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)

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’  

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

What a ‘Brand’ Is and 3 Reasons to Care – Now.

One of my favorite homebuilders got a new logo passed down from corporate recently. When proudly asked by the CEO if they liked the “new brand” – they answered yes. No deeper than that. 

The slightly depressing reality behind this common story is that what could have been an amazing differentiation for a builder – won’t be.  (Indeed, we are in a time when those in the building industry and beyond need to not miss a step, yet many of the steps needed today -never even enter the picture.)  So…let’s start with…

what is a ‘brand’?

A Brand – is what people perceive about a product or a company.  It’s everything that’s been heard, seen…felt about it.  It’s your reputation from yesterday &  today. To really get this – a favorite quote:

If you’re not metaphorically “standing in front of your audience” with promotion and people understand, like and/or talk about you positively – that’s worth something to your bottom-line.  It’s known as positive brand equity.

However- if when you leave the room, the real stories come out and you’re basically looking like a jerk – well no logo is getting you out of that.

3 reasons to care about ‘brand’ – today

Some of you may consider this question a “no-brainer”.  Still, Builders, Developers and other companies with millions of dollars in assets go no deeper than a logo, graphic continuity and maybe a surface competitive positioning when considering their brand.  3 reasons to care about your  “brand” now:

#1  Your Real Brand Can Move Faster Than Ever Before in History

Social media has lifted back the curtain on companies and transparency to the public continues to increase.

It used to be that a problem in the sales office- never got past our 10 closest friends. Now we go to our car – briefly “Like” the brand on Facebook and if possible “briefly” post to their wall telling their whole following that they suck. Then onto our wall to tell our 400 friends about it and for good measure we  jump onto twitter to yell at them again. This takes us all of 4 minutes. Then we start to calm down,  while corporate scrambles to get us to chat privately – or ignores us.

That said,  social media also allows brands an interactive voice to build relationships like never before.  Here when a “problem” arises, you think “Wow that’s not what ____ is about.”  and you get in touch to let them know what’s going on. The heat is lessened in the situation. Sure you’re still pissed, but hopefully the relationship is deeper than just that one salesperson / customer service agent / superintendent.

Bottom-line: Social media communicates your brand in a new, more personal way and can spread directly to your target customer faster than ever before. 

#2. Organizational Effectiveness.

Last week, I read an article titled “The 10 Most Hated Jobs” – 2 of them were in marketing.

“2 –  Director of Sales and Marketing – … The majority who responded negatively cited a lack of direction from upper management and an absence of room for growth as the main sources of their ire.

10 –  Marketing Manager –  respondents in this position most often cited a lack of direction as the primary reason for job dissatisfaction. The most optimistic respondent described it as “tolerable,” and gave it the faintest praise possible by saying, “It’s a job.” (In this labor market, that’s not such a bad thing.)

These are the folks primarily focused on building brand equity and positive momentum for sales…and their biggest complaint is Lack of Direction. [sigh]

Here’s the question – “How can employees build relationships and demonstrate what their company/community/product brand is about – if no one ever clearly told them what it was about?”

People will try. They will interpret as best they can, but with no framework to refer to, the experience provided will vary for customers. The brand perception is muddled and not worth mentioning.

Bottom-line: It takes an intentional team approach to build a remarkable brand. 

#3.  Positive Brand Equity is Valuable.

Years ago a gentleman I worked for who is rightfully considered a leader in the community development industry told me you couldn’t build brand equity. It happened naturally – it was earned.

Today, with transparency at an all-time high – if you set your brand equity goals with your team; perform for customers consistently to meet that goal, and openly communicate the real experience as the social space allows like never before– you can  build positive brand equity. It will be rightfully earned by the team, and not just a natural occurrence.

Become a truly remarkable brand and the value would be: a predisposition for people to consider your product/service/(–approval); a faster sales process; higher referral rate;  lower marketing cost per sale (aka higher ROI) ; competitive differentiation; higher product value. It depends on the team.

Bottom-line:  Companies can intentionally build positive brand equity & it’s worth it. 


KEY TAKE-AWAY:  When you walk out of the room – what do you want people to say? 

At HM-2, we help companies and planned communities clearly define their Brand, engage their teams and intentionally build valuable brand equity. It’s a journey worth taking to get ahead of competitors and excel with customers.

Why people choose their home

Location-Location-Location. Ok -sure, but let’s get more specific.  Recently, the National Building Museum concluded a survey to better understand how people interact with the built environment – your home, neighborhood, and city.

The initiative was called Intelligent Cities and delves into the subject of home choice.  They added a new spin with the opening questions: 

  1.   “What were your top two reasons for choosing your current house or apartment?”    followed by  
  2. “If you were choosing now, what would your top two reasons be?” 

What they in effect did was ask, during your home shopping experience what made you pick your home. Now that the “bloom is off the rose” and you’ve lived there – what should you have been paying attention to?

That first question speaks of the rational sizzle that home buyers report they fall in love with and what both Builders and Real Estate professionals promote. The second is more along the lines of great real advice for home shoppers to consider. 

 (click to enlarge the graph above)

the top reasons for choosing a home

 #1 Can walk or bike to stuff I like to do.  Continue reading