The reinvention of the RACI chart

Remember the old-fashioned RACI chart? Rethinking it might just be the key to understanding the modern shopper.

The RACI chart is an icon. (Well, a project management icon, anyway.) 

Invented sometime in the 1950’s, it outlined not just who was working on a project, but what their role was. Some people were “Responsible” for the project. Others, “Accountable” for tasks along the way. “Consulted” meant you’d be expected to provide feedback or input at some stage. And “Informed,” was a nice way of saying, “FYI and bye.”

A RACI chart was handy to have around when project managers needed someone to make a call. But it never really caught on in the world of marketing because, um, what creative person wants to fill out a matrix of interlocking project responsibilities?


What made the RACI chart so powerful, though, was that it mirrored the way people actually move through the world.

Some people have to make decisions.

Others just need to be heard.

In fact, that’s pretty similar to the way people make purchasing decisions, too, every single day. And with a little tweaking, the RACI chart provides a handy way for marketers to develop audience personas they can message against.

Meet the Peppermills!

The Peppermills thought they were excited for the first day of school. But now they find out the district is requiring every student to come to class with a new laptop. Suddenly Jancy Peppermill (AKA Mom) has to go shopping. Let’s meet her and her team.

Jancy Peppermill (AKA Mom)

She’s an IT professional and since she works from home and can go shopping over lunch, the family decides she’s the one who’ll make the final call.

Verdict - Responsible. It’s her job to make sure her son shows up with the right laptop on Day One.

Jefferson Peppermill (AKA Dad)

He knows that he knows nothing about computers. But he and Jancy share a checking account, so he is going to have to sign off on this major purchase.

Verdict - Accountable. Without his approval, the purchase doesn’t happen.

Joey Peppermill

He’s the one who has to use this laptop, and he’s excited to get it. (He’ll probably ask for one that can play video games!) But realistically, other than giving Jancy the school’s list of technical requirements, he has no say in the decision. (After all, he’s only nine years old.)

Verdict - Informed. Jancy will hand him his laptop and he’s going to take it, whether he likes it or not.

Jane Norton

She and Jancy have coffee every Wednesday, and they have kids in the same class. So Jancy will definitely tell Jane what laptops she is considering, and make sure they came up with the same shortlist.

Verdict - Accountable. Jane won’t make the call, but her list could tip the scales.

Maria Delgado

She babysits for Joey now, but just a few years ago, she was going to the same school he does. So Jancy is planning to ask Maria some questions about apps, storage, and how much power Joey’s laptop really needs.

Verdict - Consulted. Maria has credibility and first hand experience, but that was a couple years ago, so she won’t be driving this decision.

Bob the Laptop Blog

He runs a popular site where he shares his opinion of various laptops. And his social media feeds are a must-follow in the IT world. After Jancy has her shortlist, she’s heading to Bob’s site. And if he gave a rig a thumbs down, it’s off her list. 

Verdict - Accountable. Bob is powerful, for sure. But like Jefferson, he can only say no to a decision. He doesn’t have the power to say yes.

See the RACI chart the way a human being does

Of course, Jancy doesn’t tack a RACI chart to her wall before she goes laptop hunting. Her conversations are often informal and intuitive. So the final step is to arrange her team the way she sees them in real life.

Inner Circle

 These are the people who are accountable for an important step of the process. Jancy’s inner circle is made up of Jane, Jefferson and Bob. All of these people could veto the decision in some way.

Outer Circle

 The outer circle is filled with those who are consulted or informed about the decision. For the new laptop, that’s Jorge and Maria. They may influence or inspire Jancy, but not much.

Using the Buying Circle on the consumer journey.

Now think about your business. What are the buying circles around your customers? Take some time imagining them, and you’ll have a powerful new tool that you can use to prioritize messaging and allocate media budgets.

Then what?

Ask yourself questions about how the people in the inner circle interact with your customer. There’s no question that’s too simple or small!

  • Are they around your customer when the need arises?
  • Is there any way you can be top-of-mind before that?
  • How do you stack up against the competition?
  • How are your reviews on influencing sites? Can you improve them?

The list goes on, and should be done for each persona. The good news is that every question you come up with is another opportunity to improve your chances of making a sale!

Want to get started? Download a Buying Circle template at Or check out the Unified Marketing System book for more information on how to create a marketing plan that works for today’s consumers. 

Like the Peppermills, for instance.

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The UMS method has transformed our business. The discipline it gave us helped us survive through tough times and then thrive with years of double-digit growth. This process works and we are evidence of it.

David DeCamillis
VP Sales & Marketing, Platte River Networks