Customer Personas: How ASOS rocks the urban scene and Benetton mixes a message to engage

tmatulis    February 8, 2015

Organisation Name: ASOS
Industry: Online fashion retail
Web references


London –based ASOS is a global on-line fashion player that targets urban 20-something customers.  ASOS aims to be the ‘hub of a thriving fashion community’.  Their numbers are impressive – over 80,000 branded and own-brand products shipped from warehouses in the UK, US, Europe and China to almost every country in the world, websites attracting 100 million visits per month, 9.1 million active customers,  2014 sales exceeded $1B.

Organisation Name: United Colors of Benetton

Industry: Retail fashion
Web references


Another global fashion player, Benetton Group S.p.A. is based in Italy and operates a network of 6,000 stores in major international markets. It is well known for running controversial media campaigns that cross many lines of public tastes, orthodoxies and standards, even though its fashion sense is mostly mainstream.  Benetton stores and on-line channels generate an annual turnover exceeding $2B.

Author:  Tom Matulis

Lean Quote

Lean Thinking

Lean Manufacturing, Lean Production, Lean Start-up, Lean Marketing….. The concept of Lean has caught fire in business.  At the core is the singular goal of extracting more value with fewer resources and less waste.  Approaches can vary but the simple, fundamental principle that makes this goal possible is iteration around a process that unpacks, tests, measures, validates and (re)designs products and services.  Marketing and social media are no different and practitioners are revisiting their processes with a new decidedly non-linear focus.

Lean Marketing Cycel

Some readers will be familiar with paradigm-busting thinking on business models and business architecture that has emerged and crystallized over the past 10 years.  Thought leaders such as Alex Osterwalder and Steve Blank have built awareness around concepts such as business model generation, minimum viable product or MVP, customer personas, and visual and canvas thinking.  Lean is a core element in this thinking and I recommend the free Udacity course on Lean Start-up by Steve Blank (, along with the recent Osterwalder books, Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design for anyone who might want to explore the topics.

There is nothing easy about the new paradigm , but a growing army of adherents recognize that the customer and their needs or desires for value should never be taken for granted, but constantly tested and validated.  In fact Lean Start-up and the Business Model Generation teach how to map customer value through and across every element of an organization’s business model.  If creating, delivering and capturing value are the objectives, what an organization does in its social media strategy has to align on each of these three elements.

This week I will compare two companies to explore how they appear to interpret customer personas in promoting their brands based on what is evidenced by their presentation in social media.

So what are personas?  Essentially they are distillations of who you successfully touch with your product or service based on key attributes that define discrete groupings within hundreds, or millions, of customers.  If you like coffee you may live in a persona that swears by Starbucks, or one that would not be caught dead in one.  Get the picture?  Building personas is both a science and art.  A few examples exist as ‘archetypes of archetypes’ in everyday thought.  Ever hear of Suzy the homemaker?  Can you guess what Apple’s personas are built around?  Seventeen the magazine famously built their core persona named appropriately ‘Teena‘ in 1950’s, and proceeded to evolve her for the next 70 years.

Let’s consider two brands that depend on effective use of social media for much of their brand personality and ultimately their success.

spring15_woman_boxLuciano Benetton, sometimes referred to as the man behind the family business, is known to have said that ‘if everyone likes a campaign no one will talk about it.’ Peruse the Benetton catalog for a few minutes and you will enjoy photos of beautiful young people and children in attractive and stylish clothing; floral patterns, bright colours mixed with pastels.  One might conclude their target personas have names like ‘Model Mindy’ or ‘Barbie’ and ‘Ken’.



However many will recall their famous and controversial campaigns that seem out of sync with their fashion taste.

This striking image does not seem to hang with the clothes they make.  I speculate that Benetton aims its brand execution specifically through social media at personas other than those that buy the bulk of its products – artists, designers, taste and trend leaders, who may not even buy much.  Perhaps Signor Benetton has straightforwardly exposed their strategy, the notion that any and all buzz moves product.  Finally, and I think most important, is the ability of social media to deliver controversial messages and engage individuals in their worlds, versus traditional broadcasting to the masses.

pope kissingInteresting that it is conventional media that gets Benetton in trouble, like when the Vatican sued over the a picture of the Pope kissing an Imam posted in bus booths and billboards.

Curious to learn what other people think about what Benetton has done over the years.


If Benetton’s story is ambiguous by design the message ASOS delivers to its personas is crystal clear.


ASOS is a hugely popular brand enjoying close to 2m fans on Facebook.  They leverage major social media channels by being active and responsive, and do this out in the open. They connect directly with individual consumers through Twitter, a strategy that keeps marketing messages away from direct consumer responses to both happy and unhappy customers.  Separate feeds for men’s and women’s fashion is another approach that polishes messaging further.

What I appreciate about ASOS is how clear they are on the key macro-persona they are targeting, urban 20-somethings.  Their corporate website even details this as a core strategy – who they are, how they reach them, and why they are so valuable.  Their videos are clear and consistent.

Lessons Learned:  Whereas traditional media was often a ‘stab in the dark’, social media has created a complex set of networks that create many opportunities to shape how customers can be engaged.  The risks are no fewer, but less scary if social media is used effectively.  The difference is in the ability to iterate around a plan, and pivot many times along the path.

Submitted By:  Tom Matulis
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