Using value alignment
instead of personas

By Stephen Saugestad

Personas are a good way to target groups through demographics. But today, for high net worth users who are diverse, aligning the solution to their values is a more effective approach.

The use of personas has been a mainstay in the process and workflow of designing digital products and marketing strategy for a long time. It’s taught in every technology, art, and marketing program. You create fictional people to represent actual users, generalize their needs and preferences, then build a solution that caters to them.

We started seeing the problem with this approach as our focus on luxury travel became narrower. Personas were doing a poor job of representing the users we were targeting on behalf of our clients. Sure there are similarities between corporate travelers, wedding guests, or families. But personas can feel like a scattershot approach that tries to accommodate too many users in the same solution. It also dilutes the messaging and marketing focus.

A changing demographic

We work with a small segment of the travel and hospitality market. They’re high-income earners with high net worth. It’s easy enough to include income level or wealth within personas, but using a fictional rich person oversimplifies what is otherwise a very diverse group.

High net worth and ultra high net worth users (HNW & UHNW) used to be a homogenous bunch. They wore monocles, dressed in tuxedos, and traveled the world in gilded buggies. But this is no longer the case, and a pattern we’ve observed through our work. Sure there are still 80-year-old oil barons that eat foie gras for breakfast and light cigars with 100 dollar bills. But among them are 24-year-old hedge fund managers, 30-year-old former Facebook executives, and Barron Trump. They’re reall diverse, and don’t fit neatly into personas.

Transitioning to Values

So if not age, gender, or sports teams, what then? What the research (and our observations) tells us is that the thing HNW users have in common are values. These are the most common values associated with HNW and UNHW users:

  • Personal growth & meaning – is it meaningful, and does it allow me to grow as a person?
  • Authenticity – is the food, experience, and people authentic to the place?
  • Privacy & security (and for many, family) – does it give me privacy, and value my time with family or loved ones?
  • Ethics & environmental responsibility – how does this experience affect the larger world, and what is its footprint?

Creating value alignment

A lot of the brands that we work with already resonate with HNW/UNHW travelers because the owners of high-end travel experiences are very good at catering to their guests’ preferences. The most innovative organizations are usually in front of emerging trends in the hospitality market –  personalization, hyper-local ingredients, collaborative spaces, and sustainability, etc. What’s more, qualities such as personal enrichment, authenticity, and environmental ethics are often characteristics that flow naturally from these travel experiences. So they just need to amplify what’s already working and address the areas where the right messages are not being conveyed.

But how to do this? The first step is to leverage quantitative and qualitative measurements to assess the brand’s current situation. Then use some kind of diagnostic tool to assess the current situation, which you can also use to measure progress once the solutions have been implemented. Continue the diagnostics through a discovery and information gathering process, and pair this with a visual and experiential assessment. Finally take everything you’ve learned and design a solution with two parts – one which emphasizes what the organization is already doing well, and another that, fixes the areas that are misaligned in your strategy, design, advertising, and content.

While this is not going to be a scientific process, a proprietary methodology like this can be a good vehicle for applying existing knowledge and testing a hypothesis through repetition and experimentation.

One final note – we’ve found that this approach is a lot more effective, and brands will resonate better with this audience when there’s a foundational alignment at the brand level. There needs to be an alignment of values within the brand story, pillars, and positioning. Without it, it’s all going to feel like virtue signaling to this very savvy, well-educated demographic. So if your brand is poorly positioned and lacking this foundation, we recommend that you start there.

Need help getting started? Our Strategists are here to help.