Powerful personas are extremely useful in helping companies better appreciate the lives and challenges of their end-users. They bring segments to life – get to the emotions.
Particulary relevant for ideation sessions, growth projects and numerous communication tasks, they help brand owners, designers and communications empathise with audiences. Outputs become clearly focussed, helping ensure a better return on the research investment.
Creating a powerful persona requires applying qualitative research that is recent, relevant, and rich in contextual insights.
In the following, we suggest critical aspects in building powerful personas that are fit-for-purpose.
INTRODUCTION: WHAT ARE PERSONAS, AND WHY?
Personas help companies go beyond numbers, often expressed as statistically valid segments, and understand their customers in very vivid terms.
They add emotional depth to customer understanding.
A definition suggestion:
“A persona is a fictional representation of a particular customer type, one that is grounded in data. Personas are rich in illuminating details of a particular target group – how they live, their surroundings, fears, hopes, dreams, and more. Personas are emotionally involving and intuitively engaging.“
We suggest four building blocks.
CREATING PERSONAS – CRITICAL PHASES
1 – Gathering and Interpreting Consumer Data.
Sorting through and evaluating existing data is base point number 1.
This needs to be done as a pre-stage, address the following questions: how relevant is the data to the intended final outcome/purpose? What do we already know about our customers? Does a target segmentation already exist? How up-to-date is it? Can you build on that? Or should you start anew?
Personas can be built upon consumer segments from segmentation studies. Alternatively, developing personas using qualitative research can also be a first step, with quantification following.
2 – Building and Developing Personas
Rich – and recent – contextual qualitative research forms an essential basis.
Basing personas on data anchors them in the real world – and helps avoid the dangers of a) over-reliance on personal experience and b) cultural clichés & stereotypes.
Contextual enquiries are extremely valuable. This can be done as part of an online community, or a series of in-depth in-home interviews, digital or face-to-face.
Outputs can include short video clips or photos of people’s homes, particular rooms or spaces, their leisure time activities, plus the things that are important to them overall in life and in a given product category . They illustrate in real-life how a product or brand is used in context, the environment and what sort of emotions are present.
Persona workshops are valuable to consolidate data, and capture various viewpoints.
Using a variety of different tools (including personality mapping, empathy maps, value scales) first-stage personas are developed.
3 – Bringing Personas Alive
Bringing personas alive is about adding telling details: giving a name, gender, age, family status and even a profession – making the persona more tangible and memorable.
One example from a recent drinks project:
Sarah, The Explorer. 34 years old, she lives in Munich. Sarah works for a fashion company and works in sales. She loves the fact that her work allows her to travel and to practice her English and Spanish (she spent her Erasmus year in Barcelona). She got married recently and lives with her husband in a roof top apartment. She loves the fact that they have a large terrace.
This basic description of the Persona is then supplemented by illuminating stories: about her perfect travel experience, her perfect night out, her perfect night in with friends.
It’s important at this stage that a persona is seen as a person rather than “a consumer” – a real and rounded human being with a spirit, a real character.
The inclusion of specific category preferences and aversions, what a persona loves or dislikes, fires up and focuses the imagination of designers or developers.
The search for pain-points and stimulation of ideas is thereby based on precisely understood target group needs.
And of course if the name is catchy, great – it’s easier to remember!
4 – Visualisation and Activation
Visualisation and an “activation plan” are both critical.
Personas should become embedded across the organisation and remain referred to ideally for many months or years.
A persona activation plan helps ensure that the investment is linked closely to actions and business performance. Personas are only valuable if they are linked back to the business – existing strategies, R&D road-maps through to down-stream activities such as a POS plan.
With visualisation: three approaches are suggested, from the more basic, allowing some DIY, to the more advanced, requiring external or expert help.
1. Visualised persona portraits are about “basic” persona descriptions. This includes putting a face to a name – so we see what Sarah The Explorer looks like, as well as describing her lifestyle – the places she goes on holiday, the type of drinks she enjoys for example.
It can also involve mood boards and pen portraits – examples of these can be provided if needed.
2. Persona posters are useful in making personas widely visible throughout the organisation. They can be positioned easily in more public places like the entrance hall, canteen etc.
Ensuring high visibility and prominence in this way can stimulate a conversation, long after the project has officially “ended”.
3. For projects where budgets and timelines allow, and where it makes sense from an audience perspective, persona videos can be powerful tools – either as stand-alones, or in addition to posters/ smaller print-outs.
Beyond these three levels, a number of our clients have gone even further in bringing their personas to life. These involve the creation of experience spaces, role-playing and using life-size stand-up cardboard cut-outs. We provide more detail in our Whitepaper.
SUMMARY AND WATCH-OUTS
Done well, Personas are a proven way of bringing customers and target groups or segments to life.
They add emotional depth and serve as a relevant, valid and company-wide accepted short-cut to consumer understanding.
By bringing customer types alive, personas help fire up a wide range of customer empathy projects – from insight generation through innovation development to communication optimisation.
Powerful personas need to be rooted in reality, built on real consumer data. Qualitative research is essential.
This helps prevent some common pitfalls: personas that are either or overly stereotypical, cliché-ridden, or that are clearly subjective.
Case studies are available in a separate Whitepaper – please get in touch if you’re interested – firstname.lastname@example.org