You might think that building a business around a great product or service idea is enough to be successful. For some (the exceptions), that might even be true. In real life, building a successful business generally takes a lot of hard work. You’ll need to define and build the product. You’ll need to design and build a website (most likely). You’ll need content that convinces people your product is worth purchasing. And you’ll need to market the product. Anyone worth their salt can tell you: no matter how great your product is, if it isn’t marketed correctly, and to the right audience, it’s never going to live up to its potential. It may not even get off the ground.
Don’t worry, there’s good news. That’s exactly what user personas are for, and why their use is so widespread.
What is a user persona?
A user persona identifies a group of real people (a demographic, or subset of the larger audience) by documenting things like their motivations, thoughts, likes and dislikes. A user persona is often associated with a character (such as “Sally”), and is written in a way that describes a single individual (but is then applied to the entire demographic).
Why should I create user personas?
A user persona is all about identifying a specific type of customer. Someone you’d like to sell to, or who is naturally inclined to buy your product. It is common for large and small businesses alike to create personas for every group of people who are likely to find their product, then distill that down to the two or three user personas that are most likely to buy.
User Personas are especially helpful to have on hand when developing your product design and content marketing materials, as they can have a major impact on the user experience you build for your customers.
The whole point of creating user personas is to give you something to hold onto and measure against – a fixed and dependable anchor in an otherwise unknown environment. It’s just a starting point, sure, but it’ll give you useful insights and help you make better decisions as you develop your product. It’ll be easier to come up with ways to improve and evolve not only your marketing efforts, but your marketing strategy. Writing content will be easier because you’ll know who you’re trying to talk to, so you can craft the messaging specifically for them. And once you launch the product or service, the persona provides a framework you can use to make measurable adjustments, tracked over time.
How do I create a user persona?
Creating a user persona can take as little or as long as you want it to. But how do you do it? Well, the good news is, it sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.
We use four simple exercises each time we help our customers define their user personas:
- Understanding Your Demographic This is the first exercise for a good reason. Before anything else, you need to understand your audience.
All you have to do is define some simple quantitative details about the demographics that make up your theorized audience. How old are they? Where do they live? Do they have disposable income? Do they live near a coast or inland? Do they tend to be emotional thinkers (a designer), or pragmatic and objective (an engineer)?
These questions are extremely important. If you were trying to sell an air conditioner, would you target people that lived in warmer or colder locations? Would you speak to a forty-year-old the same way you would with a millennial?
- Personifying Your Persona Now that you’ve defined a potential customer demographic, it’s time to turn them into a real person.
Start by giving them a name. Then, think about what would be most likely to fit a person that fits the demographic. Do they have a degree? Are they married? Do they have children? How many? As you begin to pull back the veil and this new “person” takes shape, you’ll have more thoughts and feelings to share, because you’ll be getting to know them better as you create them.
This is a very useful exercise because it gets you thinking about what motivates the people you sell to. Did Sally buy a metal roof for her house because it looks nicer or regulates heat better? Sure, those were probably factors in the decision. But a large part of her decision making probably has to do with the environmental benefit, or that it’s the last time she’ll ever have to replace the roof of her house.
Once you understand what motivates your customers, you start working on ways to speak to them in a way they’ll not only understand, but appreciate more.
- Pain Points This step is all about figuring out your persona’s problems. What do they need, and why are they having trouble getting it? If you understand their problems, two things will happen.
- You’ll know if this persona is one you should focus your long-term attention on.
- You’ll have a better understanding of why your customers would want or need your product (or not), and the various ways in which they might come to realize that.
The trick with this is to find as many pain points as possible. Every pain point represents something that needs a solution. Ideally, you’re looking for problems that are somewhat big, or hard to fix. This way, the customer will be much more inclined to feel a need to buy your product or service, vs simply wanting to.
- Spheres of Influence The last stage of creating a user persona is to take an educated guess at what their spheres of influence are. What is a sphere of influence, you ask? Don’t worry – it’s just a fancy way of saying “services or information the customer consumes through any source”.
Thinking about your customer (persona): What social networks do they use most heavily? Do they use Instagram, but dislike Facebook? Do they watch news or entertainment? How much do they read? Fiction, or newspapers/journals?
If you understand how your audience prefers to consume their content, it will not only help you write your content to be more targeted to their needs and wants, it will expose new opportunities to you. For example, if you know your character is a millennial who loves reading blogs, then you might consider promoting your product through visual platforms like Facebook.
What comes next?
Once you understand your target users and demographic information, there are numerous ways you can give your newly created user personas extra value in your organization. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Over time, new information can evolve your understanding of each persona, allowing you to target a specific characteristic and refine the narrative and communication style you’ve adopted with that user group.
- Changes to your marketing or content for a target market or target audience can be made in small measured doses. You’ll see how the resulting changes affect your traffic, marketing campaigns, social media engagements, and other meaningful KPIs you track.
- If your product involves product support, user personas can be immensely helpful for developing scripts or guidelines for support staff to follow when talking to specific customer groups.