marketing personas

Negative Marketing Personas – How to Cope with Grinders

Marketing Personas – We’ve all been there, but we might not have put a name to the phenomenon. The day has gotten off to a flying start. You’ve just returned from your coffee break. Some hot coffee, a little light banter with your co-workers, and then IT happens. “The Grinder” is back.

Your hopes for a “light day at the office” have just been flushed down the drain. Or have they?

I’ve enjoyed watching the Simpsons for a very long time. One of my favorite characters is Mr. Burns. 

Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns is a fictional character. He’s the richest man in Springfield. He’s also extremely greedy. Maybe even evil. Yes, Burns is undoubtedly evil.

Mr.Burns “the Pantalone”

Of course, Mr. Burns is based on a well-known comedic character, “the Pantalone.” 

The Pantalone (or, Pantaloon) was:

“[O]ne of the most important characters in Commedia dell’Arte. With his exceptional greed and status at the top of the social order, Pantalone is “money” in the commedia world.” Source: Pantalone –

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of theatre that was both improvised and scripted. Characters in the Commedia represented common personality types and stock characters. These characters were exaggerated “real characters.” Source: Commedia dell’Arte – 

So, without exaggerating, Mr.Burns is a character right out of 16th-century Italian theatre.

Great. So what? 

What does any of this have to do with marketing personas?

Uncovering Mysterious Characters with Marketing Personas

Actors in the Commedia wore masks. The character or persona concept derives from the word “mask” in ancient greek. 

Actors aren’t the only ones wearing masks, of course.

As a marketer, it can sometimes be vexing to understand your customer. For the most part, it’s a mystery why people act the way they do. We may never know. Let alone access that knowledge for our marketing. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. That’s where the concept of marketing personas come in handy.

“[A persona is a] fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a product [or service] in a similar way. A persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of customers. Personas provide common behaviors, outlooks, and potential objections of people inherent to a given persona.” (Emphasis my own.) Source: Persona (user experience) –

In addition to ideal personas, you may also want to construct negative personas. Socio-paths and psycho-paths. Sadists. These are examples of personas you want to avoid. They are generally a small fraction of your customer base.

Marketing Personas Should Describe Second-Level Wants and Not Just Explicit Needs

According to marketing guru and thought leader Perry Marshall, people exhibit behavior on two levels. 

Let’s say someone wants to lose weight. They’ll need to exercise. You should address this need in your marketing. That’s the easy part.

However, they also want to be able to eat Cheetos while watching the latest episode of the Bachelor. Tapping into this second-order want is the tough part and reconciling it with the primary want, tougher still. Personas should be used to make these wants explicit.

The prize for understanding our customer types on deep level allows us to communicate effectively and address our customers directly. A marketing persona is one tool in our toolbox to achieve better marketing, more visceral marketing. We “get” our customers. 

What the Heck is a Grinder Anyway?

There is no one set definition for the term so that the meaning will vary depending on your context. 

For instance, in finance, a Grinder is someone who makes a tremendous amount of trades each day and “grinds a small profit” on each trade. In finance circles, a grinder is respected and usually considered a hard worker.

In a customer service context, a grinder is indeed someone who tries to get a discount on every item or service you sell them. 

Business owners consider these types of customers undesirable because they are tough to profit from. Not only that. They tend to wear down your employees with their incessant bartering. 

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What is the Goal of the Marketing Personas

Maybe you should write a negative marketing persona and avoid grinders altogether. 

However, it’s not clear whether you should avoid grinders. They’re not all greedy and evil like Monty Burns from the Simpsons.

So instead of crafting a negative marketing persona, try asking yourself: 

“What is the goal of the grinder persona?” 

Probably things like:

  • Actively engaging with sales and service staff
  • Controlling and understanding all aspects of cost
  • Achieving a fair value on purchases and a good deal on services
  • Showing off their negotiation skills to a significant other
  • Avoiding embarrassment by not overpaying for products and services

The bulk of your customer base will not be made up of grinders. Remember, Mr.Burns was unique in the town of Springfield. Uniquely greedy. Uniquely evil. One of a kind.

Even if you attract the occasional grinder, most of them will have been conditioned to act in a certain way. Either by your company or by your industry.

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