Personas and Champions
There are several reasons why the concept of personas is so useful to design, and a few are touched on in Alan Cooper's recent “Origin of Personas” article. One point not covered is this simple fact: When you design with specific people in mind, and help these people improve their quality of life by easing their daily tasks, you create champions for your product.
Project managers talk about “stakeholder buy-in” or “ownership” as a key to successful adoption. In “The Tipping Point” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the role of champions (who he subdivides into “Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople“) in the success of a message or product. To pull in one more sales concept, sales isn't about selling the product, but selling yourself.
To put it all together, success is about getting credible, influential people to adopt a message as their own. Helping these people demonstrate specific results is the best goal you can aim for. Do that, and the message spreads itself.
Note who this equation does not include -- the so-called “decision maker” demographic, where those who sign the cheques are perceived at the top of the chain. My favourite philosopher taught that there is no such thing as “choice.” If there is uncertainty, then you are not yet aware of all the details. When you understand something clearly, the path forward is clear, and choice is irrelevant.
Are “decision-makers” irrelevant to the success of a product or message? When their decisions are based on external information and not personal experience then I would argue that yes, direct marketing to the traditional decision-maker foodchain is pointless. It is by giving potential champions (connectors, mavens, and salespeople) the power to demonstrate success that will make choice irrelevant, and clear the path for decision makers to fall your way. And to create those champions you must build specifically for their daily needs. Personas rock.