What is an anti-persona?

An anti-persona – otherwise known as a negative or exclusionary persona – is the type of person you specifically don’t want to target. You put together an anti-persona in the same way you would a persona: by creating a fictional character with a set of traits, behaviours and even quotes that all belong to your less-than-ideal customer. 

The luxury car brand that gets interest from the teenager who can't afford one, the plane manufacturer who has to field enquiries from avionics geeks, the train company with a set of site visitors who want only train times... these could all be examples of users who could be attracted to you in ways that aren't aligned with your business plans. 

And while in theory a case could be made for creating content to attract all these more peripheral groups, chances are that – unless you're GE – you probably have to make some tough decisions about how you resource and prioritise your content operation. In which case, these groups won't be top of the list. But understanding them better can still be very useful.   

Why should I create anti-personas?

Know the adage ‘Write for everyone, write for no one’? That usually leads us to thinking about who we should actually be writing for. But just as helpful sometimes is thinking about who we’re not targeting.

Having an anti-persona helps you identify people you don’t want to target and informs the content that you need to create for the people you do want to target​.

QUICK HISTORY DETOUR: in her book Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, historian Linda Colley writes that British identity was formed in opposition to outsiders: we’re not French, Catholic or focused on land-based armies, so the British said. Which is to say that to define who you are, it helps think about what you’re not. The same holds true for brands: Apple is not Samsung, first direct is not Lloyds.

Here are a few more signs that signal you could do with knowing more about your anti-customer:

  • You’re getting a lot of bad customer reviews, usually about the same thing
  • Customers you don’t want are getting in touch – and getting disappointed by what you actually offer
  • You have a high churn of customers and low repeat business

What makes an anti-persona?

There are really two types of anti-personas: those who like you but don’t buy from you, and those who buy from you but don’t like you.

They never buy anything from you, but they:

  • like or share all of your social media posts
  • visit your site repeatedly
  • sign up for newsletters and offers
  • get in touch with you a lot (usually to sell you something)
  • like the content you produce more than your product
  • use your site for research

They buy from you, but they:

  • cost a lot to acquire and retain
  • complain about your product or service
  • jump around a lot and use other competitors more
  • have low average sales

How would an anti-persona affect my content?

Once you know who you’re not targeting, you can use that information to craft specific content aimed at either deterring your anti-persona or rerouting them elsewhere.

Here’s a few examples:

  • A sportswear icon – include in product descriptions who shouldn’t buy your running shoes, if they’re built for certain types of runner only.
  • A beauty brand – keep up the chat with your young and devoted social media fans, even if you know they’re low spenders. Reward and encourage their evangelism rather than seeing them primarily as customers.
  • An industry giant – keep fanboys and researchers in a separate content marketing hub, and make your product section a clear B2B sales route.
  • A big bank – direct low-income, risk-averse customers from investments products to savings products.
  • A train company – use clearer CTAs and navigation menus to make sure customers looking for train times – not tickets – know where to go.
  • An electronics store – create FAQs that stop customers buying the wrong product for them, and then complaining about it afterwards.

How do I create an anti-persona?

Here are 7 tips for creating and managing anti-personas:

  1. Keep your anti-personas positive
    Remember the saying ‘It’s not you, it’s us’? Instead of saying why the customer isn’t right for you, explain why the product isn’t right for them.
     
  2. Get the right information
    Find out more about what makes a bad lead or customer by talking to:
    • your former customers
    • customers with low average sales
    • people who complained about your service
    • your biggest fans who still don’t buy from you
    It’ll help you build a picture of why your product isn’t landing with some people – and inform the content you should be creating as a result.
     
  3. Review your anti-personas regularly
    If you’re convinced a certain type of person is your anti-persona, it can become a hard narrative to break away from. Who will be brave enough to say that – for this particular product or piece of content – our sworn enemy is actually our key audience? Schedule reviews of your anti-personas to check they’re still correct.
     
  4. Recognise the difference between ‘never’ and ‘not now’
    Are you sure you can never reach a type of customer, or are you just dismissing them as it’s easier than producing better, more user-focused content? It’s a tough question to ask of yourself, but one that’s necessary before you create an anti-persona.
     
  5. Make them as specific as your personas
    Your product may be very niche, in which case saying who you’re not targeting might include 7 or so billion people, minus a few thousand. Your anti-personas need to be as specific as your personas, otherwise they’re pretty useless.
     
  6. Use them!
    Like any persona document, they’re only effective if people across your company start using them. Meet your team halfway by making your anti-persona profiles short, snappy and visual.
     
  7. And use them alongside personas!
    You still need to know your target audience, even once you know the audience to avoid.