The Power of Personas


In 2016, Whole Foods Market launched a new initiative to meet the demand for affordable, organic products. It unveiled Whole Foods Market 365 (365), a grocery store chain with a lower price-point than its flagship stores. After two years and four stores, the company had accumulated relevant customer data but wanted a richer understanding of its customer base to differentiate its brand experience.

To establish a more meaningful connection with its customers, 365 engaged INK for guidance. Our goal was to make sense of 365’s disparate data and uncover insights about its customers. We wanted to know, what made 365 customers unique? What did they care about most? How can we get them through 365’s doors? By developing data-driven customer personas, we discovered and illustrated 365’s diverse customer base.


INK created personas using data we had underestimated. The insights allowed us to create personal experiences and establish connections with customers we were inadvertently missing.

Ashley Steele

Marketing Director, Whole Foods Market 365


Connecting Data, Departments, and Stores

Delivering a personalized experience is a top priority for marketers. 365 wanted to draw meaningful conclusions about its customers at scale. INK knew buyer personas that went beyond basic audience segmentation would inform and enhance 365’s marketing and customer strategies. But we also recognized that if data didn’t underpin these personas, the final result would be guesswork.

Luckily for INK, 365 wasn’t lacking in information. But previous research initiatives had left the 365 team overloaded with data. They knew there were valuable insights hidden among the numbers; they just needed help distinguishing the valuable from the insignificant. Together, INK and 365 worked to uncover new conclusions from existing research and gain fresh insights into customer preferences and motivations.

Informed Persona Creation

Again, 365 had working assumptions about its target customer. But it still needed crucial information like psychographics and key motivators. To fill in these gaps, INK began analyzing customer surveys, sales data, and social media audiences. Next, we separated customers into categories. Each group included characteristics like demographics, lifestyle, and store preferences.

We also researched store neighborhoods and used Facebook data to learn more about each persona’ s background. Lastly, we led creative group exercises to bring these personas to life. Our results allowed us to identify potential customer touchpoints specific to each persona.

Humanizing Data to Unlock Customer Insights

We helped 365 understand the data it had already gathered. In doing so, we shed light on previously-overlooked customer segments. We avoided generalizing audiences and found many unique personas within the millennial group for 365. This approach ensured we didn’t stereotype any audience already prone to clichés. The personas we introduced went on to personalize digital and in-store marketing efforts. They also led to improved customer acquisition rates.

Developing buyer personas based on data and infused with creativity ensures you’re reaching the right people in the right ways. INK believes personas should reflect real people with real motivations, desires, and concerns. If you can’t relate to your customers on a human level, you’ve lost them.

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data sources synthesized
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shopper personas created
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high-priority customer types identified