Audience is everything, but understanding where their heads are at isn’t easy. Even if one person on the team really gets it, there’s no guarantee that the rest of the team will understand the audience just as well.
That’s why we have user personas: to help teams marketers and designers understand their audience. Nothing sticks with people better than a story, and a user persona tells the vital story of your audience itself.
What is a user persona?
A user persona is an imaginary user that represents a bigger demographic. It can be a spreadsheet or a word document, but most people like to make these fancy resume-type pages.
At its core, a user persona doesn’t need to be designed. It just needs to describe a character that represents your audience.
The purpose of a user persona is to describe useful demographics in a memorable manner. Rather than relying on data that can be hard to interpret, you can use a memorable, understandable character.
User personas aren’t a magic solution; they’re a communication tool. You use them to express a lot of information very quickly and understandably. As a result, marketers have to be careful to make their personas useful.
Helpful vs unhelpful personas
A lot of businesses make personas without thinking things through. Instead of making a useful tool for getting to know your audience, they make a cartoonish stock character that doesn’t really provide any additional information. Here’s an example of a pretty unhelpful persona.
This persona doesn’t tell you what makes this user buy things, what makes her decide against buying, what pain points she deals with, or any other useful information. It’s kind of just a stock character.
Remember: personas aren’t stereotypes that narrow a lot of people into a small box. They’re archetypes that represent an average person in a bigger group. This iconicfox graphic illustrates the difference quite well.
A user persona should make real user behaviors easier to understand and remember. It shouldn’t just create a stereotype from the data.
Details to include
There’s a lot of information you can include in a user persona, but these general areas are the ones we find most useful.
- Who is this person?
- What are their goals and values?
- What are their pain points?
- What are their interests?
- What are their objections?
Who the person is
The most important step is to figure out who your persona is as a person. Don’t just pick random characteristics. Instead, look at your analytics. Take the data and turn it into a few different characters. If your audience is mostly female, you should have more female personas.
When building a persona, ask yourself the following questions.
- How old are they?
- What’s their gender?
- What’s their marital status?
- Do they have kids? How many?
- Where are they located?
- What industry do they work in?
- What’s their job title?
- What’s their annual income?
- What’s their education?
Goals and values
Most companies stop at the “character creation” phase, but the real challenge begins when you figure out their goals and values. Every customer has some sort of goal and value that drives them to make a decision and seek a solution. All you have to do is look at the data and get in their head. Consider what KPIs they’re using for their own business, and how that might affect their goals.
Once you’ve reviewed the data, ask yourself the following questions.
- What drives them?
- What do they want to accomplish in the short term?
- What do they want to accomplish in the long term?
- What is important to them in the way they conduct themselves personally and professionally?
Motivation alone isn’t enough. Your business solves problems, so you need to figure out the exact pain points your customers face every day. This step takes careful consideration: think about all the little things that get in the way of their daily workflow.
There are four types of pain points you need to worry about: process pain points, financial pain points, support pain points, and productivity pain points.
Your audience may not deal with all of these, but they will deal with most of them. They may even have a few pain points in each category. For now, just focus on the big ones that impact each persona the most strongly. Ask yourself the following questions.
- What are they struggling with?
- What do they want help with?
- Have they been burned in the past by someone who has tried to help solve their pain points?
- What do they fear?
- What do they wish they could eliminate from their life?
Interests don’t seem super important, but they can add a lot of flavor to your marketing. If you know what your customers like, you can advertise in the correct channels and with the correct influencers. Consider some of the following questions.
- What books do they read?
- What blogs do they love?
- What movies or TV shows do they watch?
- What social media accounts do they follow?
- Who inspires them?
- What events do they attend?
- What do they buy?
- How do they spend their spare time?
Finally, consider what’s getting in the way of your customer from making a purchase. What stops them from buying your product or service? What could get in their way, and how can you prevent it? Ask some of the following questions.
- What beliefs do they hold that could prevent them from making a purchase?
- What is the real reason they’re saying ‘no’ to your offer?
This post is by no means a comprehensive list — there are lots of ways to make great user personas, and there’s lots of data you can’t fit into these tools. Try making personas that help your team understand the data you already have.