April 9, 2019

Are consumer segment Personas helpful facts or Marketing fiction?

By Amy Scott

After a break in posting due to a holiday, I’m pleased to return and share about Personas.

Despite having shared briefly before about Segmentation we have not had a post on this useful topic. Guest bloggers have shared on the continued relevant of segmentation & I shared some thoughts on public segmentations. But no personas.

So, to fill that gap, I am delighted to welcome a new guest blogger, Amy Scott. She runs a consultancy called Sedulous. See her website for the definition of that word.

Anyway, over to Amy to share from her practical experience of how to develop & use personas. In this first of two posts, she shares what they are & how they help. In her next post, she will go into more detail on their use in customer journeys.

Addressing the Persona critics

Over the past few years, I’ve had numerous conversations with people about the importance of personas. Many people have told me they don’t really believe in personas and see them as a bit of fluffy fiction, dreamt up by their marketing colleagues sitting around in a morning workshop being ‘creative’.

I want to dispel this myth. Personas, if done properly are based on hard cold facts and are composed of research on how your customers interact with you.

So, I thought it was about time someone clarified some of the confusion that exists around personas and the value they can bring to a business.

So what is a persona?

A persona is a representation of a known cluster of needs, wants, expectations, attitudes, goals, frustrations, motivations and behaviours. They focus on the human or psychological factors, the things that make people ‘tick’, while also containing some demographic and sociographic information.

They are presented as a single person, couple or family unit brought to life, but represent the synthesis of multiple forms of qualitative and quantitative research about actual customers & how they interact with an organisation.

Personas also take into account the context of the interaction. For example, if I visit a Starbucks, I might be one persona when grabbing my coffee before work & a totally different persona when meeting up with friends there on a weekend. This is because my needs, expectations and behaviours for this experience differ greatly depending on the context of the interaction.

What personas are not…

Many people confuse customer segments with personas. Segments are predominantly concerned with demographic information such as age, gender, location, housing and sociographic information such as buying preferences, disposable income, savings, lifestyle and channel / technology usage. So, if we use my Starbucks example, I would only be one segment rather than the two personas I clearly am.

Personas are not based on internal assumptions or biaseswe just instinctively know our customer’. You need to check your assumptions and biases against the actual experience of your customers by doing research.

They aren’t a one-off exercise, because your customers and their expectations change over time so your personas will also need to change – it is an iterative process.

Finally, personas are a tool, not an exact science. Yes, there is some degree of subjectivity in them, but you mitigate and minimise this by triangulating and validating your research.

How do they help?

Personas bring a human element into the design process. They are a useful way of communicating internally and helping to making clear the motivations that support customer decisions and the experiences that they expect.

They can help you to articulate your customers’ needs concisely. Generating empathy internally for your customers and encouraging the adoption of an ‘outside-in’ customer centric perspective.

You also gain greater knowledge about your customer’s needs, expectation and behaviours. So, your marketing campaigns can be more effectively targeted leading to a greater ROMI.

Personas can be used with ‘what if?’ scenarios helping you to predict likely behaviours when you are designing products, propositions and experiences.

And they provide focus, because as you can’t design optimal experiences for everyone. Differing personas have different needs and expectations. Yes of course sometimes personas will have common collective needs e.g. buying a book on Amazon, but often the same journey differs depending on the persona they are designed for.

How are you using personas?

Thanks to Amy for that clarification and beginning to bring to life how powerful personas can be. What do you think? Have you used them and what was your experience?

Feel free to comment below or on social media. Let’s share real practitioner leader experience on using these tools in practice.