Buyer Personas: how brands “get personal”

~hello again…this blog has moved over to the new HM-2 website…here. Stop by.~  

Buyer Personas are the foundation for effective marketing & they make everything so much easier. Consider…the other day a homebuilder friend mentioned how his weekly marketing meeting always included brainstorming ideas for upcoming blog or Facebook posts along with murmurs of  “what about Pinterest…”  

The Good:  they realize the need for content to participate in social media channels. The Slightly Disturbing:  the apparent lack of focus and plan to make content meaningful and effectively distributed for buyers. (sigh)   

KEY POINT: To create marketing strategy & content that works, you need to begin by returning to the center of what marketing and business is about –The Customer.

“who is our buyer?”

HM-2 Buyer Personas Compared

In the home building industry where I spend a lot of time, you hear a lot about the ‘young professional couple‘, ‘young family with kids‘,’ mature family‘ and the ‘empty-nesters‘.  Now we also hear about ‘multi-gen‘ where aging parents move-in or 20 to 30 somethings move-back (or never leave-yikes!).

But what do these few words really tell place designers, marketers  and other ‘meaning-makers’  in creating product and content that is really valued by customers?  These ‘customer descriptors’ are so generic that they are slipped into hundreds of marketing plans for communities across the country and few ever notice that the customer targets never change.

This stereotype approach to buyers is true of  too many companies across categories.

THE RESULT: Generic and shallow communications that are meaningful to no one.

what is a buyer persona?

“Buyer Persona: (n) a composite sketch of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you sell. It should go beyond traditional demographics and delve into behaviors, motivations, likes/dislikes, etc..”

A good buyer persona conveys enough information that designers and writers can create products and content with empathy for the intended buyer – not in terms of being a set of statistics, but as a real-life person.  It’s about his or her worldview, not you or your product.

why use buyer personas?

traditional marketingMarketing changed when social media channels (blogs, forums, review sites, Facebook, Twitter etc.) entered the picture and marketing moved to 2-way conversation, rather that broadcasting of messages (more on that here). Now brands are expected to talk with people and be human in what they say & how they say it.

Buyer personas help brands be more personal and authentically address specific needs of specific types of people. They shift marketing efforts away from broadcasting product and company-centric messages and towards providing useful, customer-centric content that a person would actually find valuable.

KEY POINTS:  1)  It’s not about the product, it’s about the customer and the relationship. THEN – it’s about the sale and/or the referral.  2) Buyer Personas help you create engagingly relevant content and to know where to promote it.

how to create a buyer persona

 STEP 1:  Identify Your Most Common Buyers and Potential Buyers

First,  take stock of what buyer insights you have and what you are missing. Begin by identifying your key customer segments. Review your current buyer, shopper and other market information.  Typically buyer trends in life stage, demographics, motivations and behavior will emerge.

Next, give a descriptive name to each group of key targeted buyers and briefly note life stage, demographics, geography, motivations and other behaviors observed  in online forums; through social media; anywhere. Include insights and feedback from sales and customer service in this initial exercise.  [NOTE: For real estate developers and homebuilders, geo-demographic reports such as Nielsen’s PRIZM or Experian’s Mosaic can be quite helpful here.]

HINT: Keep in mind that you will need to generate meaningful content and experiences for each buyer persona. Given your marketing capacity, try to realistically narrow your number of buyer personas as much as possible by focusing on the most important customer segments to your business.

STEP 2: Get Up-Close & Personal With Buyers

Now your research becomes more qualitative. Interview customers (preferably who bought within the last 30 to 60 days), prospective customers and if possible prospects that purchased from your competition.   The goal is to vet and refine the initial assumptions of Step One and bring greater dimension and insight to each profile.

Interviews. For each buyer persona conduct at least five 30-minutes interviews and more if you can as the larger your sample set, the more credence your data will have. At minimum ask to record the interview and if possible film it. The nuance and emotion of how people answer is very telling.


The Buyer’s World Beyond What Your Company Does.  Basically, the goal here is to discover what their life is about right now. Tell me about a day in your life. What is it like during the week? What about weekends? What is important to you?  What would you say are the main challenges you are dealing with at this point? What do find motivating?  What trends are influencing them?  What are your top 3 favorite things to do?

How The Buyers Life Relates to the Product You Provide. What does [home] mean to you? Here we want a couple of very open-ended questions about the category and/or product you provide. Let them take it wherever they want. THEN – you can add in other product questions if you like.

The Buying Process.  What happened on the day you decided to look for a [home or other product ] this?  What process did you go through to find potential homes?   How did you narrow the options down?   What criteria did you use to evaluate the options?  How did we fare against the competition by those criteria? What influenced you in purchasing? [NOTE: if you haven’t read “How people really shop”…you should.]

HINT: In this section, we are looking to understand how they shop and where they get their information as it directs where we promote. So, if needed be prepared to ask clarifying questions regarding media, including if they read blogs, forums or are active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social networks.

What haven’t I asked you that I should? Probably the best question of them all.

STEP 3:  Create Your Buyer Personas.

Analyze the information gathered and craft your buyer personas to be easy to understand and useful. In sharing the personas with designers and marketing teams, consider incorporating buyer video and/or audio from your interviews for greater insight.

FINAL THOUGHT: Everything about your marketing efforts should be tied to personas. They are foundational to brand communication and experience design. Marketing today is personal and about the customer. Brands need to be able to see the world through their buyers’ eyes to be effective and Buyer Personas are the first step.

Thanks for stopping by & to get greater insight into your buyers -Let’s talk. Also,  I’d love to hear your perspectives.  Weigh in below or catch me on Twitter at @HollyHM2 . Until next time – Cheers!


what creates brand perception | a study of lambert ranch

~hello…this blog has moved over to the new HM-2 website…here. Stop by.~

We’ve all had times where we go in with one understanding of a product and after experiencing it further – we completely change our minds. This recently happened to me and got me thinking more about what creates our perception of brands. Enjoy!

context is where brand perception starts

Consider a new residential community that recently opened in Orange County. It is called Lambert Ranch, located in Irvine and developed by The New Home Company.

In that sentence, the two established brands of Orange County and Irvine (if you are familiar with Southern California) are influencing what you think about Lambert Ranch. The New Home Company is a newer brand and unless you know the “who” behind the company, the first impression may be that they create generic and maybe even pre-fab houses. This may form the initial context of the Lambert Ranch brand for many people.

Now, let’s add in what people have been saying about Lambert Ranch.  A little time on Google and there is not that much there. A few press releases, a bit of bashing on some housing forums, social networks are rather quiet and the website a touch generic.  So that area of influence was rather un-influential.  

Lambert Ranch signThe Marketing. Most of the outreach effort for Lambert Ranch focused on public relations and email communication. Then there is the banner on the property…right next door to competitor Portola Springs.  The homebuilder wisely used tracking URLs in their efforts and I would bet this banner diverted more than a few would-be Portola buyers to wait for Lambert Ranch.

The number of homebuyers visiting Lambert Ranch that grand opening weekend was about 3,000. The New Home Company sold out of their first phases and the activity continues strongly as of the time of this post. So that worked.

experience clarifies perception

I had just left Lambert Ranch which had its official grand opening the weekend before and was absolutely “blown away” by my experience.

Why did I love that place so much?

Because you were expecting another Irvine subdivision replied a colleague.  She was right. From my online sleuthing, I just wasn’t excited to see this community. It felt like another Irvine new home neighborhood opening. Nice entry. Nice Parks. Nice Pool. Nice Homes and somewhat small yards…again.

It is hard to describe experiences as you feel them and they are personal.  So some pictures (with MORE on Pinterest)

Lambert Ranch entrywayDrove up…human sign people at each intersection (√ check). nice gate house (√ check). pavers up the entry road (√ check)…and then it changed.

Lambert Ranch feels like character – but not the type an architect, landscape architect or nature achieves alone. It’s the sum of the nuances that make the total.

Details like –

…the grasses waving in drifts under the mature pepper trees,

Lambert Ranch Trail…the quiet trail behind the Ranch House (swim & event center),

…the lemons on the trees in front of the Ranch House, when you know this place just opened and the activity everywhere (even the inventive driving felt positive)

Lambert Ranch architecture 2…the architecture that deftly conveys timeless authenticity in craft and blends indoor with outdoor life gorgeously.


...the quiet hum, excitement and freedom of people exploring as they felt they wanted to. Explorations of  backyards, balconies, side doors entries are all encouraged. Trap-fencing has been banished and replaced with encouraging hedges that let you escape as you like.

...the legacy trees that were preserved in place mandated using mature plant material in the new area to bring balance.  

The result makes the place feel like a neighborhood in an older city – but everything is new.

cosmopolitan irvine?

I’ve been hearing Irvine described as ‘cosmopolitan’ for awhile, but never felt it. Irvine has a very strong brand for me and ‘cosmopolitan’ wasn’t it.

At Lambert Ranch, to hear the different inflection in the voices wandering quietly through the homes and along the streets feels worldly. At one point a man paused unexpectantly in a doorway as his friend called out to him one last detail of an office in a language I couldn’t quite place.  When startled by the traffic jam he was causing, he quickly apologized in a local’s English. It was inspiring how he balanced two cultures so gracefully.   Cosmopolitan Irvine? Yes.

it is the delivery the builds brand perception & equity

Upon driving out of this place, the brand of  ‘Irvine’  and ‘The New Home Company‘ was changed for me. However, the brand of  ‘Lambert Ranch‘  had taken a dramatic 180° turn in my mind.

The developer had delivered a story that was much more than another subdivision in Irvine. The story of Lambert Ranch is a story of design. The passion and care to pursue it and the love so many people have for it. It’s similar to the brand of Target, but with homes beginning in the $900,000s – it is obviously not for everyone.

Key Point: What you tell people via advertising may set an initial brand expectation. However, ‘who you are & what you do’  creates sustainable brand perception. Faced with a budget constraint, invest in being great over ‘telling people how great you are’.

FINAL THOUGHT: With 21 homes reserved, the first two phases of Lambert Ranch are sold out. They will be releasing 15 more homes very soon. I asked the sales people, if they believe they have already met the people who will purchase this next release. The answer was the same for all -a quiet smile and polite “yes we have an interest list that’s rather long”.


Beyond Worth a  Visit:  Lambert Ranch 

More interior & exterior images (that are not as good as a real life visit) – are on Pinterest here. Your thoughts are always appreciated, or let’s connect over on Twitter at @HollyHM2.  Until next time…feel free to share and best wishes.

DISCLAIMER: I work in the building industry, but have never worked with The New Home Company or Lambert Ranch in any way. This post was not solicited and simply candid observations. 

NEXT TIME: Buyer Personas: how brands  ‘get personal” or  “where to start to create great content”. (promise)

brand strategy inspirations from a master – Coca-Cola

~hello…this blog has moved over to the new HM-2 website…here.

Sharing marketing best practices & insights with the recovering real estate industry and beyond. Below for your enjoyment and inspiration are two videos by the global leader in the beverage category. 

Here Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice-President, Global Advertising Strategy & Creative Excellence at The Coca-Cola Company explains how “Coke will leverage the opportunities in the new media landscape and transform one-way storytelling into dynamic storytelling hoping to add value and significance to people’s lives.” 

I believe the videos outline brilliantly how Coca-Cola will move from “Creative Excellence” to “Content Excellence.”

Also, the fact that Coke has lifted back the curtain on their long term brand strategy via YouTube shows that they mean it & their efforts are already underway.

coca-cola’s Content 2020 

why share this?

  • to say “marketing is now content-driven”. This 125 year old icon is dealing with it and so can you.
  • to show how ‘brand strategy’ starts with a greater meaning and embraces business objectives. These aren’t just buzz words – it is a valid business concept.
  • to inspire you in innovation that embraces market trends; moves beyond formulaic approaches; and makes your brand increasingly relevant and interesting.

Thanks so much for stopping by and I’d love to hear what you think. Comment here or give me a shout on Twitter at @HollyHM2.  

As always – if you enjoyed this post – please share! Until next time – Cheers ;)

Great Place | a sexy parking garage where design is the brand

Part of “a great place” – a series of engaging spaces for consideration…and perhaps inspiration for the people who build places everyday. 

How much design is too much design?” – the on-going challenge in building any product, including places. At the end of the day, development is a business and a major economic driver with employees, suppliers, contractors and yes – a profit requirement.

Bottom-line- New places need to “pencil” and the art is finding the balance of aesthetic design to financial feasibility. On one side- the “finance guys” don’t like risk & cheaper feels so-less-risky. On the other side- the “marketers” like to sell a product that people will actually find interesting & well…boring or ugly is so-less-sell-able.

That said, at times going beyond the known in design creates a powerful brand that people find engaging and value (think Apple)The Result: premium pricing, faster sales and lower promotion costs.

consider 1111 lincoln road

This much-lauded Miami project by Robert Wennett  brings together high-end architecture by Herzog & de Meuron with the lowly parking garage for a mere $65 million (NY times 1/11).

This complete re-imagining of a parking use responds brilliantly to the context of the property. Parking rates here are almost 400% the area average ($4 hour per car) and $12,000 -$15,000 (per event).(NY times 1/11).


First a brief recap of the land and the context when acquired in 2005. 

  • The developer’s property (59,889 S.F.) outlined in red 
  • Existing building with Brutalist architecture to remain.
  • South Beach climate is warm, tropical (with storms) and outdoor living oriented.
  • Famed pedestrian Lincoln Road outdoor mall almost adjacent to land.
  • “Quirky zoning regulations in the city made it profitable to build a large garage.” – (NY Times 1-23-11) 

The model to the right is of an initial possibility. This less costly – concept may have appeared a great, safe answer to a “finance guy” – which would have been a shame.

Enter Herzog & de Meuron. The architects saw an opportunity. They set out to redefine the parking garage experience into more of a “car salon” with shops, bars, event and housing components.

The massing of the garage was increased to match the existing building. The garage is airy and open responding to the climate and in contrast to the existing building, which brings a certain balance to the overall project. While garage height and cost to build increased significantly, the 255 parking spaces allowed did not. The multi-use programming of the project provides additional revenue streams.

Luckily for the developer, the City redeveloped the block of Lincoln Road adjacent to the property into an extension of the Lincoln Road outdoor mall. That obviously added incredible value & facilitated prime retail into the  ground level of both buildings.


Once the decision was made to create a mix-use architectural statement of this caliber and incorporate it into the famed South Beach Lincoln Road lifestyle a brand began to develop of an uber-cool, high-profile international icon capable of attracting high-end leases, selling million+ condos and renting “parking space” for $12-$15K per event. The brand of 1111 Lincoln Road began at the design stage of development.

Promotion. 1111 Lincoln Road garnered international editorial press both online and offline. However the amount of user-generated content online is a huge component of the marketing mix and always focused on design – building the brand of an uber-cool” design icon. For the truly interesting, social media is powerful.

The developer marketing by TCBC /NY stayed consistent with the brand by visually mimicking the architecture as much as possible and conveying “Modern. Fast. Adaptable. and Sensual.”  Intentionally they built brand equity in 11 11 Lincoln Road that supported all uses -“retail, residential, dining and parking experiences”. 

On the events. While most of the weddings, wine tastings, private parties and corporate events take place on the 7th floor of the garage, Ferrari used the 5th, 6th & 7th beautifully. Note: the 11 11 brand of high design, modern, fast, and sensual is in the same brand personality space as Ferrari – a strong synergy.

Worth a visit: 1111 lincoln road developer website  & HM-2 Pinterest board for more 

So do you love it..or not so much? Weigh in below or catch me on twitter at @HollyHM2[If you would like an invite to Pinterest let me know below or on twitter – always happy to help ;) ] Coming soon…more on Pinterest – 10 million strong & growing.


Interested in marketing innovation…  

Click here to get our new whitepaper  ‘3 steps to…marketing a planned community’  

the definition of insanity

“insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  -Albert Einstein

So why is this the first thing I write in what is supposed to be an inspiring marketing blog on the latest best practices out there?

Well – it’s a bit of tough love if you will.  As the building industry cautiously ramps up – things are tenuous at best.  We can’t change the economy and demand…but we can stop hanging on to old methodologies and throwing cash out the window – metaphorically speaking.

traditional marketing – used alone – doesn’t work any more.

Traditional Marketing practice “pushes” a message out to targeted consumers with the goal of catching their attention and inciting an action. (Examples: cold-calling, print & on-line advertising, TV & radio advertising, outdoor, direct mail /  e-blast to purchased lists and trade shows.) Here a company tells people why they should buy that product now, Now, NOW.

There was an intense shallowness in these customer relationships of the past and this seemed to work more-or-less for years. Until, of course it didn’t…and still doesn’t.  

[Interesting Note: the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer found that over 70% of consumers in the United States feel advertising lies.] 

Used alone, traditional marketing’s results were on the decline years ago and it would be insane to again follow only traditional techniques. 

Interestingly, I’ve seen traditional “push” marketing [“buy my product”-“buy my product”]  used almost exclusively in Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and blogs. It not only doesn’t work there – it actually goes the extra mile and annoys people. 

Just because it’s a social media channel – doesn’t mean that’s how it’s being used by companies. Indeed, I’ve been watching a builder with a “social media staff” & a budget PUSH messaging  [“Grand opening at __” – “Get a home for only $___” -“Grand Opening Today…”] across social media without a break. It’s like watching a car accident in slow-motion. Painful.

Bottom-line –  Using only “push” marketing techniques in isolation should earn a ticket to the asylum.  However, integrating traditional techniques into a larger marketing strategy & mix… well that can be downright synergistic. 

there are other areas that make me wonder these days

  • Still not having a defined brand experience strategy, when everything is more transparent and personal than ever before in history. Seriously…many companies just “wing it” .
  • Still not using analytics and data regularly to improve marketing return and customer experience. Is it really “ok” today to not actively pursue improvement? Do equity partners feel this way?

last word..

Innovation. There are so many opportunities to be remarkably great. The developers and builders that pursue those opportunities will become the next market leaders.

homebuilders are getting social…

Last time, we discussed how people use social media channels in real life …AND that by “going with” the culture & purpose of each channel, companies can build valuable relationships, brand equity and ultimately revenue.  (click graphic to enlarge)

The following builds on that concept. Enjoy!   ———

Below are a few of the brands in real estate that really “get social media” and why they are so engaging.  (To find these inspiring examples, the following were reviewed:  public builders, 2010 JD Powers listed builders for Southern California and their top regional builders and more.)

some social homebuilders…

LENNAR (National) – Hard to imagine that anyone would deny that Lennar leads in social media for this category. Over 87,000 people ‘Like’ them on Facebook and 94,000 follow on Twitter. However, that’s not why the nation’s 3rd largest homebuilder is listed here (but it sure doesn’t hurt!)

Responsive.  Be polite and even gracious. With 94K Twitter followers, Continue reading

social media – in real life…

Perhaps you  know someone who shuns social media,  but doesn’t really understand what it is they are rejecting.  Then there are those who recognize the various social media names – enjoy Facebook perhaps – but they are still a bit fuzzy on what people use the various channels for. They know something interesting is happening… but what is it?

This ‘fuzziness” about what people are really doing on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Focus, YouTube, blogs and now Google+  isn’t limited to your mom.

Companies of all sizes jump into the social space and proceed to  “go against the grain with what  people are doing there”.  It’s like sitting down suddenly at a stranger’s dinner, bringing out a sales presentation for insurance and then later wondering why you didn’t get the result you wanted.

2 reasons to “get” how people use social media

1. Social media offers valuable tools that can  enhance your  life…not replace it.    It can open your world in ways that – inspire, teach, entertain.

When you do get involved, the thing that may surprise you is that in these very tech-driven spaces, most of the experiences feel quite “human”.  I say “most”  because there are people who will constantly try to sell you something, promise you’ll get “rich while eating pizza”  etc.

However, that noise quickly fades into the background as you can tune out- unfollow-unlike as you like, similar to “tivo’ing the commercials”.

2.  Social media can get you closer to customers to demonstrate a) who you are and b) why you are relevant.  Do this well and you will build valuable brand equity and grow revenue. Consider the recent survey by Forbes Insights that found on average Global Brand Executives now attribute 52% of their brand’s reputation to how “social” it is today.

This is about sitting down to a dinner you were invited to and being an enjoyable guest…who is asked back. Then eventually invited to parties.  Hopefully, lots of parties. (yes a metaphor for sales & recommendations) 

a candid take on what’s happening

The key objective in the graphic below is to illustrate what’s really going on online, so you can make an informed decision on where you want to spend time and how it may help you.  (click here for the pdf)

Key Takeaways for Marketers

For brands hoping to garner attention in the social space, build positive brand equity, and earn additional sales – a couple of key points:

  1. Bring content to the table that fits with what people are really doing on that channel.
  2. Mind the culture, be polite, be positive and above all be “human”.  Remember behind almost every word, sound & image is a real life breathing person.

Next Post: Part 2 “Homebuilder are Getting Social”  Stay tuned.