News for Authors

Persona: A Refreshed Way to Reach Today’s Readers

by Grant Griglak |June, 2023

What is Persona?

Persona launched in 2017 as Penguin Random House’s first proprietary market segmentation project. It was our largest market research study of readers in the United States and a major milestone in our company’s journey toward being the most consumer-centric book publisher. The research was rolled out to the entire company, providing foundational insights on U.S. readers while also focusing on understanding and segmenting adult and teen readers, and gaining a better understanding of parents of younger readers.

For this iteration of Persona, the Consumer Insights team worked to update the research with a fresh perspective, focusing on book buyers versus readers for more actionable insights.


Why did we update Persona?

The market has evolved quite a bit due to the pandemic and a shift toward digital/online discovery. We wanted to stress-test that the 2017 Personas are still valid and/or learn how they’ve changed, as well as update our understanding of the path to discovery and purchase.

As PRH works to grow our reach and engagement with new and diverse audiences, we also prioritized key multicultural book buyer groups to help identify nuances and build authentic connection and understanding.

With mood being essential to content choices in media today, we sought to understand why book buyers choose particular books for particular occasions. Specifically, what emotions do they want to feel when reading? A new Need State segmentation layered on top of the Persona segments helps us to match book buyers with the content that meets their needs.


What did we learn?

We learned quite a few things, including how readers are navigating the latest changes in the media and retail (for example, the impact of platforms like TikTok that were not around in 2017). We also learned more about the nuances of multicultural audiences. We noticed a dramatic rise in casual readers (likely because of lifestyle changes due to the pandemic) as well as an uptick in “binge reading” (going through phases of reading a lot, and then not reading at all).

Finally, we conducted a complementary Need States segmentation. Need States explain the unique motivation driving a particular book choice at a particular time. They describe what a consumer hoped or hopes to get out of a book, both functionally and emotionally, on a particular occasion. With the combination of Need States, Personas, and Content Affinities, we can paint a 360-degree picture of the book buyer to best meet their needs.


How is Persona used across PRH?

Having a deeper understanding of our readers enables us to bring books to market more effectively for our authors. By putting this information into the hands of every employee at Penguin Random House, we aim to keep the reader at the front of our minds in all that we do, supporting our goal to be the most reader-centric book publisher.

Your publishing team utilizes Persona along with all of our other tools and information to identify core and opportunity audiences for our books. Once an audience is identified, Persona’s insights can inform the entire publishing process, from tailoring copy on jackets, retailer websites, and advertising to extending the life of a book by focusing on secondary or tertiary audiences for post-publication publicity and marketing.


What’s next?

We’re continuing to socialize these findings on our internal website and through workshops and presentations, and have developed tools—including the Find Me in Advertising dashboards, the Content Matching Tool, and the Media Affinities Dashboard—to make the data from our Persona study as actionable and relevant as possible to folks across marketing, advertising, publicity, sales, and editorial.

Persona is just one of many tools your publishing team employs to inform campaign decision-making. Your marketing team can speak specifically to how they are using data and insights about readers to publish and market your book more effectively.