When you ask hotel marketers who their clients are, the answers usually go like this:

“Our guests are fashion designers, high profile architects, people who work in art and design, appreciate great wine, work hard, dress well, keep fit, and know how to party. They take pride in their appearance and always look great, and they understand what our brand brings.”

There’s probably a marketing school out there that teaches them to deliver these replies with a straight face. Of course, it’s helpful to develop a brand persona, to define what you are, and to describe who your target clientele might be. Every hotel has a brand persona, but when we delve a little deeper into the meaning we can better understand what this persona really is, and how it works.

According to Hubspot, personas are fictional generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behavior of the clientele. Note that it says ‘fictional’ and generalizes the findings over a broad group; brand personas are not the real individual customers who walk through your door.

A brand persona exists to help you understand the kind of client who will use your services and the kind of behavior you can expect from them. A description is created through the following components:

  • Demographic, geographic, and cultural information: This one isn’t intended to sound racist – hoteliers will know if their property might attract a strong following among a particular national group. It doesn’t mean everyone else is excluded.

  • Common behavior patterns: Examples might include people who value health and wellness, or those who like to party.

  • Shared professional and personal issues: Many people are time-poor as a result of their work; they want convenience and a relaxing experience.

  • General professional and personal goals and wishes: Some people want to run their own professional practice; others want to explore the world. The possibilities are endless.

The problem comes when the brand persona is applied in practice, and starts to be called the buyer persona. Heidi Taylor acknowledges the buyer persona in B2B Marketing Strategy, but then explained further. “Understanding our customers goes much, much deeper than a one-page buyer persona,” she wrote. “Yet many of us never go beyond these personas when we develop our marketing strategies.”

When the marketers have finished up creating their brand persona, or buyer persona, they usually hand over responsibility to the sales team. But have you ever asked your sales team where they actually find these buyers? Quite often the answer would be they don’t find them at all. They find the people who need somewhere to stay and are willing to pay, regardless of nationality, lifestyle habits, aspirations, or even brand perceptions.

The buyer persona from the sales perspective is a little different from the brand persona. In the B2B setting, it is described in terms of identifying the product user, the person authorized to take decisions, and the one who controls the finances. You’ll note that this would be quite useful when your sales team are out securing B2B agreements with potential clients, rather than focusing on imaginary customers who like fine wines and appreciate the arts.

What is needed is a compromise. Heidi Taylor pointed out that most marketing teams and sales teams are not connected and don’t have sufficient interaction. The people formulating the brand persona have only limited contact with the people who actually have to sell that brand through direct contact with tour operators, agents, and corporate clients. It is the salespeople who meet the real buyers, and accordingly are best placed to understand them.

From the sales perspective, the buyer persona should take a more practical form:

  • Demographic, geographic, and cultural information: This one is still useful.

  • Role of buyers within their organizations: No need to describe who these people truly are behind the facade – only what it says on their business card.

  • Buyer objectives: You might think they love technology and like to party – maybe they just want the best price and location.

  • Buyer decision-making: If you don’t know how they reach their final decisions, you won’t know how best to influence them.

Marketers try to understand customer behavior but the brand persona is often created in a top-down manner. Frontline sales staff interact directly with customers and can build the buyer persona from the bottom up, responding to client feedback and the daily reality on the ground. In order to be effective, the ideal approach would combine elements of both, which means that marketers and sales personnel need to start talking, often. As marketing expert Mark Ritson said, “You can’t be a good marketer if you’ve started with a tool. Start with the customers and the strategy and then choose the tools.”

Remember, you can only make money from real people, not your imaginary customers, so go and visit your sales team to get closer to finding out who your clients really are.