You Need Personas

You have a target market.  You do customer development.  But do you have personas?

Personas are, in my opinion, the often-neglected third leg of the stool in creating awesome products.  They live in between individual customer interviews – Bob X. says this — and a wider target market profile — we’re targeting small businesses making over $10MM revenues with these characteristics.

Persona Analysis is the process of identifying individual person representatives for your audience and fleshing out their traits, likes and dislikes, frustrations and limitations.  Personas are frequently used in the interaction design / user experience worlds, but much less so in product management.

For any product, there are different types of people who:

  • need your product / have already bought your product
  • are able to get value from your product
  • have money to spend on your product

These different types of customers have different job titles, priorities, responsibilities, and technical abilities.   These differences affect how they decide to buy your product, what frustrates them or excites them about your product, and how you can help them start using your product quickly/effectively.

If you’re a startup, you are ready for personas as soon as you start hearing different types of answers from your interviews or you start witnessing different types of behaviors among your users.  (“Gita said she’d never use Wizard X because she’d rather configure it manually” / “Devon loves Wizard X because he finds manual configuration too difficult!”)

What does a persona look like?

Some people spend a lot of time giving their personas pictures, names, and back-stories.   To me, the only reason to spend time on that is if helps your team connect with your personas.  (In my experience, too much “marketing” of personas makes engineers distrust them.)

Here are the questions I asked to flesh out our personas.  They are geared towards a B2B software product, but many are actually fairly applicable to consumer and/or physical products as well:

  • What is this person’s comfort level with technology?
  • Why are they interested in solving the problem that your product solves? (i.e. In what way will it make their life better?)
  • What challenges does this person face in their job? (in general – not specific to your product)
  • What capabilities help this person do their job more effectively?
  • What are this person’s primary limitations to doing their job well? (time/money/technical skill/access to information)?
  • What are this person’s primary limitations to trying a new product/process/concept? (time/money/approval/technical skill/access to information/fear)
  • How has this person been burned by products in the past? (didn’t do what they promised/too difficult to set up/limited flexibility/limited power)
  • What claims would this person likely be skeptical of?
  • How does this person tend to do due diligence / verify information?
  • Which teams in their organization do they work closely with?
  • What is this person afraid of? (i.e. what do they perceive as a risk that will damage their company or their ability to do their job)

When I looked at our actual customer interview notes, three distinct “personas” emerged.

(IMHO: 2-4 is probably ‘normal'; if you have only 1 persona you don’t have enough customers yet and if you have more than 4 you may be asking the wrong questions or have an overly generic product.)

For each one, I wrote up:

  • a 2-sentence summary of their job role
  • [Person] can do her job effectively when …
  • [Person] is frustrated by / skeptical of …
  • [Person] needs to be convinced …
  • How do you market to / communicate with [Person]?

Laying them out side by side gave us a new appreciation of our customer types — and made it really clear how people trying to solve the same goal may approach it from almost completely opposite directions.

Personas need updating

If you are a startup, or are launching a new product, your personas are in flux.

You’ve read Crossing the Chasm – this is where it applies.  In the beginning, you will probably have 1 persona – the most technical, the most power-user, the most early-adopter.  These people are great: they give tons of feedback, they’re smart, they’re patient while you figure out what the heck you’re doing.  They’re also NOT what you want to build your product around (unless your aim is a niche market play).

So if you create personas and you only have 1 — try again in 3 months.  If you only have 2 — try again in 6 months.  Even if you think you have it covered, totally — revisit again in 6 months.  The internet keeps changing and customer expectations keep changing along with it, so these are not a “set it and forget it” exercise.

One thought on “You Need Personas

  1. Cindy – Great post. One of the points you surface is keeping the content straight-forward, practical and usable. I’ve seen some 19 page personas. Crazy! I really like the list of What Does a Persona Look Like.

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