Primarily, personas are a tool, a tool used to ease collaborative work on creative projects. You already had a chance to read about them in last month's blog post, Personas - Are They the Right Choice for Your Business? We know they communicate who the target users or customers are and sum up all the information about them. This is crucial to effective critiques, design decisions, and feature prioritization.
To decide whether you actually need this tool, look at your team size. When you’re working alone or working in a small team and are able to spread the information on your own, personas are a waste of time. But when there are more people that need to understand the user or the customer, they’re worth the effort.
Balancing usefulness and cost is like black magic. For us non-magicians, thinking first is what turned out to work the best. When assessing your existing personas (and before creating new ones), ask the following questions:
Who Is My Persona?
When you look at personas through the lens of the project you’re working on, there are two main types.
If you are defining a marketing strategy or working on improving your sales, you need a buyer (marketing) persona. It represents your target customers and the people involved in the decision-making process. Your sales and marketing people will work with it.
The marketing persona describes demographic information, the motivation to buy and preferences, media habits, and the type of marketing message the persona responds to. It can also dig deeper into the “whys” of the decision-making process of purchasing a product or consuming content.
In other words, the marketing persona won’t tell you what the product or service should be, how it should behave, or how to prioritize its development. That's why we have the user persona.
User personas have a different purpose from marketing personas. Not understanding the differences is a common cause of persona abandonment. While marketing personas tell you what people want, user personas tell you what they need.
When you need to come up with a product (such as an application), a service (a training tutorial), or even a single feature, user personas are your best friend. In such cases, what people want and their demographics are rather marginal for you. Instead, you need to know what the people do, what their workflow looks like, and what their frustrations, fears and obstacles are. To understand the big picture, you also want to know what tools they use and how their environment looks. Once you see the bigger picture, you are able to understand correctly what they need and want and define a remedy for these needs and wants.
Personas can be a powerful tool in the right hands. No matter how well crafted a marketing persona is, it won’t give you the information you need for product design. Similarly, the most expensive user persona won't help you with selling.
Do You Need to Tie all Strings Together or Follow a Single One?
Scope and purpose are other factors that predetermine the usefulness of a persona. Deciding about them won’t take you much time, but is crucial in the same way as picking the right type of screwdriver to loosen an old rusty screw.
Talking about scope—typically, personas are created for the whole product, website, or company. The reason behind such an approach is to unite the team effort and to target the same audience. Nevertheless, in some cases, it’s useful to zoom in and create a project-specific persona.
Imagine you’re working on a company-wide system and need to redesign a feature for one specific user role. Of course, you’ll be better off with a persona that represents that particular role rather than one that represents the whole department. This persona describes the buyer or user characteristics relevant for the project in greater detail. It is more relevant and, therefore, more likely to be useful.
Does the Expected Quality Match the Budget?
As mentioned before, if you have a larger team, your question shouldn't be whether to create a persona or not. What you should question instead is how rigorous it needs to be and what the desired quality is.
Imagine persona quality as a slider. At one end, there is an educated guess, on the other, rigorous research with careful processing of extreme cases. At the same time, the slider illustrates the cost and time required.
Going for an educated guess is useful for projects on a tight schedule. It saves you a lot of time, but it might be double-edged. Educated guesses are often affected by biases and beliefs of the “psychic”. To mitigate these risks, negotiate enough time and budget to run at least some research with real people. Going for an educated guess for business or socially critical projects is a very dangerous thing that can be harmful for more than just your reputation.
How Do We Need to Communicate the Persona?
Communication of personas is what we sometimes leave out. Designers and marketers are often into data, and they never leave the persona alone once they have it. No matter whether it’s a beautifully crafted card or a plain text document.
What they tend to forget is that they are not the only ones that should know the information personas carry. Sales, product managers, developers—they all need the information. That’s why you need to help personas make the final step—to be beautifully crafted and available during critiques, prioritization, and vetting decisions.
The larger your team, the more you want them to look great, be at hand, and spoken about.
Also, document and popularize your resources and analytical process. You might have noticed by now that you haven’t used a some of the useful information for the persona creation. Don't throw it away—this information will come in handy. One or two deep skeptics will be more likely to trust your suspicious little cards if they have more background.
Where’s My Magic Formula?
Sadly, I don't have a magic formula to ensure the ideal usefulness-cost ratio. However, clarifying these questions beforehand helps you to make relevant, useful and cost-efficient personas.
How do you decide whether to use personas or not? How many of them do you use? What are your tips and tricks for making them as useful as possible?