In this article, we introduce the practice of Persona Development, which is the process of trying to define and understand your business’s ideal customer or application’s target user. Marketing teams and product designers use Persona Development for crafting messages, features and experiences designed to meet the needs of their preferred customers. This is so they can identify who they should be trying to speak to, sell to, and service and for this knowledge to be distributed across the entire team.
The goal of the Persona Development process is to ensure the team understands who it is they are building a product for, which will allow the marketing team to craft messages, services and packages that best suit the needs of this ideal customer, and for sales teams to understand the struggles and aspirations of the clients with whom they are building relationships. In essence, without defining an ideal customer – or persona – you don’t know who it is you’re building your business around. In which case, you might end up designing a product suitable only for yourself, which will result in significant problems further along the line.
Firstly what is a Persona?
A persona is a fictional identity that is created for the purpose of identifying the ideal user type of your website or application. While this persona or avatar is not a real person, you can (and probably should) draw detail from real-life customers and people who have interacted with your product and brand so you can understand, and aim to meet, their real-life needs.
A persona is effectively a series of questions, documented in on a page that your entire team can read and understand. It can be as in-depth as required, and it is best practice to develop just two or three per business, because you want to be able to drill down to your ideal segment and target user. It is no use trying to list every individual whom you may think may interact with your product because this will effectively dilute your thinking, and you will end up with no actionable insights.
Design for one but satisfy many
You may worry that you will restrict your audience or exclude people by creating a persona for one or two customer profiles, but this is not the case. By developing a persona, and a personalised action plan to meet the needs of this user, you will likely be meeting the needs of many people who have similar lives and experiences, require similar services and are calling out for a product or service that is tailored for them.
Conversely, if you try to target too broad an audience, your message and services are unlikely to resonate; if you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody. The aim of Persona Development is not to represent all audiences or address all the needs of your website/application user, but instead to focus on the major needs of the most relevant user groups.
Demographics VS psychographics
A traditional way of developing personas and identifying your target audience would be to focus on demographics, by listing certain human metrics such as age, location, salary, education level, etc. Whilst these are important to understand, this is by no means where the persona story ends. More recently, a sharper focus has been placed on psychographics to help with understanding a fuller picture of the people we are trying to serve.
Psychographics examine the lifestyle, values and attitudes of our ideal customer.
It is important to examine demographics alongside psychographics because values, attitudes and personality types can cut through demographics. By understanding the mindset of the customer, or user of our products, alongside their demographic attributes, we can dispel some potentially incorrect or preconceived ideas and stereotypes that may need challenging.
For example, if you create a persona using demographics only, you may create an avatar that is only half-developed. Your ideal customer type may be aged 70+, but their views could just as easily be progressive and they might enjoy an active lifestyle too, which could be something you overlook if you follow a stereotypical age profile. By including psychographics as part of the Persona Development process, you will be able to more realistically shape their needs and expectations of the product or experience you are designing for them.
Uses for Persona Development
Persona Development was first introduced in 1998 by Alan Cooper as a design interaction tool, and since then, the concept has been used extensively in marketing, product design and tech development. Persona Development can benefit all aspects of business, from development to marketing, to product and service design. From a well-developed persona, you can extrapolate a variety of action points and business goals; these include
- Tailoring features specifically to help your ideal customer achieve their goals
- Crafting brand and messaging that resonates with your target audience defined in your Persona Development documentation
- Designing the experience, wireframes and product architectures, with your Persona at the heart of decision making
- Creating relevant content and marketing materials that you know your defined Persona would find value in reading, and likely share with their connections
What goes into a Persona Development document?
As I mentioned previously, you can make your Persona Development as detailed as you see fit; the more fully fleshed-out you make your ideal customer, the better you and your team will understand and meet the needs of this user type. Again, do not feel restricted by having a laser focus on your one ideal customer; remember that many people will also have the same qualities and needs as this person.
Your Persona Development can include these core sections:
It’s useful to classify your persona as a web manager, chef, casual user, or admin, etc.
Give your Persona a face so your team can better relate to them – or if you’re feeling creative, sketch them out, giving them features and accessories specific to the person they are, and the role you give them.
You’ll need to refer to your persona as though you’re developing your product, features, or writing specific content for them. This will help your team to do a better job as well as anchor their thinking when they are developing features for an actual human. You will be more effective if you ask, “How would Peter get the most out of this feature?”, rather than “What does this feature do?”
It’s essential to understand the professional level and roles in which your persona operates so you can shape the experience for them.
As mentioned previously, these are metrics such as age, education, ethnicity, income, and family status, which are all measurables that can help you to understand where your persona sits in the socio-economic scale.
These are the more emotional and value-based features of your persona. Some examples may be political leanings, ethics, or personality types, what makes them tick, what they like and dislike about daily life. You can also include their hobbies and leisure activities to help build a more rounded picture of your person.
Goals and tasks
List the goals and activities they are trying to complete while using a system like yours. This can be specific like “They want to quickly report on the marketing and export an actionable list that they can filter by” or more broadly, such as “They want to cut down on admin time to free up space for creative thinking.”
What motivates them
Again, this can be business motivated or personal. “What is their ultimate business goal?” or “What gets them out of bed in the morning?” It is essential to understand what drives your persona in their working and personal lives.
Describe their physical, social, and technological background to help understand their perspective on the world and level of understanding of digital.
Create a phrase that sums up what matters most to the person as it relates to the product you’re offering. This might look like “Can you get me that marketing report by Friday?” or “I want to measure the impact I am having.”
Creating a persona is an important and fun activity that you can do to empower your team to better understand the specific needs and desires of your target audience. By having a persona in your back pocket, you can refer to them whenever you are designing or creating any element with which your users and audience will interact. Ask yourself “will Ayesha relate to this article?” or “does Kevin find value in this new feature?” as you are designing it, and you will better craft something that addresses the needs of the person which will result in a more effective product.