change management, pain, Toby Elwin, blog

Buyer persona for organization strategy and development

change management, toby elwin, pain with change

“I shall now read from our new strategic plan … “

Organization Development (OD) is an intentional effort to plan, guide, and manage change. An organization is a self-organizing community of people. An organization develops only when people, within the organization, are individually motivated to develop. A buyer persona strategy does work, even with no buyer involved.

Without motivation people do not develop; without motivation people will not develop. The key to develop: intrinsic motivation.

Today, the technical skills to design social media and Internet communities in marketing professionals trump the technical skills to design OD initiatives by human resource (HR) professionals.

The technical skills, frameworks, and tools that HR and OD rely on to understand, communicate, and motivate interventions for people and organizations needs a reboot. A relaunch. A restart. This can happen if OD professionals take a peek outside their profession.

Enter marketing, with a social media twist.

In 1999 Alan Cooper, an engineer and usability expert by reputation, introduced the term persona. Mr. Cooper defines the persona by goals: personal goals and practical goals.

2 of Mr. Cooper’s keys to keep in mind as we move forward:

  1. Personas are derived from patterns observed during interviews with and observations of users and potential users (and sometimes customers) of a product
  2. Usability means making products and systems easier to use, and matching them more closely to user needs and requirements

The persona effort, based on the usability objectives, is a superior framework to plan, launch, guide, monitor, and manage organization interventions and change management initiatives than many OD frameworks.

My use of the term community persona, stems from the buyer persona effort at the heart of better web and social media strategy; more on this below.

To reboot OD, enter marketing’s take on usability and persona: cognitive diversity in action.

Communication Rule #1: Know Your Audience

Marketers have long used demographics to target content to important buyer groups. Why? Because smart marketers know one-size-fits-all communication provides communication few relate to. Marketers develop unique, and targeted content to position their product or service to meet customer’s unique needs. Bad marketing campaigns waste resources.

Today not many companies are in position to waste resources.

In OD, good organization culture profile tools, like the Competing Values Framework, lend great insight and understanding into organization behavior. Culture tools provide a key to “the way things are done” and knowing culture lends a clue to the spoken and unspoken and the written and implied as the foundation of communication and behavior.

Reliable culture tools can lend clarity further into an organization’s micro cultures, the department or business-unit levels and their further unique style. Many businesses and organizations are made of micro-communities, that act and behavior even more unique to the over-arching organization culture. These business communities within the community each have their identity.

A buyer persona strategy, borrowed from marketing and frequently at the heart of technology design and web-user acceptance and experience testing. The buyer persona’s sociological and behavioral analysis foundation used in user experience, design and usability is a great place to start evaluations for intentional, OD efforts.

The added impact of the buyer persona, design frameworks for OD is that hitting correctly on a persona more likely ignites and sustains both the community and the micro-community motivation needs in this digital world fart better than hackneyed, HR, artifacts from the manufacturing age.

OD or HR with persona insight appreciates the motivation management is the heart of resource management.

Persona Strategy in Context

Prior to life in OD I made my living in marketing. Work in the field instilled that effective marketing meets the target’s need, not the marketer’s need. I so thoroughly enjoy marketing I went on to get an MBA with a marketing concentration.

In 2002, I started my post-MBA career as a management consultant. I found few strategic and operational plans made the successful move from concept to adoption. The models for strategy design, adoption, and organization transformation, while wonderful on PowerPoint, where in desperate need of a model to increase the rate of an organization’s adoption and ownership.

The consulting and management models left too many gaps in their strategic plans. Strategies and other OD initiatives lived only as 3-ring binders left to collect dust for their entirety of their meaningful shelf life. Very few models included a full life-cycle to discern, design, and manage motivation throughout adoption, but fragmented, stillborn endeavors. The technical state of strategy needed a functional refresh.

Auditing a pattern of change mismanagement led me down an OD path. The focus of each element in a technical and functional marketing experience brought the sociology and psychology of motivation into my thoughts on strategic adoption as an integrated marketing campaign.

OD and change management practitioners, themselves, might need a move away from the academic and more towards business relevance. This relevance might get traction if OD thought of an intervention more like an integrated marketing campaign:

  • communication,
  • design,
  • information,
  • audience need,
  • focus group feedback,
  • monitor,
  • measure,
  • multiple channel delivery,
  • multiple layered communication channels,
  • multiple frequency principles

So a lens to view change and organization development as a marketing campaign began to filter my thinking. I consciously brought the marketing and OD into the functional management consulting role. Each provided unique, but as yet separate, principles to the technical tool kit needed for sustainable projects. The refresh: strategy as a marketing campaign.

The New Rules of Marketing

In 2008, marketing and OD came together for me while I was working on a genuine marketing effort and I came across David Meerman Scott‘s presentation of the buyer persona model in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR. The book’s title alone provoked my interest around what could be so new in marketing in the 6 year’s since my master’s-level marketing program.

toby elwin, david meerman scott, new rules of marketing, public relations, How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, Viral Marketing, Reach Buyers DirectlyWith David’s book(s), I realized to cut through the noise that communication in the age of saturation needed to kindle intrinsic motivation and a persona strategy met this more clearly than anything I’d seen in OD. If I’ve no idea the persona(s) to communicate, I will never expect to get past a persona’s first-line motivation filter: What’s in it for ME? (WIIFM?).

WIIFM? is a great gauge for change strategy. But there is better…

Buy-In or Draw In?

I hate the term buy-in. When developing anything for marketing, business, and, particularly HR, OD, and change, I am not peddling anything. The concept has been out-of-synch with me the moment I read about intrinsic motivation.

Why do I hate buy-in?

The concept that people buy-in to strategy or change is an organization development cliché with more traction in bullshit bingo than practice.

Organization change is not a used car, it is behavioral modification. When we stop trying to sell something we no longer need the term buy-in.

To start to change the frame of thinking we need to understand how to modify individual and organization behavior.

Our change starts only when we replace the single single concept of buy-in with 3 words: commitment, understanding, and ownership.

The persona discussion here and the community persona blog series I will write about is not about buy-in. This is about creating impact a community resonates with and that they adopt as their own: every nuance that OD aspires to achieve.

Effective relationships with everyone we work with and work for starts similarly: the person’s motivation. Their need. We can not lose sight of the very same filter each of us uses: WIIFM.

A persona strategy helps us understand initial WIIFM? framework to more effectively meet a community need at the WIIFT? (What’s in it for THEM?) level and let them run with and own their message A community’s message to each other is far more effective than a back message delivered with luck they will buy-in to. Hope is not a very intentional strategy.

To discern and design effective OD we need to understand and successfully communicate WIIFM?

Buyer Persona Strategy for Organization Development

This series and your comments are all about OD and trying on OD with a marketing hat.

The persona concepts we talk about fully leverage Dr. Lene Nielsen’s work from 2004 Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios by Lene Nielsen October 2004 – Adobe Acrobat download, herself, influenced, by Alan Cooper, but introduced, cultivated, shared, and maximized by David Meerman Scott. [important to note the transparency Cooper, Nielsen, and Meerman Scott have for each other]

With marketing functional and technical frames the Community Persona in OD blog series will look similar to previous blog series I presented:

We will look at the lessons OD needs to take from:

The objective for the series is an OD alternative to:

  • Move from a one-size fits communication approach;
  • Write for the community consumer, not for the content producer;
  • Understand a set for ROI: Return on Involvement;
  • The how and the what to measure, as well as the tools;
  • Why both 3 and 7 are important to your strategy; and
  • Understand the words or phrases of your audience (community persona)

The tools to support the practical will include:

  • How to build a community persona strategy;
  • How to investigate words and phrases communities use to describe problems;
  • Tools to measure and monitor ROI: Return on Involvement;
  • Identification of the community person problems your product/service solves;
  • Find the media your community persona uses – where do they hang out;
  • Identification of ways your community persona will speak to and match their motivation;
  • Develop compelling messages; and
  • Develop content that describes issues and problems they have faced and then provides details on how to solve:
    1. What are their problems?
    2. What keeps them awake at night?
    3. What do they want to know?

I will share sources and tools and resources galore. I count on you to add to the conversation and look forward to the tools you also share with our Community Persona Community of Practice.

This series was overtly inspired by the St. Louis OD Network conference The Shifting Role of Organization Development in Business.

Many thanks to the people before, during, and after my presentation Social Media: Fight, Flight or Friend.

I look forward to your dialogue and engagement.

Community Persona Design for Organizations

  1. Buyer persona for organization strategy and development
  2. Community persona for organization development
  3. 4 design tools to meet persona context
  4. Community persona resource and influence timeline
  5. Communication with goal-oriented design and community persona strategy
  6. Community persona for SharePoint intranet design
  7. Community persona reaction for functional design
  8. Community persona for change management
  9. Community persona for project management
Subscribe to Email Posts and Join 1,262 New Friends
I believe in your privacy and will never sell or spam your email.

Share this Post

Comments 3

  1. Toby — I am so excited to “meet you” through this blog post. Your background in marketing and OD is exactly what’s needed to change the role of marketing, a goal which we share. I will be following your work closely and look forward to learning a lot.

    David Meerman Scott and I are good friends, having worked together at the time that he was writing The New Rules of Marketing and PR.

    I hope you’ll have a look at my website at and especially my ebook — The Buyer Persona Manifesto I think we should also find a time to talk.

    1. Post

      Adele, it is fantastic to have your thoughts on using buyer persona development methods for organization development (OD) and change management. I just started a series of blogs to take the buyer persona ideals, tools, and frameworks to internal organization efforts and strategic design, to include non-profits. I modify the term from buyer to community and all the concepts resonate.

      I came to your work 3 weeks ago while researching for a presentation for the St. Louis Organization Development Network’s conference The Shifting Role of Organization Development in Business. My presentation was on social media and heavily around persona design as a powerful OD tool.

      Your site was a source for the second blog. Your work, your collaboration with David Meerman Scott, and your eBook The Buyer Persona Manifesto are a welcome addition to people in the OD community who resonate and are interested in the persona concepts to advocate, create, and deliver even more effective change for their organizations and their executives.

      Your comment above embodies all the great principles the social media community provides to those with a genuine interest. I’ve had conversations sitting next to David as part of an audience to see other social media speakers. His, and the communities’, transparent desire to provide is an example of the community of practice OD aspires to build. There are lot of lessons we can take from people like you. Thank you for living the example.

      I welcome your thoughts and to learn even more from you.

  2. Pingback: Organizational Culture Change: Why and How, part 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.