A Target Audience of One

Personas, Marketing New Orleans

In a 1999 interview with National Public Radio, novelist Kurt Vonnegut revealed that all his works were written for a single person—his sister Alice.
"The secret of artistic unity, I think, even when painting a picture or composing music, is to do it with one person in mind," he said.
Marketing may not be art, but unified and effective marketing messages can also be created by directing them to a single person, notably when that person is representative of a target audience.
Defining a target audience is already a long established tactic for marketers. For example, say there's a college offering a program in restaurant management. Administrators would first want to understand the demographic pool of its potential students. The institution might identify age ranges, geographical regions, household income, educational backgrounds, and so on. Or they might identify Greg.

Greg looks like this:

Here are some things we know about him.

Age: 27
Home life: Single. Rents a small house.
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Hobbies: Computers, pick-up basketball
Favorite TV shows: NBA, Game of Thrones
Personality: Diligent, methodical, conventional tastes
Greg's parents run an Italian restaurant which has been a local institution for years. Although he worked in the restaurant when a teenager, it didn't interest him as a career. He gravitated toward computer science as an undergraduate and had a number of unfulfilling jobs since graduation. Meanwhile, the family restaurant was getting long in the tooth with outdated décor and an aging clientele. His parents are now thinking about retirement and don't have the motivation to make improvements. Greg has decided to begin working at the restaurant to help them out.
Greg knows that with its history the restaurant has fantastic potential, but he doesn't know where to begin to reinvigorate it. He's looking into business courses to fill the gaps in his knowledge. He wants the restaurant to thrive not only for his own financial gain but also to make his parents proud, to maintain a connection with his past, and to become an prominent person in his community.

Now we can direct marketing pieces to Greg. What would appeal to him? How can we get him interested in applying? Later on, how can we encourage him to enroll?
The fictional persona of Greg would ideally be informed by researching actual people in the general target market. And he would probably not be the only persona to use. Identifying and creating additional ones—Jillian, Zach and Simone, for example—would round out the spectrum of potential students the college wishes to recruit.
As for Kurt Vonnegut's sister Alice, she died when she was 30, and Vonnegut and his wife adopted her three children. By identifying his deceased sister as his ideal audience, Vonnegut sold millions of books and became one of America's most celebrated writers. It goes to show that a single person can represent multitudes.  

Image credits
1. pickaface.net  |  2. Tim Psych / CC BY 2.0