In order to design a business website that best fits a customer’s needs, the business needs to know what the customer’s needs are. This is where the development of personas emerged in early web design; an archetype that can be referenced when deciding what kind of features are emphasized, how navigation functions, and how customers will interact with the site. This way, the site can be tailored to the audience.
The verdict on user personas is a debated one though. Some marketing professionals are firm believers in the use of them, while others dismiss the tactic. Are they a marketing tactic we all should be using, or a waste of time? The truth is that when used correctly, personas are a useful tool that helps to pinpoint the main audience a company wants to target.
Without definition, the target user will be defined differently to each person within a company, dividing marketing efforts. So personas have their place, but also need to be developed using relevant information. Developing a persona just because you think you are supposed to will be a waste of time. Let’s look at why personas as we knew them are dead, and how they can be brought back to life by following a few guidelines.
Designing a persona is a process that shouldn’t be done blindly, or based on opinion. The persona should be the end result of deep research into your statistics and real customer base. You need to research your website analytics, social media profiles and any other customer data you have access to.
Based on that data, identify key characteristics and behaviours of your customers; such as age and product preference that is most profitable. The persona attributes found, should be able to correspond with key metrics and behaviours traceable through analytics. As a result, the amount of customers who match the persona can be traced, as well as their behaviours in response to your web design.
On the other hand, if personas are not based on data which is measurable, they are far less powerful or meaningful to a company. They then give direction, but without any real foundation. This was often the case in early web design. With a transparent process for developing personas, which uses data correlating to the desired results, the persona can be the face of the ideal customer found through aggregated data.
Another main downfall to the old persona implementation, was that company’s included too many details. They would literally develop an entire life story about the persona, with many irrelevant details. A successful persona is one that fits the research data for the target audience, but that also understands the essence of them. It isn’t necessary to know every single detail of the target audience and put these details into a company’s personas. Instead, cut the fluff.
Personas need only to include relevant details that can pull them into the company’s business plan. If a persona has too many details and is too accurate, then it won’t be a good tool for research development or design. They should account for very little detail and be precise in what they utilize. No one wants to read long, drawn out stories about a fake person. Instead, create a short user model that focuses only on the details that affect the marketing decisions of the research team. Cut to the chase, and tailor the persona to your analytics.
When creating a defined process as stated above, looking for behavior patterns is key to success. Analytics tools that are currently available online, such as Google Analytics, can provide you with information about your user behaviors. The traffic that reaches your website can be compiled into searchable data in order to provide you with a readout of all of users’ behavior patterns. Then, these behavior patterns can be programmed into the personas in order to create personas that fit the average user of a company’s website.
Companies that utilize personas have the ability to develop accurate user models of their target audiences. However, creating the perfect persona is not the outcome that a company should focus on. Instead, as stated above in regards to having flexibility, look at your persona as an ongoing process of best identifying your target audience.
While you should put effort into creating personas that match user behavior and user demographics, don’t stress on the final outcome. Personas are simply a way that you can develop a more accurate target audience and learn to meet the needs of the target audience on an ongoing basis. They are great for directing targeted marketing material as you go.
In conclusion, personas are not dead, but more accurately resurrected. They came as a concept to identify the target audience in a precise way, but originally lacked the concrete data to really empower them for marketing. Now, with the proliferation of analytics tools, companies can get their persona development down to a science. As a designer with personas, you can know exactly what your customers need. As a company owner, you can see where your profits are coming from, and continuously fine tune your products and services to target your audience accurately. Personas are a wonderful tool that can be used continuously in order to tweak your marketing plans and increase conversions.
Amol is one of the co-founders of RBBI – For over 20 years, Amol has conceptualised, designed and managed the production of many digital projects for a wide range of clients involving online branding & strategy, usability, information architecture, UX, interaction design, and online & offline interactive media.