What are personas and how do we use them?

Marketing lecturers have been harping on about personas for decades but what are they and are they still used in the world of digital? As Lidwell et al. (2010) explain it “personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way”. Personas are about putting your users centre stage.  Identifying your key target markets and give them a “personality” as such, so when developing/adapting products, services or marketing to suit them you can picture them in your head. Personas are more relevant than ever and particularly useful when developing a new website. Some businesses think they need to market to everyone but we can’t be everything to everyone so developing personas for key markets can help businesses to really focus on markets that are likely to convert to cash and that informs the navigation of a website and the type of content to include on the site, down to the very minor details e.g. should their be a sign up to your email newsletter in the bottom right corner of your footer on every page.

What do personas look like?Two mobile phones and love hearts

Personas are great for any industry, right now we are working on personas for pharmacy and tourism clients. Vastly different personas but the basic structure is the same. In both cases we are focusing on visitors to their websites and social media platforms so their personas include fictitious information about:

  • Personal life:  photo, age, gender, what they like to do in their personal time
  • Professional:  education level, type of work they do
  • Technical: ability to use technical devices, what types of devices are they likely to access the website on e.g. desktop, mobile, tablet.
  • User motivation: What are they looking for on the website?

At first glance, you might think this sounds like a dating site, and you wouldn’t be wrong. We are trying to match the right products and services to the right client.

Choosing the photo is the part I love the most. Sometimes it comes from stock photography but in bigger companies we are sometimes lucky enough to get a photo of a staff member that shares the characteristics of a key target market and we use them as the “poster boy/girl”. It’s a bit of fun but it actually really helps staff to start thinking in the shoes of say, Jim in Accounts, making it easier for them to relate to their target market. When they are developing a new product and you start to hear them say “Jim wouldn’t like that” or “Jim would definitely prefer a bigger font” you know you have your staff thinking like a customer.

Get inspired today and check out Usability.gov for their templates and guidelines and also take a look at the Australian Tax Office’s Program Blueprint released in 2015. This document includes persona-like profiles of their key target markets called “client experience stories” and they go in to great detail about user motivation and needs.

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