with your resources and community!

 Potential brand personas for a research society

Let’s take a look at potential brand personas that may fit different member segments of your society.

  1. Jessica

Jessica is a 40-year-old biomedical professional working in a clinical setting. She is focused on improving patient outcomes and seeks research that directly impacts clinical practice. She prefers concise and easily accessible content that can be consumed within her busy schedule. She prefers accessing content through a members-only section on the research society’s website, allowing her to conveniently find and reference materials when needed. She finds on-demand educational videos that provide practical demonstrations and step-by-step procedures particularly useful.

  • Dan

Dan is a 28-year-old biomedical scientist who recently completed his Ph.D. He joined the research society to connect with mentors, access resources, and stay informed about the latest breakthroughs in his field. He is focused on building his expertise, establishing himself as a credible researcher, and advancing his career. He is interested in resources that offer guidance on grant writing, publishing, and navigating the early stages of a research career. He also enjoys participating in online communities and attending virtual conferences where he can network with established researchers and gain exposure to diverse perspectives.

Note: These brand personas are fictional representations created to help you understand the different archetypes that might exist within your target audience. Actual member characteristics and preferences should be based on real data and research.

Wrapping it up

A persona humanizes a brand, making it stand out in a crowd and yet be relatable to the end users. Brand personas are created by drawing on user research, and scholarly publishers and societies can harness personas as a powerful tool for understanding their target audience. They can align their strategies and resources with the needs and goals of their members or customers, which can lead to successful outcomes and higher revenue.

Are you ready to build stronger relationships with your members or customers? Use the guide provided in this article to build a relatable persona and adopt a compelling way to share it with your customers!

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