User personas: what are they and how do you create them?
Picture the scene: after months of toil, time and money, you are finally ready to release your new product into the world. You couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, and after all the effort of development, this is your big moment. You place your creation on your online shop and wait for the sales to roll in.
But what if they don’t?
There can be no worse feeling. Especially if the fault isn’t in the product, but in the user experience. Your product could be exactly what the customer needs, but if their first interaction with your brand doesn’t engage them long enough to convince them, you miss a sale and they miss out on the product they otherwise would have wanted.
What can personas do for you?
A persona allows you to build a picture of consumers’ traits and behaviours. In other words, it puts a human face to cold data. By understanding what makes them tick, you can identify your customer’s problems on a more personal level – and so market your product as an effective solution just for them. After all, you may offer the best product or service in your industry, but if you can’t prove it, then it’s no good to you or your customers.
Your first steps to creating user personas
Before you start, you need data. But this means more than simply gathering details on your customers’ age ranges and geographic locations. Personas are built upon real consumer analysis and research.
This helps to paint a more intricate and detailed picture of your customers – what they value in a brand, their personal motivations and goals, importance of product cost, what form of communication works best for them, etc.
(Note that a persona does not represent one specific individual, but rather helps you to reflects broader segments of your customer base.)
Three steps to persona heaven…
1. Collect your data
Personas are only ever as good as the data that supports them. First use surveys (either in-page or through e-mail marketing campaigns) to collect valuable feedback from real customers. As the more data you can gather the better, it’s worth incentivising surveys by offering incentives or discounts for those who complete them.
It goes without saying that the questions you choose to ask in these surveys are vital. Remember, you are looking to discover information about your customer base that is as helpful as possible for your business. So if you’re a health supplement company trying to deliver the best product for your customers, asking them about their favourite film genres probably won’t be very relevant. (That said, there are often important overlaps among all industries that will form a solid foundation for your persona.)
Here are some areas to consider in gathering customer data:
Goals and motivations What does the customer want? Why do they want it? Are they looking to make a one-off purchase, or a more permanent lifestyle change (for instance, something to help improve their career or personal life)? Is their priority quick delivery and ease-of-use, or are they more concerned about security and discretion? Are the ethics and provenance of the product important to them?
Pain points Understanding what your customers do not want can be as informative as what they do. Indeed, people often find it easier to articulate what they dislike – since they will probably come across more products that don’t satisfy them than finding the perfect solution for their needs. Whatever it is, your customers will gladly let you know. You need only listen – and take note.
Personality traits Are they cautious consumers, researching products for days, scouring the internet for reviews and comparing prices? Or do you know exactly what you want and demand instant gratification? If they are the latter, they won’t want to wade through huge amounts of copy on your website, and will put more emphasis on a fast and efficient check-out process. These kinds of traits are easy to identify and extremely valuable in terms of how you go about everything from marketing your product to establishing your website and branding.
Demographics Age, sex, income and location are well-established demographic segments. But you may wish to further identify such personal data such as ethnicity, religion and education where relevant (for instance, in products as varied as cosmetics, takeaway delivery and online skill-development services). Demographics represent the more static elements of your customer base. They either never change (ethnicity), rarely change (geographic location) or change by easily quantifiable amounts (age) – and it’s possible to spot trends throughout and between these segments.
Established brand beliefs Your customers will have pre-established likes and dislikes. What other brands and products do they use – or have even heard of? What notions do they hold about other companies whose products they have not yet used? By asking these sorts of questions, you not only gain learn more about their motivations, but save yourself vital time and money by channelling your efforts towards most the effective solutions.
2. Identify patterns and trends
Once you have gained enough data to build a picture of your customer base, you can start to establish areas where your data overlaps, focusing your attention on the patterns and trends that will help to form your personas. Open-ended questions in your surveys can result in more information to sift through, but they will also give you deeper insights into your customers’ habits and motivations. Ideally, you want to hone these down to a handful of customer archetypes: if you end up with too many, you risk diluting the data you worked hard to collect.
3. Tie it all together
Once you’ve gathered your data and identified the patterns within them, you can start to create your personas. These should be as distinct and memorable as possible. It’s worth giving them names so that you can picture them and differentiate between them. By creating each persona this way, you will relate far more empathetically towards them, and in turn they will influence decisions relating to your marketing, brand identity and product design.
Each persona should include:
• Name and photo: These help to humanise your virtual personalities, allowing you and your team to recognise personas and distinguish them more easily from one another.
• Bio: Write a short but descriptive summary of your personas. This could include aspirations and desires, hobbies and other details – such as career motivation or the things that make them happiest. (Remember that your data is based on real people: so try not to elaborate your bio too much, would could skew how your and others interpret your customer base.)
Having acquired your data in Step 1 and distilled it in step 3, you can begin to shape and refine your personas, so that your cold and faceless data begins to form impressions of real people. These are your personas.
Once you know and understand what these are, you can start to shape your customer experience accordingly – helping to ensure you keep consumers in the sweet spot of your purchase funnel, all the way to pressing ‘checkout’ on their online shopping basket…