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Have you ever felt like you’ve “known" a brand?
Or perhaps like a brand “knows” you?
A creepy-wonderful thought.
Businesses. With all their many touch-points and different staff members interacting with you. Speaking with one voice. Understanding you. How is it that some businesses “get you” and some just seem like a herd of cats?
This is integral to many of the things we talk about here. We touched on the importance of it in a recent user experience article, as well as an article about making your website users feel special.
It’s time we unpack persona development, what investment it takes to start developing them, how to make sense of them and how to benefit from them.
Since you’re a business owner, not a UX specialist, this article is going to avoid getting deep into the psychological side of things, and it won’t be a How To post. I’m going to focus on showing you how Persona Development can benefit your business, how to make it part of your process, and make sure it’s successful.
I’ll also equip you with the tools you need to get your team (or an external team) started making personas for your business. That’s this article’s free gift: a Persona Development How To Guide.
Here we go!
Think back to the last movie you watched. Got it? Good - now think of your favorite characters in it.
Think about how they interacted together. Perhaps your favorite was the main protagonist of the story, and an unlikely sidekick. Or maybe you’re the type that prefers the humorous antagonist, and their cheeky rivalry with the hero of the plot.
Either way, it’s a result of the personalities that the movies reveal to you that form the attachments. Most movies are around 2 hours long, so they require emotional investment quite quickly. Some 15 minutes in, you’ve likely already chosen your favorite. By 30 minutes you’ll be cheering them on.
Thirty minutes and you’re emotionally invested in one over another. Emotional investment hooks you to the plot and has you cheering your favorites on through the movie.
Imagine what you could do with that kind of emotional investment from your customers.
Just as there’s two people required in a (sane) conversation, there’s two types of persona. There’s your Brand Persona, and there’s your Customer Personas. One of the former, multiple of the latter.
They’re sometimes called Avatars, Marketing Personas, or other things entirely. We’re going to stick with Brand Persona and Customer Persona, to keep life simple.
The goal of personas is to help you better communicate with your audience. By having them in place, the hope is that you’ll be more consistent with your messaging. You’ll also keep a tighter brand identity as multiple people speak on its behalf. Ultimately these things should create a more memorable, lovable brand.
When I think of any of my friends, I immediately think of what they’re like to spend time with, what they like and don’t like, etc. What they might find funny. What would upset them.
If I didn’t know these sorts of things, I’d either be a bad friend, or they’d be so guarded that the friendship wouldn’t happen.
Perhaps that’s what your brand is to your customers. Someone who is either guarded or inconsistent (thus seeming guarded). Someone that doesn’t have thoughts, emotions, preferences or a sense of humor.
Persona development aims to build a foundation for you to fix all of this.
Personas aren’t big and scary meta-projects for businesses with more money than you have. They’re something you can benefit from, with your budget, with your team, right now.
To help you see that, I’ve broken persona development creation into two buckets. I’m calling them the cheap-and-cheerful approach and the pride-and-joy approach.
You can get into this as cheaply as you like, so long as you don’t take shortcuts on your research. An incorrect persona will steer you consistently and reliably in the wrong direction. We don’t want that.
The primary investment on your part for Option 1 is time. Take some time to talk to your customers. Get to know them, as people.
What do they get up to when they’re not using your service?
What’s life like right now?
What do they dream about?
Kind of weird, compared to what’s typical in the world of business. But that’s okay. You want abnormal results, so you’ll need to do abnormal things.
Once you’ve gotten to know them, you can simply document your findings in a Google Doc or a Word Doc. I’ve outlined the sorts of things you’ll benefit from capturing in the next section of this article.
This option is where you literally turns your persona development efforts into something you can be proud of. Something you can put up in your office, or print on cards. Something that your team will enjoy looking at.
Which is very important, by the way. As a team or as an individual, you’re going to want to keep looking at your personas. The more you look at them, the more you’ll be familiar with them. The more you’re familiar with them, the better you’ll communicate with them in mind.
The primary investment on your part for Option 2 is money. Time is spent by specialists to create these pieces for you.
There’s lots of techniques that Personas can benefit from, where we can find information of value. User interviews, analytics reviews, surveys and diary studies are all great methods for this.
Following the data gathering stage, comes the creation of visual cards that turn your data into visually attractive pieces to display around the place.
A useful persona should have a few key pieces of data in them for them to really benefit you. Beyond the more obvious pieces to capture such as their name and their age, the more of the below sections you can model, the better.
By modeling all of this on one tidy persona card, you can reference a lot of data quickly and efficiently.
Let’s go through the details you should consider collecting for your personas.
Once you know your audience, you can either make up a name that fits your demographic, or you can use a customer’s name. It’s up to you, I’ve done both in the past. The persona’s name is the ID that you’ll use to reference this persona from hear on out.
Again, you can either choose a random image from Google Image Search or you can use the photo of an actual customer. Fictional and non-fictional personas can happily co-exist.
Try to choose a photo that matches the personality of this persona.
Where does your persona work? What is her job title in his/her organization, and what does he/she do during her job? Document these things, to see what life looks like for them, and what kinds of decisions they (get to) make. You could include a company name too, fictional or non-fictional.
How old is your persona? Knowing this can be helpful while trying to determine what sort of life experiences they may have had, or what generational stereotypes they may be associated with. Do you speak to your kids as an adult in the same way as you spoke to your grandma as a child? Knowing the age of your brand’s persona and your customer’s persona will be useful in finding consistency in these things.
If your business were to have a blog targeted at fathers, you’ll benefit from knowing why males and females visit. The men that visit might want to know how to be better dads. The women that visit might want links to valuable content for their husbands to read. Two different motives for the same content. These sorts of things are well worth knowing, so that you could craft your pages to suit.
If you’re selling things which you most likely are, it’s well worth keeping in mind the salaries of your personas. Salary ranges can indicate different motivators in your personas. You might notice, for example, that lower salary customers wind up being more price-conscious than higher salary customers. And that those higher-salary customers wind up being more time-conscious. Different motivators, same audience. Well worth knowing.
Knowing the location of your personas will give you insights into their daily worlds. For example, to an American city-dweller, morning coffee shop runs and weekly meet ups one block away will be normal. In contrast, customers from rural Indian villages would find those coffee shop runs alien. Photos of city skylines will also be alien.
Knowing what they’re used to seeing in their day-to-day lives can be great to know, if you want to create breed familiarity.
I almost removed this one from the list, because I find it only has uses in very specific situations. But I kept it in, because you can often learn a lot by asking. Some people are proud to reel off their certificates, where as other people couldn’t care less. Again, it’s a great indicator of what motivates them. For example, having pride in sharing achievements might indicate more than one Foursquare mayorship tweet in their time.
If you spend enough time around someone, you’ll start being able to quote them. For example, I’m told I’m very catch phrase-able. Apparently I say “you’re not wrong” instead of “that’s right” a lot. Knowing these sorts of things about your customers can give you a familiarity with your personas you’d normally only get with close friends.
What does a typical day look like for your persona? Knowing this can be massively helpful while building your product. Coupled with Scenarios and Experience Maps, you may be able to find new ways to integrate your product into the lives of your customers.
What does your persona like? This can be on or off-topic. Knowing what they like will give you indications into what cultures and social groups they might associate with. Perhaps it’ll give you content ideas. For instance, if your persona is a movie lover, using metaphors from popular movies could be a great way to better relate to your customers.
In the same way Likes give you ideas for ways to associate, dislikes are good indicators for what to steer clear of. For example, If your persona is a married middle aged father, you’ll know some things you can avoid right away. Shopping. Hip-hop. Frivolous spending. Knowing what your persona doesn’t like can save you from losing any brownie points with your customers.
What does this persona want from life? Everything they do in life should (hopefully) be in an attempt to bring them closer to their goals and dreams. Does your product represent a step towards those goals and dreams? Perhaps it does, but they haven’t joined the dots? By knowing what their goals are, your service could be the next step on their journey. That’ll help you position your service as the obvious next step, and an obvious good investment.
What does your person struggle with in life? What set-backs do they currently have in place? For example, if debt is a problem, huge expenses will be more painful. In that case, you might want to invest some time in finding ways to offset their costs with your service. The auto and cellular industries do this a lot, albeit with a higher cost to their customers.
What does this persona value? When I rented a car on my last trip away, I knew we had quite a few miles to cover. So I was looking at the cars on the lot and recalling their MPG ratings. My wife was more interested in getting a cute color. What’s valuable to your customers? Find out and show them what matters to them.
Knowing the fears of your persona will help you avoid them. The last thing you want to do is scare your target audience away from your service! It’s also possible to use this knowledge to help them move forward. For example, if your persona has FOMO (“fear of missing out”), then “last chance” campaigns with social proof inside could be the kick in the pants they need to make the jump.
Whether you choose to make your own or get them made with a web partner, you’ll now know what you’re looking at and why you’re looking at it. The strength of personas is in their utility during daily work across your whole team, so the better you understand them, the more useful they’ll be.
Let’s go through how to read a persona and make use of the data. We’ll show you what to do with them to apply them to your business. And we’ll cover how they’ll benefit your customers and your team.
Just as a reminder, don’t forget to download this article’s freebie, your Persona Development How To Guide. This guide was designed to go hand-in-hand with this article.
When anyone on your team creates content, it’s communicating on behalf of your business. Every piece of communication represents a conversation between two people: your brand, and the individual reading the content. Forget the crowds, it’s always two people.
Having a brand persona will help you speak like your brand speaks. Having a customer persona will help you remember who your brand is speaking to.
By taking just a moment to look over the personas and “get in character” before you start to write, you’ll increase your chances of making a killer conversation.
Deciding on what functionality your product needs can be tricky. Sometimes it feels like you’re in a black hole, guessing what people would use. Even with lean development. Thankfully, coupling lean dev with personas, you’ll have a much better idea about what your customers are looking for.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say you were thinking of offering a free graphic tee in exchange for an email address. If your persona is a 20 year old male, that may work great. If your persona is a 30 year old female, perhaps less so.
Knowing your personas will help you make educated decisions right out of the gate, before your lean dev process even begins.
Just like with the content creation section, you’re creating conversations when emailing or using social networks. Even more so, in fact. It doesn’t get much more personal than in your customer's home: their inboxes and their chosen social networks.
If you’re going to be invited back to their home (followed, not unfollowed, not marked as spam) you need them to at least like you. In the same sense that they do their friends.
Reference your personas before you email, before you tweet, before you share. Your emails will become more personal. Your tweets will become more relevant. Your shares will be appreciated.
Your brand has a persona, too. Don’t forget to develop your brand’s persona while you focus on your customers. Knowing who your brand is as a person is just as important. If you don’t know who you are when you speak, you won’t know how to relate to the persona you’re speaking to.
Spend as much time marinading in the persona of your brand as you do in the personas of your customers.
Your marketing site will benefit from everything above. The content creation section plays into the way your site communicates to prospective customers, by understanding them, and communicating what they value.
The product development section plays into what functionality is worth showing your audience first, so that you can quickly communicate the things that matter most to them.
The email/social section plays into what incentives you could offer your customers to help them convert.
The brand section plays into how you present yourself as a brand throughout the visual style, architecture of the site and even in the site’s microcopy.
Great, now you know how to read personas and how they’ll affect various parts of your business. How will these effects truly benefit your business?
Let’s go through some of the ways persona development will benefit your business, and your customers too.
Again, the free Persona Development How To Guide will equip your team (or your web partner) with what they need to bring persona development to your business.
You’ll have a stronger brand, because it will really resonate with your audience. Customers will feel like it “gets” them much more than it does currently.
Just as people are loyal to their friends, they’ll be more likely to become loyal to your brand.
As you begin to really resonate with your audience, it’ll be a much easier purchase for them. If you’re selling their problem, rather than just a can of features, they’ll recognize what they value in your product and convert more easily.
If your offerings are speaking the language of your customers, you may not need to work as hard as you currently do in order to get those customers totally on board. Your cost per acquisition should drop as a result of effective persona usage.
Customer loyalty from effective persona usage should translate to an increase in customer lifetime value. If they love your brand, they’ll find less reasons to leave.
They may even be more forgiving of your mistakes.
If your brand has a solid personality that customers love, you have a brand that your team will be proud of. Brand pride is hugely important for teams. It’ll make them work passionately, work harder and work happier.
Who doesn’t want those things in their business?
A stronger brand, increased conversions, decreased CPA, increased CLV and increased morale. They’re all potential benefits of effective persona usage.
Let’s have a look at what “effective persona usage” actually looks like, so that you’re not leaving any of those things on the table.
Make them visible, make them unforgettable. If you have an office, post them up on the walls. If your team works remote, consider printing in your home offices. Keep them around like real people.
Physical cards on your meeting table or work desks will keep them to-hand when you need them. Physical cards can’t be ignored in the same way as a file tucked away in some folder on your computer can be.
Cards may work for me, and perhaps they work for you too. Let your team use the personas however they prefer. Perhaps they prefer desktop wallpapers, or just keeping them on their desktops. In any case, freely share them so they can be used effectively by everyone.
Your personas deserve a place at the meeting table. What would they say to the things you’re discussing? As weird as it may feel, try to include them in your conversations. They have valuable things to say. Even if they’re just pieces of card.
Think of them as you go through your development ideas. Include them in the sign-off of new developments. They’re who you’re working together to serve, so keep them close and make sure they’re happy in every stage of development.
Persona development isn’t scary. It’s fun. Hopefully you’ll now see how they can benefit your business, without seeming like abstract billable items that reap no real reward. Hopefully you’ll see that they aren’t just for businesses bigger than yours. Hopefully you’ll see how they’ll bring your team together.
Now you know what they are, how to use them and how to benefit from them. I hope you feel equipped to introduce personas into your business.
I’d love you to share your thoughts about personas, and I’d love to see what you come up with. There’s a private comment box at the bottom of this article, so definitely shoot off an message for us to read. We love reading feedback, and we love to see what you guys come up with!
Now, go download your free gift: a Persona Development How To Guide. Enjoy!
Effective use of Personas in your business can lead to a stronger brand, increased conversions, a decrease in cost per acquisition, an increase in customer lifetime value, and in creased team morale. Download this guide and get started!Download now, no opt-in required
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