CEO’s Message: Personas…An Effective Asset in the Communications and Marketing Tool Box

Jim Harrison: MLSListings Inc CEO and President

Jim Harrison
President and CEO, MLSListings

For much of the past 50 years, the focus of the American real estate industry with respect to the various personalities involved in the real estate transaction was not the consumer, buyer or seller but rather the agent. From a literary perspective, this interesting focus was skillfully portrayed by the personality of Willy Loman, the central figure of Arthur Miller’s classic 1949 play “Death of a Salesman.” One of the most important themes of this play supported the popular theory that the most important personality in any transaction was that of the salesman. As a great salesman, Willy believed that it was his personality that drove his success in all matters. Until relatively recently, the real estate industry was closely aligned with that philosophy.

Over the past 10 years, the emergence of the Internet and the influence of social media have, to a great extent, shifted the market’s focus from the agent as the center of the transaction to the consumer as the key transaction personality.

This new “consumer-centric” focus has required the leading elements of the industry and the marketplace to adopt new approaches to all aspects of marketing and sales. The complexities of this new approach, driven in part by the speed with which society has been transitioning, have been daunting. By way of examples consider that from a gender perspective, the traditional idea that “father knows best” has generally been debased. It is now generally understood that women are making today’s real estate decisions.

From a generational perspective, the situation has been complicated by the fact that there are now four different generations actively buying and selling in the real estate marketplace. Civics, Boomers, Xers, and Millennials are all exhibiting their unique personalities, expectations, and demands to the market mix.

These dynamics have completely evaporated Willy Loman’s belief that his personality, fielding one sales approach, would conquer all challenges and/or objections. In fact, the contemporary real estate marketplace is currently engaging a wide range of powerful personalities in almost every transaction. The industry must be prepared to interact and collaborate with each. One of the most effective tools that has emerged in dealing with the challenges of dealing with a multi-personality environment is called a “persona.”

A persona is a graphics tool used to demonstrate, characterize, and/or communicate data about a group of individuals upon whom research, in this case, related to real estate or lifestyle related issues, has been conducted. Although personas by design are depicted by a single individual, they actually represent an entire cross-section of a given population. Instead of being forced to develop solutions focused on huge groups of generalized individuals the use of personas allows for the creation of more focused solutions applicable to smaller and more manageable personality groups.

The photograph, graphics, and data reflecting the “persona” are usually displayed on a single page document. This very efficient format allows for a maximum of information to be communicated in a very simple way. In essence, the sample photo and accompanying data creates a unique portrait of a class of individuals including their philosophy, expectations, probable demands and the nature of the real estate experience they are seeking.

Assets necessarily precedent to the creation of a persona include:

  • Research or data collection sufficient to draw conclusions regarding the representative class of individuals (the group being represented by the persona).
  • The identification of similarities or measurable behavior patterns reflecting the behaviors, expectations or demands of the group.
  • The ability to identify sufficient similarities to populate the actual “persona.”

Over the past 18 months, personas have become effective marketing and communications tools for a number of leading real estate industry entities. They have more than demonstrated their ability to have a positive impact on the marketing power and influence of brokerages, portals, MLS operations and even associations. More specifically, they have greatly enhanced the ability of these entities to:

  • Create a higher level of understanding and appreciation for positions and perspectives of key industry and market players including real estate professionals, service vendors, and consumers.
  • Provide a platform from which they can better focus on much more specific individual needs, expectations, sensitivities, and priorities.
  • Narrow the design focus for programs, products and services to a much more defined group of individuals and/or uses.
  • Facilitate more focused and effective communications between the group that develops the persona, the group that is represented by the “persona, and third parties that need to understand the persona.
  • Act as adjuncts and evidentiary objects to support key decision-making processes.
  • Facilitate these entities in their efforts to demonstrate the effectiveness of various high impact programs in terms of actual and targeted impact.

Perhaps most importantly, personas can be developed and utilized by staff members with a wide range of skills sets and competencies. One does not have to be a certified designer or engineer to create, develop and effectively utilize personas.

MLSListings has recently fielded its first persona program designed by product development expert and MLSListings Vice President of Product Management Aaron Hyde. The MLSListings persona program was designed to highlight the interests, perspectives, and philosophies of various brokerages and subscribers that use the MLSListings system and data. The persona program has already assisted the entire MLSListings staff to appreciate the real and tangible difference between its subscribers. Moving forward it will provide a valuable platform from which to design new MLS-related services and tools custom-designed for the subscriber groups identified by each of the personas that have been developed.

As the contemporary real estate industry, at every level, expands its marketing, communications and service provision to an ever expanding range of individuals, groups and constituents it will discover that the design, development and deployment of personas programs can be an invaluable, attainable and affordable resource.


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