Personas: How to get closer to your customer

Every company directs its services or products to a customer, because they ultimately accept the service and are willing to pay for it. However, too many providers only address a rough idea of the target group and perceive the customer only as part of a statistical mass. This can lead to a situation in which no-one is really reached; in the end, the product remains as unprofiled as the target group’s idea; no-one really recognises the advantage of the offer.

Personas – fictitious users of a product or service whose characteristics are derived from real data. In this way, prototypical customers are created that you can consult in every aspect: What does my persona want? How does my persona react? How do I reach my persona?

What are personas? Definition of technology

The idea of personas comes from the software developer Alan Cooper. Dissatisfied with the level of user-friendliness offered by computers at that time (the 1980s), Cooper developed a concept in which the user is the focus of development. The basic idea still exists today: Instead of working with an abstract concept of a target group, a concrete prototype user is developed on the basis of interviews and analyses.

Definition

Personas are fictitious users, based on real profiles. The characters reflect different types of customers. They serve in different areas of the company to help improve offers for actual clients.

A persona results from an intensive examination of the target group. Although average values from broad analyses also find their way into persona design, the fictitious customer profile’s “life” is created through interviews and conversations with actual customers and interested parties. The information, which is gained through personal contact, allows it to develop into a realistic, effective persona.

A persona has a concrete profile with a realistic biography and individual characteristics. This allows you to get close to real customers without restricting yourself to individual, random representatives of the target group. Not only do individual examples contribute to a persona, but also information from a large database. Therefore, the persona is a mixture of an individual and an average value.

Areas of application for personas

Whenever customers are concerned, personas can help create excellent services. This begins with the actual offer. Whether it’s a service or product, online or offline, digital or on demand, analogue or tangible: the wishes and requirements of the customer should always be in the foreground when tailoring an offer. However, there are even more contact points for buyers, subscribers and users. Personas can help, for example, when it comes to support or marketing.

In order to make clear what the purpose of a persona is, more specific terms sometimes appear: User persona, customer persona, buyer persona – these all have a certain focus, but the principle remains the same.

Note

Sinus milieus offer an alternative to personas . With this tool, you are aiming for the same thing (to not perceive the target group as a homogenous mass), but draws conclusions more strongly from stereotypical realities of life.

What are the advantages of personas?

If personas are used in a company, regardless of the area, the work can be aligned much closer to the customer. This in turn has further positive effects:

  • Illustration of different perspectives: The customer base is not a homogenous mass. With different personas, you are creating not only a non-existent average person, but also different individuals with different needs.
  • Focus on the user: Products and services must also benefit the customer. It therefore makes sense to keep these in mind – and not make decisions based solely on statistics.
  • Questioning usefulness: When working with personas, one contrasts the fictitious character’s goals with the product’s usefulness. Once the offer is satisfying the customers’ wishes, the product can be called successful.
  • Visualising users: Personas are not just virtual concepts. In most cases, the personas’ biographies and profiles are visualised on cards or posters. This helps them remain tangible at all times.

Developing a persona – here’s how it works!

A persona doesn’t just consist of a few key points. If you decide to create one, or better: several, you are building a complete character. This process is not dissimilar to writer’s work: You have to think of the personas’ name age, profession, etc. Relatively detailed biographies are the result. However, in comparison to the writer, the persona designer has clearer limits to their creativity. If you design a persona, it should always be based on concrete data. Otherwise, creating a persona is an exercise in creativity, but brings little to nothing concrete to the company.

If you want to develop a persona, first you need to conduct interviews, evaluate surveys and collect data. On this basis, you build different characters that reflect the diversity of your clientele. A persona is therefore – most importantly – not just an average person. Just as your customers are not all the same, the different personas must not be the same. The persona therefore not only contains facts, but also conveys wishes, motivations and attitudes – just like a real person.

In order for a persona to be as tangible and useful as possible, certain basic information should be included in each profile:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Profession
  • Residence
  • Family background

These clear biographical facts can be supplemented well with a photo – e.g. from a stock photo provider. Illustrations are also popular. This gives you a small profile. However, this information is not enough, which is why you can add background information to a personas’ profile:

  • Hobbies: How does the persona spend their free time?
  • Values: What is important to the persona in life?
  • Life goals: What does the person want to achieve?
  • Online life: On which networks and websites does the persona spend time?
  • Restrictions: How is the persona restricted?
  • Knowledge: What knowledge about the technology of the product does the persona have?
  • Expectations: What does the persona want from the product?

In practice, it has proved successful to combine a profile with longer continuous text. You can only get a feeling for the character if you formulate a story around the persona, which will help you decipher the requirements of the product. The keyword profile, on the other hand, makes it easy to deal with the fictitious biography. Therefore, a persona almost becomes an interlocutor in the development of ideas and in the design of strategies, products or designs. Do you keep asking yourself: What would be the best solution? Then simply find the answer yourself.

Tip

Be sure to include quotes in your persona’s profiles too. You can find these in the customer reviews. This will help make your personas more vivid, give them more character and increase the intensity of the discussion.

As a rule of thumb, one always assumes three personas, but the perfect number always depends on your offer. The more complex a product or service, the more personas there are. However, one should not exaggerate it under any circumstances, because too many personas provide for excessive demands, since you cannot fairly take all the numerous individual interests into account in the end. Therefore, you should develop and use (particularly with limited resources) just a few personas to begin with, in order to increase them gradually.

Some companies even go so far as to develop personas that do not belong to the target group. These serve as antitheses to the actual persona. This can help you to sharpen your product profile even more.

Example of a persona

In the following, we present an exemplary persona. As a background, we are using a fashion company that wants to design an online shop. In order to find out what the target group likes, the company conducts numerous interviews.

Persona: Safety-conscious with an affinity for technology

Name: Sandra Smith

Gender: Female

Age: 30 years old

Family situation: Married, one child

Profession: Supermarket manager

Address: Doncaster, Yorkshire

Quote: “Safety first!”

Goals & Values: Sandra is constantly striving to create stability for herself and her family no matter what the situation. This starts with healthy food and ends with a building savings contract. However, this doesn’t mean that Sandra is boring: She’s interested in new trends and fashion, but she doesn’t take them too seriously. She will only spend money on a luxury item if she is really convinced of the product.

Technical knowledge & online life: Sandra grew up in the digital age and spends a lot of time online every day in her free time and at work. In her professional life, the use of computers is a matter of course for her. Although she does use social networks, she is reluctant to do so, and does not reveal much about herself through these channels. Sandra is secretive of her personal information as a result of data theft.

Hobbies & freetime: Sandra is very family-oriented. Therefore, she spends most of her free time with her husband and child. This includes planning everyday life. The role of branch manager also applies to her home life. She likes nature and plays sports once a week. On other days, she tries to go jogging. Every two weeks or so, she meets with her girlfriends to have some drinks or go for dinner.

Product expectations: Sandra enjoys shopping on the internet because she has the opportunity to buy brands and designs online that are not available to her in her place of residence. She also saves time by buying online. However, because she is familiar with technology, she knows about the dangers that can arise when ordering over the internet. That’s why she makes sure that the process runs safely and smoothly, that no error messages occur and that mechanisms known to her are used. If a problem occurs during the purchase, she won’t take any risks and would rather cancel the order completely.

Note

In this example, we are talking about a proto-persona. These are characterised by the fact that they are mainly based on existing knowledge and intuition (i.e. they are not carried out in extra interviews) and are relatively short. These quickly generated biographies do not differ from real personas in structure, but in scope and depth. Therefore, although they are suitable as an introduction, they must never replace real personas.


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