friendship of the religions concept: muslim and christian girl t

In the content marketing arena, we spend a lot of time building “buyer personas.” In fact, creators of all types of content, not just marketing content, spend a lot of time building personas. Personas can be very useful, because they allow us to apply stereotypical characteristics to imaginary consumers. Once we define these characteristics, we can focus our words and images to directly appeal to our imaginary audience.

But – and this is a big but –

Stereotypes are not universal. The likes, dislikes, wants, needs, joys, sorrows, ways of being, dress codes, mores, and more are different from place to place and language to language.

Once you need to address a global audience, you need to do one of two things:

  • Vastly expand your number of personas by addressing each cultural difference
  • Throw out the idea of personas completely because one size does not fit all

It is difficult, and I would say shortsighted, to apply personas across  customers who share a language and, theoretically, a common culture. For example, the concerns of an American mother of 4 who live in poverty in an inner-city are not the same as the concerns of an American mother of 4 who live in an affluent suburb. The language may be the same, and both mom’s likely know who Gerber is and what they make. Beyond some basics, though, the two mom’s are not going to be at all similar.

If you are only targeting mothers in America, you likely have this knowledge and the capacity to create multiple personas for each (assuming your target is all mom’s in the U.S.).

Once you expand your borders beyond the same country, the variation of stereotypical characteristics exponentiates.  In other words, there are so many possible traits, concerns, and needs, that creating an individual persona for each is likely going to be impossible due to time, money, and bandwidth.

This is a large topic and one that has been on my mind for a while. I will be speaking about it at a few conferences this fall. As I do my research and formulate my ideas, I will synthesize my learning in series of blog posts. As part of this process, I welcome your feedback, knowledge, and ideas on how to approach the issue of international personas, what works and what doesn’t work, and what alternatives we have as content creators who need to address a global audience.

Come along and let’s get started…

Definitions

I always like to start my research with definitions. Today, I want to define two terms:

  • Culture
  • Language

Culture

Merriam-Webster defines culture as follows:

noun cul·ture ˈkəl-chər

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Dictionary.com has this definition:

1. The quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
2. A particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.
3. The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
4. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

I think that to really capture the definition of culture, we need to include the idea of shared experience. Culture is something that is shared by more than one person. I don’t have an individual culture, although I may have individual characteristics.

I would say that culture incorporates the behaviors and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group and that these behaviors and beliefs are transmitted through shared experience.

Language

Merriam-Webster has this definition for language:

noun lan·guage ˈlaŋ-gwij, -wij

: the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other

: any one of the systems of human language that are used and understood by a particular group of people

: words of a particular kind

Dictionary.com defines language as:

1. A body of words and the systems for their use common to a people who are of the same community or nation, the same geographical area, or the same cultural tradition: the two languages of Belgium; a Bantu language; the French language; the Yiddish language.
2. Communication by voice in the distinctively human manner, using arbitrary sounds in conventional ways with conventional meanings; speech.
3. The system of linguistic signs or symbols considered in the abstract (opposed to speech).
4. Any set or system of such symbols as used in a more or less uniform fashion by a number of people, who are thus enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another.

Culture and language are not the same thing

We can share a culture and speak a different language. For example, I am Jewish and share the same Jewish culture with people in Israel. However, I do not speak Hebrew and most Israeli’s do.
On the other hand, not everyone who speaks English in the United States feels that they belong to the same culture. While aspects might be similar, such as the language, many of the beliefs, customs, and practices vary, depending on where you live in the U.S.
What are you thoughts about culture, language, and personas? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your ideas.
Val Swisher
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