User Personas: Necessary or not?
The debate is ongoing: Are User Personas necessary?Are they worth spending time on? Should they be shredded to pieces or saved for use?
You know the feeling of discovering a product that feels as though it was crafted just for you? When the packaging, wording, color scheme, and font appeal to all your senses? When the product itself solves problems, some of which you didn’t know even you had, and fits seamlessly into your lifestyle?
Every company wants its consumers to have this experience. They want their product to land in the hands of those specific individuals who will snatch it up for immediate use.
To achieve this, every design, branding, and marketing decision must stem from an informed, in-depth understanding of company-specific, target users. Appealing to old-fashioned baby boomers is different from tech-dependent millennials.
This is where the User Persona comes in.
What is a “User Persona”?
A “User Persona” or “Buyer Persona” is a sample individual, representative of a larger group of people, who would consume your product. This individual and others similar to him or her have certain expertise, goals, and obstacles, and are within a given age-range, socioeconomic bracket, geographic location, etc. The list goes on and on because:
1. A User Persona is meant to stand in for a group of real people, a set of individuals who exist in the world and who would, in real life, be interested in your company’s product.
2. A User Persona is usually presented as a one-page document, however, it is more than just another piece of paper to be tacked and forgotten on an office wall.
3. User Personas are not static templates, simple stereotypes, or interchangeable with the company’s next door. User Personas are living, breathing and ever evolving tools that can make or break your business.
Why create a User Persona?
User personas, like business plans, or other strategic documents are not a must. But a lack of well-defined User Personas can have consequences….
Companies with undefined target audiences and shallow understandings of consumers risk time and money wasted on wrong turns, pitfalls, and roadblocks.
1. As much as you’d like to believe otherwise, your target audience isn’t everybody. Many startups attempt to satisfy consumer bases that are too wide-ranging. They work to create products that are too big and end up failing to launch or unable to find their market fit.
2. Issues arise at the other end of the spectrum as well– established companies often have well-defined consumer bases, but haven’t kept up with their current behavioral patterns, interests, and goals. This lack of continual, deep exploration of intended audiences causes these companies to lose relevance among their target demographics. They fall by the wayside as competitors do a better job telling their products’ stories and steering them in the right direction to best appeal to consumers.
3. This lack of understanding of target users can be particularly detrimental when it comes to team members making marketing, UX, and design decisions. Lack of unity among team members due to diverging perceptions of target audiences results in diluted campaigns, unfocused websites, or ineffective marketing. Potential consumers may be confused or entirely turned off from products.
User Personas are designed to avoid these issues. They are used to boost clarity, productivity, and traction when it comes to all areas of internal decision-making.
When completed, you and your team will be on the same page, making decisions with a clear target in mind, and with well-defined insight into intended audiences. This comprehensive and unified understanding of key demographics allows for efficient and effective business decisions.
How do you create a User-Persona? Where do you start and where do you go?
Ok, so you’re sitting in front of a blank template, wondering how to fill in the details. Lucky for you, we have this handy How To Create Your Persona guide right on our blog.
Here are approaches to filling in content:
First, there is the User Persona completed based on assumptions or hypotheses. As the founder, marketer, or designer of your product, it is likely you know your intended users better than most people. You might have previous experience working with similar products or catering to clients within your target demographic. This prior knowledge can inform your current Personas. Your assumptions about who would be most eager for your product are probably not far off.
BUT, they could be. Which leads to the next phase of your User Persona, the one revised, restructured, or entirely re-created thanks to research and data. This Persona reflects collected statistics, surveys, interviews or feedback on target users.
Personas should also be built based on insight into current or projected market trends. What are your target users currently looking for? What websites are they currently using? A huge part of success is timing. You may have a product, a design, or a marketing strategy, which in its present form would have been perfect for the market last year, or alternatively, next year, but which, right now, is missing the mark. Understanding your potential consumer’s activity in the marketplace is crucial. It allows you to put the right product out at the right time.
The Hate and Debate:
The User Persona has the potential for danger, which is why it is so often critiqued and untouched. Here’s where problems occur:
1. If a User Persona is built solely from internal teams’ speculations, you risk inaccuracy and bias. For this reason, data is essential in confirming or revoking assumptions about potential consumers. However…
2. Not all data is created equal. Not all statistics are meaningful, unbiased, or pertinent. If you’re not careful, you could end up with a Persona whose information regarding customer interests, challenges, and goals is outdated, insignificant, or simply wrong.
Inaccurate, trivial, and stale information constantly threatens User Personas and the decisions made when referring to them. This doesn’t mean you should give up on User Personas– it means as their creator, you must continually revisit, research, and revise them.
When and how should User Personas be used?
For Product and UX Designers:
The decision to build, change, or scrap a feature will come down to Personas’ use cases. Having internal teams complete preliminary User Personas based on assumptions ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to beginning thoughts on target consumers. This way, when data supporting or conflicting company hypotheses arrive, the internal team remains in agreement on which product design strategies should remain the same and what should change.
For Marketing and Advertising:
A unified understanding of consumer motivations, frustrations, goals, and priorities, allows for laser-focused, efficient marketing and advertising decisions. From choosing wording for copy and slogans, to selecting social media platforms, to investing advertising budget in the right direction, User Personas are essential to have on hand. They will position you and your internal team, not only to make informed decisions, but also to establish an emotional connection between your customer and your product.
For Business Meetings and Decisions:
Defining target consumers will inform critical business strategies. Is there a big enough market for your product? If not, how do you steer it away from a small niche and towards a larger market fit? Who are the people that will make your business viable ?
What’s more, when it comes to attracting and meeting with outside investors, those individuals will ask about the intended market for your product, why this specific audience would be interested in your solutions, and how the decisions you’re making internally will attract their interest. Investors will want an easy-to-read, comprehensive deliverable– a User Persona document.
User Personas, always a work in progress, ever-changing, like real people.
Never stop working to understand and define target users. Consumer interests, trends, and positions within a given marketplace are constantly changing– your company needs to stay on top of these developments in order to thrive. The more you and your team understand about who you’re catering to now and where you project them being in the future, the more efficient and successful your design, branding, marketing, and UX decisions will be. The better you will be able to stay ahead of the game, build disruptive business, and game changing products.
As your company changes– revises its manifesto, adjusts its positioning, strengthens its product or adds services or features– your User Personas should change as well. First, second and third drafts of User Personas should reflect company growth, increased knowledge of user markets, and stronger understandings of consumers themselves.
Start creating your own persona online with Xtensio’s interactive User Persona Creator. It’s free.