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How to Turn on a Persona

Since personas are so powerful in governing decisions and behavior, you can influence whether someone does something and exactly what they do by activating an existing persona. You can activate a persona and connect the persona to specific action. This is a powerful way to get people to take action. Here’s an example:

Jeffrey is in charge of local fundraising for one of his favorite charities, Lend a Hand for Jobs. Lend a Hand for Jobs helps people who are having a hard time getting a job. The organization provides job interview training, business clothes for interviewing, and helps people land a job. Jeffrey is going to give a presentation to a local business group, and hopes to get the group to agree to donate money to the charity.

Jeffrey prepares a presentation about all the wonderful things that the charity is doing, and examples of the people who have been helped. He’s got great photos of the people they’ve helped and hopes that after showing the photos and telling the success stories, the local business group will vote to make a donation. Will he be successful? Will they donate money? How much?

Jeffrey is more likely to get the local business group to donate and more likely to get more money if he activates a persona. What personas do the decision makers in the local business group have that would make them want to donate and donate more? Here are some possibilities:

  1. “I’m the type of person who gives a helping hand to others in need. In fact, that’s why I’m a member of this local business group, because the group likes to help out people in our community who are in need.”
  2. “I am a successful business person. In fact, I’m so successful that I can afford to give back to the community. This local business group that I’m a member of is filled with other successful business people just like me. We are the cream of the crop.”
  3. “I struggled and worked hard to get to where I am. It wasn’t easy. At one point I was unsuccessful and in trouble. Because other people were willing to help me, I was able to pull myself up to be successful. This local business group that I’m a member of is filled with other people like me who were once in difficult straits.”
  4. “I struggled and worked hard to get to where I am. It wasn’t easy. At one point I was unsuccessful and in trouble. No one was willing to help me. I had to do it all by myself. But now that I’ve made it, I don’t like to think about those hard days. This local business group that I’m a member of is filled with successful business people who didn’t struggle like I did. I want to forget about my previous life. I’m on top and that’s all that matters.”

Jeffrey’s plan for the presentation and asking for a donation may not be successful with all of these personas. Let’s take a look at how his plan will work for each persona and what he might want to do differently.

His plan will probably work fairly well with the first persona. But he can strengthen his presentation by first giving examples of other donations the local business group has made to similar charitable organizations. This would remind them of the first persona. By talking about similar donations, and then telling stories of the people in need, Jeffrey would be activating this “Gives a Helping Hand” persona. When he asks for money, he’ll be more likely to get a yes, and more likely to get more money.

Jeffrey’s plan will be less successful with the second persona, who is only partially activated by talking about people in need. Instead of highlighting all the wonderful things the local business group has done in the past to help people in need, Jeffrey should first talk about all the wonderful accomplishments the individual people in the group have had in their own successful businesses. He should include some stories about famous people in the world who have given back to others after achieving their own business success. Activating this “Cream of the Crop” persona is more likely to result in a donation, and a higher donation.

Jeffrey’s plan is a good starting point for the third persona, but it’s important that he also include specific stories about what happened to individuals in the program. He needs to have stories that show how a person who was once struggling makes it to success. Stories like this will activate this “Pulled Up by the Bootstraps” persona.

The toughest sell will be to the fourth persona. In fact, this is such a hard sell that Jeffrey is unlikely to have success with this persona. He’ll have to use some of the techniques later in this chapter, like story editing, to actually change this persona to a different one before he can expect positive results.

The more that Jeffrey can tailor the message to activate one of the personas, the more successful he will be. Ideally Jeffrey would be making a one-on-one pitch to people he knows well. He could then customize the message to fit the persona of that individual.

He is, however, probably making a presentation to the whole group. The more people he knows in the group, the more he can anticipate likely personas and change his message, stories, and presentation to fit. The less he knows about the people in the group, the more he’ll have to guess about likely personas. Jeffrey is unlikely to be able to build the presentation to activate four or more different personas, but he could certainly plan the presentation to fit at least two or even three, and he should do this if he wants to maximize the likelihood and size of donations for his charity.

Activating an existing persona and targeting a message to that persona is a powerful and relatively easy way to get people to do stuff. Changing someone’s persona, however, is a little more complicated. Because people like to be consistent in their personas, it’s trickier to get someone to change an existing persona. But it’s doable. The next section will show you how to change an existing persona.

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