5 Signs You’re Creating Personas That Won’t Be Effective

Personas are a popular digital design asset, but creating personas that aren’t effective can lead to customer and user experiences that are disconnected, broken, or incomplete. In this blog, I’ll discuss the warning signs for creating personas incorrectly, and give you tips to ensure your personas are realistic, useful, and don’t get stuck on a shelf gathering dust.

A “half-baked” persona ultimately does not help you truly understand your customers. If you don’t understand your customers, you can lose them, frustrate them, give them irrelevant information, or fail to convince them to be a customer in the first place.

Your product or service design will not match their needs, or end up confusing or frustrating to use. This can lead to more significant business consequences, like failing to differentiate yourself from the competition, and losing customers and revenue.

 

Here are 5 Signs Your Personas Won’t Be Effective

1. Your personas are fabrications made up by internal stakeholders, based only on opinions of who your customers are and what they are doing.


Tip:

When creating personas, use insights gathered from qualitative research with actual customers.


Personas are an effective method to represent and understand your customers; therefore, they must be accurate and realistic.

The only way to ensure they truthfully represent your real customers is to put customer research efforts to work. Qualitative research needs to happen to gather the data and create the insights.

I recommend contextual inquiry for this purpose, or the real-time observation of customers. After all, there is nothing more illuminating than actually sitting in your customer’s seat.

Most other research methods require the customer to relay to you secondhand what they think they do, what they recall, or giving you their opinion. But I’ve found that what people say they do, and what they actually do are two different things. People tend to leave out a lot of pertinent details, gloss over important facts, or just not remember them at all.

Make sure your personas are derived from qualitative research.

 

Contextual inquiry helps you uncover the deep understanding of what, but more importantly, why your customers are doing what they are doing. Contextual inquiry can help you discover problems your customer didn’t even know they had.

Perform contextual inquiry with a sample of your customers, then validate your findings with other research methods and tools like focus groups, surveys, web analytics, internal KPIs, etc. Personas based on research are immensely more credible and give you research-backed insights to justify your design decisions later.

 

2. Your persona solely consists of a list of personality traits, demographics, and/or a made-up story.


Tip:

Include insights about behaviors, goals, and needs that illuminate the design problem you are trying to solve. To really understand how to design an experience for your customers, go beyond surface-level information.


I think of personas as a design tool. They must be able to answer all the questions I will have when I am redesigning an experience–whether it is a marketing strategy or a digital product.

For marketing, it may include answers to questions like: What triggers your buyers? Why are they opting out of your email communications? What are the key problems they have that your product or service could magically solve? For digital products, understanding the goals and key tasks your target users are trying to accomplish, and in what order, is very helpful.

You may even create multiple views of the same persona with different information for different business audiences.

In my experience, winning personas include the following core customer elements (in addition to some of the basic demographic information):

  • Goals: What are the goals in their mind when they come to your website, or shop for your product? Be specific.
  • Tasks/Actions: What are they doing, and in what order? How long does it take?
  • Values: What is important to them? What values drive the decisions they make? For example, are they more cost-driven or quality-driven?
  • Needs: What answers do they need, what pieces of data do they require to accomplish the above tasks, and when do they need it? What is required versus nice to have?
  • Pain Points and Frustrations: What is causing them to opt out, close the browser, or go to another company, and why?
  • Expectations: How do they expect things to work, how much do they expect things to cost, and what is their tolerance for how much time it will take? What is their mental model for this experience?
  • Customer Journey Stage and Customer Type: Are they a potential new customer just starting to do research or are they ready to make a purchase? Are they a current customer just making their regular payments? Or, are they a current customer who is ready for an upgrade, or about to leave?
  • Emotions: What is their emotional state? Are they angry, anxious, excited, panicked, disappointed, or indifferent?
  • Back Story and Quote: Tell a short story about the persona, and choose a real customer quote that sums up a key characteristic or problem they have. These will give some life and context to the above and help people empathize.

Populate your persona data with information about their goals, backstories, and objectives.

 

3. Your personas don’t capture real-life scenarios that illustrate the customer experience you are designing.


Tip:

Ensure your personas represent the target customers for your product or service, and include all the pertinent details about the scenarios you will be designing.


When designing experiences, we usually have to think through and design for some very complex scenarios or use cases. It is important that your personas represent people who go through these real-life scenarios. After all, that is the reason we have personas, so we can put ourselves in the customer’s shoes when we are designing the flow and steps they have to take to accomplish these tasks.

For example, if you are revising how you market your products, ensure your personas represent the different products and combination of products and features that your customers expect to buy together. Make sure your personas represent the real way your customers purchase products so you can design the best way for them to research, shop and purchase them.

A simple user experience example would be a scenario about creating an account and signing in to your website. One persona would be an existing customer with a current username and password; another is a new customer without an account. Creating an account and signing in to an existing account are two scenarios you have to design. You need personas who fit into these scenarios so you can think through them from their perspective, and ensure a seamless and easy process.

Sometimes we can’t imagine all the features and scenarios we will be designing for when we are creating our personas. That’s okay! You can add these elements to your personas during design to help you think through this new scenario when it occurs.

 

4. You are creating personas that represent every customer type or job role.


Tip:

Create personas that are composite characters with common behaviors and values.


It is unnecessary to create a persona for every possible combination of customer types and attributes. It can also be redundant to create a persona for every job title you find. If you create more than 5-7 personas, it is harder to become familiar with all of them or remember each one.

I recommend creating personas that are a composite of similar behavioral characteristics, values, and tasks. Personas are generalized archetypes, so look for patterns of similar behaviors and values and group those customers into a single persona. Five personas is a good number to shoot for, but you may need more or less to appropriately represent all your target customers and their behaviors.

5. You’re creating personas that are one-offs, never updated, or never shared with the rest of the organization.


Tip:

Establish a sharing and governance process, so that personas are shared across the company, regularly updated and continuously used when making new decisions.


Personas should not be static documents that gather dust on a shelf. They need to be considered living, real people that are continuously being refined, and a key part of the process for any team that interfaces with customers.

There are many ways to introduce, share and collaborate with your personas across the company. Some creative techniques I’ve seen customers use are printing and hanging posters, giving presentations, producing a video, or even giving a live skit or performance.

Storing your personas in a shared platform that everyone has access to, ideally one that also stores customer research data, can do a lot to make personas more usable and credible. Ensure that personas are a key part of processes for different customer-facing groups within the company, and that they are sharing the same sets of personas.

Groups that can benefit from persona data include marketing, sales, customer experience, customer service and support, information technology, content creation and strategy, user experience and visual design, operations and more.

Ensure everyone works together to govern and update your personas whenever new or changed behaviors are discovered via customer research.

 

Conclusion

There is little point in creating personas that are half-done, derived from opinion, or remain static. If you are finding that your personas are not being used, unrealistic, or don’t answer your key questions about your customers, I hope these tips help you improve their quality.

Want a visual guide for effective persona creation? Click on the infographic directly below.

Personas are a popular digital design asset, but creating personas that aren’t effective can lead to customer and user experiences that are disconnected, broken, or incomplete. In this blog, I’ll discuss the warning signs for creating personas incorrectly, and give you tips to ensure your personas are realistic, useful, and don’t get stuck on a shelf gathering dust.

A “half-baked” persona ultimately does not help you truly understand your customers. If you don’t understand your customers, you can lose them, frustrate them, give them irrelevant information, or fail to convince them to be a customer in the first place.

Your product or service design will not match their needs, or end up confusing or frustrating to use. This can lead to more significant business consequences, like failing to differentiate yourself from the competition, and losing customers and revenue.

 

Here are 5 Signs Your Personas Won’t Be Effective

1. Your personas are fabrications made up by internal stakeholders, based only on opinions of who your customers are and what they are doing.


Tip:

When creating personas, use insights gathered from qualitative research with actual customers.


Personas are an effective method to represent and understand your customers; therefore, they must be accurate and realistic.

The only way to ensure they truthfully represent your real customers is to put customer research efforts to work. Qualitative research needs to happen to gather the data and create the insights.

I recommend contextual inquiry for this purpose, or the real-time observation of customers. After all, there is nothing more illuminating than actually sitting in your customer’s seat.

Most other research methods require the customer to relay to you secondhand what they think they do, what they recall, or giving you their opinion. But I’ve found that what people say they do, and what they actually do are two different things. People tend to leave out a lot of pertinent details, gloss over important facts, or just not remember them at all.

Make sure your personas are derived from qualitative research.

 

Contextual inquiry helps you uncover the deep understanding of what, but more importantly, why your customers are doing what they are doing. Contextual inquiry can help you discover problems your customer didn’t even know they had.

Perform contextual inquiry with a sample of your customers, then validate your findings with other research methods and tools like focus groups, surveys, web analytics, internal KPIs, etc. Personas based on research are immensely more credible and give you research-backed insights to justify your design decisions later.

 

2. Your persona solely consists of a list of personality traits, demographics, and/or a made-up story.


Tip:

Include insights about behaviors, goals, and needs that illuminate the design problem you are trying to solve. To really understand how to design an experience for your customers, go beyond surface-level information.


I think of personas as a design tool. They must be able to answer all the questions I will have when I am redesigning an experience–whether it is a marketing strategy or a digital product.

For marketing, it may include answers to questions like: What triggers your buyers? Why are they opting out of your email communications? What are the key problems they have that your product or service could magically solve? For digital products, understanding the goals and key tasks your target users are trying to accomplish, and in what order, is very helpful.

You may even create multiple views of the same persona with different information for different business audiences.

In my experience, winning personas include the following core customer elements (in addition to some of the basic demographic information):

  • Goals: What are the goals in their mind when they come to your website, or shop for your product? Be specific.
  • Tasks/Actions: What are they doing, and in what order? How long does it take?
  • Values: What is important to them? What values drive the decisions they make? For example, are they more cost-driven or quality-driven?
  • Needs: What answers do they need, what pieces of data do they require to accomplish the above tasks, and when do they need it? What is required versus nice to have?
  • Pain Points and Frustrations: What is causing them to opt out, close the browser, or go to another company, and why?
  • Expectations: How do they expect things to work, how much do they expect things to cost, and what is their tolerance for how much time it will take? What is their mental model for this experience?
  • Customer Journey Stage and Customer Type: Are they a potential new customer just starting to do research or are they ready to make a purchase? Are they a current customer just making their regular payments? Or, are they a current customer who is ready for an upgrade, or about to leave?
  • Emotions: What is their emotional state? Are they angry, anxious, excited, panicked, disappointed, or indifferent?
  • Back Story and Quote: Tell a short story about the persona, and choose a real customer quote that sums up a key characteristic or problem they have. These will give some life and context to the above and help people empathize.

Populate your persona data with information about their goals, backstories, and objectives.

 

3. Your personas don’t capture real-life scenarios that illustrate the customer experience you are designing.


Tip:

Ensure your personas represent the target customers for your product or service, and include all the pertinent details about the scenarios you will be designing.


When designing experiences, we usually have to think through and design for some very complex scenarios or use cases. It is important that your personas represent people who go through these real-life scenarios. After all, that is the reason we have personas, so we can put ourselves in the customer’s shoes when we are designing the flow and steps they have to take to accomplish these tasks.

For example, if you are revising how you market your products, ensure your personas represent the different products and combination of products and features that your customers expect to buy together. Make sure your personas represent the real way your customers purchase products so you can design the best way for them to research, shop and purchase them.

A simple user experience example would be a scenario about creating an account and signing in to your website. One persona would be an existing customer with a current username and password; another is a new customer without an account. Creating an account and signing in to an existing account are two scenarios you have to design. You need personas who fit into these scenarios so you can think through them from their perspective, and ensure a seamless and easy process.

Sometimes we can’t imagine all the features and scenarios we will be designing for when we are creating our personas. That’s okay! You can add these elements to your personas during design to help you think through this new scenario when it occurs.

 

4. You are creating personas that represent every customer type or job role.


Tip:

Create personas that are composite characters with common behaviors and values.


It is unnecessary to create a persona for every possible combination of customer types and attributes. It can also be redundant to create a persona for every job title you find. If you create more than 5-7 personas, it is harder to become familiar with all of them or remember each one.

I recommend creating personas that are a composite of similar behavioral characteristics, values, and tasks. Personas are generalized archetypes, so look for patterns of similar behaviors and values and group those customers into a single persona. Five personas is a good number to shoot for, but you may need more or less to appropriately represent all your target customers and their behaviors.

5. You’re creating personas that are one-offs, never updated, or never shared with the rest of the organization.


Tip:

Establish a sharing and governance process, so that personas are shared across the company, regularly updated and continuously used when making new decisions.


Personas should not be static documents that gather dust on a shelf. They need to be considered living, real people that are continuously being refined, and a key part of the process for any team that interfaces with customers.

There are many ways to introduce, share and collaborate with your personas across the company. Some creative techniques I’ve seen customers use are printing and hanging posters, giving presentations, producing a video, or even giving a live skit or performance.

Storing your personas in a shared platform that everyone has access to, ideally one that also stores customer research data, can do a lot to make personas more usable and credible. Ensure that personas are a key part of processes for different customer-facing groups within the company, and that they are sharing the same sets of personas.

Groups that can benefit from persona data include marketing, sales, customer experience, customer service and support, information technology, content creation and strategy, user experience and visual design, operations and more.

Ensure everyone works together to govern and update your personas whenever new or changed behaviors are discovered via customer research.

 

Conclusion

There is little point in creating personas that are half-done, derived from opinion, or remain static. If you are finding that your personas are not being used, unrealistic, or don’t answer your key questions about your customers, I hope these tips help you improve their quality.

Want a visual guide for effective persona creation? Click on the infographic directly below.

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2017-05-31T17:08:45+00:00