At Full Fat Things, we always recommend using ‘personas’ for customer projects. For the uninitiated, this might seem like a lot of bother. So I thought I’d explain what they are, why we use them and how you can get the most out of them.
Why personas are worth it
Before I get started, I’m not going to claim we invented personas. Instead, I’m writing this because I think the concept is brilliant – if used properly.
In any case, the notion of personas has been around way longer than Full Fat Things. According to Wikipedia, the first mention of ‘user personas’ was back in the 1980s. But I suspect people may have been using something similar for even longer.
What I’m more sure about is that the growth in popularity of personas has risen pretty much in parallel with that of the Internet. If you think about it, with ever more goods and services being purchased remotely, it makes sense to have a picture of your customers in mind. But where personas really come into their own is in clarifying that image for everyone in your company and provide enough detail to make sensible, actionable decisions.
How do I create personas for my business?
If there’s one thing I know about personas, it’s that they only help if they contain a lot of detail. If you want to understand the expectations, concerns and motivations of your customers, you need to know far more than just their ages and job titles.
And there’s no point in creating personas if they don’t represent all your customers. That means doing proper research. This could be a mix of interviews, workshops and surveys. You can also use data collected from your existing applications. (We can help with any of this – we’ve done it lots of times, so it may be faster and more cost effective to use us. But if you’d prefer to do it yourself, let us know and we can offer guidance if it helps.)
If all of this sounds excessive, bear in mind that you can use these personas across your organisation and not just for a single project. They should become a cornerstone of your business moving forward, so they’ll provide value for a long time.
What do I need to know?
You’ll have to excuse me for stating the obvious, but just to be clear, the attributes you need to understand will vary according to the services and/or products you’re providing. What’s sometimes less obvious is you’ll be researching a mix of personal and professional details.
Among the ones we think you should consider compiling are: age, gender, marital and family status education and career overviews job title, salary, responsibilities where they get their information from individual goals, motivations, challenges and needs.
If it’s relevant, you might also want to capture information such as: company sector, products/services, turnover organisational challenges, reporting line their approach to work and managing their team.
How do I turn all this into personas?
Once you have your research data, you’ll need to condense it by looking for themes and characteristics. Remember, these need to be relevant to both your organisation and the application in question.
Next, do some brainstorming to organise all of this into groups that each represent a subset of target customers. You’ll then need to refine and prioritise the information so that you can write a description of a fictional person who encapsulates all you’ve learned about each group. And finally, it's most effective if you present it in a way that’s easy to read and absorb.
User persona examples
Generally I suggest you aim for up to five personas as there is no single definitive user persona who will represent everyone you’re targeting. And personas won’t be the same for every organisation, even in the same sector.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s an example. Say you were providing technical services to medium-to-large companies, here are some personas you might come up with.
First is Chief Technical Officer Dave who is 47, married with two children and commutes to London where he has overall responsibility for the IT of a £150 million turnover company. He is a risk taker but is under pressure to minimise costs. Then there’s Sam, who’s the new Head of Marketing for a £50 million turnover company based in the Midlands. He is on the lookout for new products and services to enhance the customer experience, which he has quickly identified as needing improvement. And finally there’s managing director Priya, who is also married with two children and commutes to offices in London and Berkshire. She is under pressure to maximise profits for shareholders of her £90 million turnover company and has to make tough decisions regarding budgets. They all use LinkedIn and Twitter, plus a variety of other social media and resources for work and leisure.
Ultimately, you’ll want something more detailed than this to make them really useful. For each one therefore, you should end up with something along the lines of:
- name, job title, responsibilities and the group of users they represent
- demographics including age and education
- the environment they’re working or operating in
- details relating specifically to your application, such as goals, tasks, when and where they’ll be accessing it, and the competition.
Fleshing this out with a photo and a quote really helps to bring personas to life and make them more relatable for everyone who uses them.
Pitfalls to avoid
There’s no perfect way to create personas. If there was, we’d all be using the same process. But here’s my list of things to avoid if you want to get the most out of them.
Teach people how to use personas
By the time you’ve created your personas, it will seem like a logical concept – to you. But others may have no idea what to do with them. Tell them, bearing in mind their roles and targets.
Don’t make them up
...based on what you ‘think’ you know about your customers. Compare your view with other managers and you’ll quickly uncover some variations.
Check they aren’t too general
There may be times when company-wide personas are too broad for a specific application. That’s not helpful. If you suspect this is the case, take positive action and consider creating a new subset for that project.
Don’t distribute them digitally
...and assume people will refer to them. Often, they won’t. Find ways to present the results to everyone in person. And then provide physical versions that people can decorate their offices with.
Get buy-in from the top
If the board and senior management don’t understand what you’re doing and/or champion the idea, the trickle-down effect will soon mean others won’t bother with them either. This can be a significant challenge. Address it by explaining the benefits to the organisation. Then ask them to share their expertise by getting involved in the research.
Don’t create them in isolation
If you suddenly present them to your organisation as a done deal, you risk alienating some of your staff who either don’t understand them or don’t agree with them. And then they won’t get used. Find ways to let people know what you’re doing and contribute to their development.