Everything You Need to Know About User Personas (with examples)
What if we told you that user personas enhance customer experience to the point of increasing sales and boosting marketing campaigns? What if we also told you that user personas make websites between 2 and 5 times more effective for users, which results in almost 100% increases in page visits?
Sounds good, right?
Now what if we told you that 85% of businesses fail to use user personas and miss out on sales, targeted marketing results, and see their conversion rates falter or stagnate altogether?
Though it may seem unimaginable that something so impactful for businesses would be overlooked by the majority, it is unfortunately the sad truth. User personas are ultimately avoided by companies for a plethora of reasons, and most of them stem from just not understanding what they are, how to build them, or why to bother.
Thankfully, we’re here to change all that with the answers to some not-so-commonly asked questions that will give you the power to build user personas who are capable of building your brand in return.
What is a user persona?
Let’s start with an easy one. User personas, also known as buyer personas, are semi-fictional, research-informed representations of your ideal customers.
User personas are the business equivalent of being able to whittle off the attributes of your perfect partner if your friends asked you: they’re your perfect customer, created either by conducting market research and talking to users, then segmenting by demographics, behaviours or attributes, or instead created from accurate and qualitative datasets.
Personas can even have names and pictures, but above all else should include every single ounce of information you know about your ideal customer behaviour, like their interests, locations, goals, skills and any relevant background information.
They’re then put together in a one or two page document that is as descriptive as possible, and passed onto designers who will create the user persona templates. It’s here that your designers can get imaginative and sprinkle in a few relevant fictional details, like a person's job title, wage, or financial spending habits.
Ok but why are user personas important?
Another easy one: because defining user personas helps you and your brand to understand both your current, and your prospective customers. User personas contextualise everything, from inbound marketing efforts, to branding strategies, to sales processes and customer touchpoint interactions.
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As a brand, knowing your audience is the most important thing you can do. Every other aspect of being a brand, including your branding itself, design and marketing will all fall flat if it is not targeted toward the people you really need it to be resonating with.
Creating buyer personas gives you insight into your perfect customers - what makes them tick, why they buy, and how they interact. And all of that increases your business sales.
If you’re still not convinced, user personas can also:
- Attract your actual audience
Every business has an ideal set of customers that it is set up to serve. Sometimes these lines can get blurred if the business is not clear as to what it is and who it serves. User personas keep the latter on track so that all of your marketing and branding efforts hit the spot with the people you really need it to reach.
2. Reveal where your audience are
Sounds creepy but it’s true! User personas help you to get on a personal level with your customers, which means you understand what makes them tick, what gives them grief, what makes them happy, and most importantly: where they spend the most time online so that you can make sure your fine-tuned marketing just happens to fall right under their nose, at the right times.
3. Guide business growth
As businesses evolve, they change and so do target audiences. The audience of before may not be the audience of now as business products and services diversify. User personas help you to see the future, and can be by your side to tell you who you should be aiming at with every step up the business ladder.
4. User personas knit internal alignment together
User persona templates can help keep all types of departments on track. Maybe sales and marketing have a different idea of exactly who they should be targeting and where which is leading to fragmented efforts and unsuccessful marketing attempts. Well, with accurate user personas, they don’t anymore. They’re singing off the same hymn sheet and your marketing campaigns are producing 100% accuracy.
5. User personas put you a step ahead of the competition
Imagine having the cheatsheet to exactly what makes the customers in your particular industry tick. That would certainly put your competitors with no idea in the shade, right? That’s exactly what accurate and educated user personas do, and what’s more - if your branding and marketing is right, they’ll notice that you’re the only ones getting it and flock straight to you. Win/win!
Why user personas for branding?
Ultimately, branding comes down to perception. It’s the perception of how you want to be perceived by the world, and how you want your ideal customers to perceive you in order to have them connect with your business.
But if you don’t know your ideal customers, how can you build a brand that encourages those perceptions, and how can you accurately communicate your identity, brand values and brand promise?
After all, all the elements of brand creation like values, manifesto, presence and ideals are created with the view in mind to connect with the preferences, desires and needs of their audiences. So, if you can create buyer personas when developing your brand, or even rebranding or refreshing your brand, the chance of developing something meaningful that will forge a connection is high.
Things like demographic details, user behaviours, underlying motivations and preferences can all help you to better understand your customers, and then go on to more accurately inform your branding, design and messaging.
- User personas could help you to develop a backstory that encourages empathy and forges emotional connection from your customers, resulting in strong relationships.
- User personas could define your external messaging, bolstering your reach to attract a wide net of customers.
- User personas could inform the design preferences of your customers. For example, they might connect more with fun animation than they would with serious stock images.
- User personas could help you to avoid language and subjects that might cause your customers to bounce.
- User personas could give your branding insight into the types of fonts, colours, and design elements that your customers find the most aesthetically pleasing.
And the relationship between user personas and UX
Just like how user personas inform and positively influence branding decisions, they also inform and enhance UX decisions too. Unsurprising really, considering that your website is your digital storefront designed to entice your customers in, and have them make a purchasing decision.
The information you glean from a detailed look inside your customers’ mind can also reveal how they interact with digital products like websites and apps. You might learn their preferred forms of content, graphical design and imagery. You might find that they hate drop down menus or complex navigation bars, and that they only spend a few minutes at a time searching for what they’re looking for so the information needs to be quick to find.
All of those insights provide a level of knowledge needed to create a good, personalised and custom user experience across your website.
User personas can impact UX success by:
- Informing digital solutions that resonate with ideal target audiences
If you know how your customers interact with online experiences, and you know how they like to communicate, what messaging resonates with them, and what graphics they find appealing, you can build design, formatting and content solutions that enhance the experience your customer receives on your website, resulting in increased conversions and heightening website effectiveness. By utilizing a range of digital tools, you can gain valuable insights into your customers' online behavior and preferences, allowing you to continuously improve your website and drive better results
2. Highlighting relevant, effective customer journeys
User personas can form the basis of your customer journey maps, which are blueprints designed to help you see the customer journey as they experience it through their own eyes. Once you know how your customer moves through your existing funnel, you’ve got insider knowledge as to how to streamline that funnel to make it much more effective.
3. Providing more competitive advantage
Yes, user personas can even help your UX strategy to outperform your competitors. A website should be geared towards customers, and if your ideal audience is stumbling across websites which are ineffective and irrelevant, they won’t be converting. That gives your brand access to a significant amount of traffic which you can navigate onto your own, finely tuned, relevant and targeted website where it’s much more likely audiences will convert.
Types of personas
Sometimes one of the reasons businesses shy away from creating user personas is because they seem never ending. Businesses believe they must create a persona for every single one of their customers, and that feels like an overwhelming amount of effort and work.
But that’s a myth.
Personas do not need to be an exhaustive list that details every single possible prospective user. Ironically, too many user persona types will actually confuse things and leave a business worse off! Instead, user personas should be actionable, distinct and memorable and to that extent they are commonly categorised three different ways:
- Proto personas, which act to quickly cement existing assumptions about who a brand’s customers are
- Qualitative personas, which are taken from qualitative research like interviews and usability tests
- Statistical personas, which is where personas are created from statistical analysis taken from qualitative research that has created a survey tool capable of assessing a large sample size
We fact file each a little bit more below.
- Proto Personas
Lightweight user personas that are based on existing knowledge and research - not new research. Proto personas are mostly (semi accurate) guesstimates of customers which emerge from existing user data, or educated assumptions about who’s who and what they need. Can be formed quickly, but leave lots of room for uncertainty and aren’t always capable of producing results.
Created by: Workshopping with key team members, departments and/or stakeholders. Each member of the workshop creates around 2-5 proto personas based on their own beliefs and shares them. The group then collectively analyses, combines, evaluates and finally produces 3-6 proto personas that are agreed upon.
Pros of use: Proto personas are quick, cheap and easy to assemble. They also enable assumptions to be out in the open which can also align internal departments who may have different ideas about customers and preferences. Once personas are combined all teams are provided with a more accurate idea of who their customers could be - even if the end result is not 100% accurate. Proto personas can also supplement future research, especially if assumptions are accurate after all.
Cons of use: Based on assumption and guesswork, which means beliefs may not accurately represent actuality. Could form an echo chamber of inaccurate and incorrect estimates, leading to ineffective results because user personas do not align with actual users.
2. Qualitative Personas
The perfect solution for most businesses. Qualitative personas are built by running informed exploratory qualitative research (such as by interviewing existing and prospective customers) in a small-to-medium sample size, and then segmenting user personas based on things like attitudes, expectations, goals and pain points.
Created by: Interviewing around 5 to 30 users (rolling samples tend to use 5 users per group, until eventually interviews only uncover one or two new insights with each group).
Interviews can either be fully separate sessions, included in usability tests, or as part of field studies. The subsequent analysis stages of the interviews should find patterns or broad themes that are similar amongst groups interviewed. These themes and patterns then build user personas.
Pros of use: Based on real user data which results in accurate information, with only a small time and money commitment involved. Can reveal key knowledge about customer needs, wants, desires, motivations, expectations and pain points which would be impossible to ascertain from assumption.
Cons of use: Based on only small-medium samples, which means it’s difficult to determine how much of a proportion of the audience the persona represents. Smaller sample sizes may also inadvertently omit customers with unique characteristics or views.
3. Statistical Personas
The longest and most labour intensive user persona creation. This involves collecting first party data through surveys sent to large samples of your ideal audience, and then using statistical analysis to identify patterns or themes. Depending on what website you’re on, you may be able to set this up quite quickly, for example, on Wirdpress using a Survey plugin would be a quick and easy way to help start building your personas.
Statistical personas are labour intensive because they require both initial qualitative research in order to craft the right questions to use in the survey, and good existing knowledge of customer expectations and needs in order to even create a survey that will produce worthwhile results.
Created by: Undertaking initial qualitative research to identify the main common themes shared between customers. That knowledge then forms a survey that is able to collect more quantitative data about the identified themes or patterns at a much larger scale: think at least 100, but ideally 500 or more, respondents. Statistical clustering analysis can then be used to find bigger, more prominent patterns in the survey data.
Pros of use: Large samples give large, much more accurate results and can also offer more accurate representation of what percentage of your user base each persona represents. Because two types of data are being used, your results increase in accuracy and provide invaluable insights into behaviours, personalities, interests, hobbies, expectations, needs, desires and wants of your audience.
Cons of use: Expensive, intense, time-consuming, and requiring expertise in statistical analysis (think a statistician or data scientist). Limited access to someone with statistical knowledge is likely to not produce results and therefore wouldn’t be recommended. Also, teams can still end up with personas that are similar to purely qualitative personas because the statistical personas are based on the same initial qualitative data.
User persona examples
Once you’ve identified your types of user personas, these can then be used to inform the user persona templates of your actual customers that you’ll create.
For example, if you are a financial services business you might use qualitative persona types to inform profiles that relate to C-suite type job roles, as the profiles will need significant accuracy and detail in order to guide design and messaging decisions.
If you are an eCommerce or wholesale eCommerce store, however, you might be happy to use personas to give you an overall idea of who is who. This applies to whatever store you end up creating; Shopify, Magento, a WooCommerce website, or another B2B eCommerce solution.
Examples of user persona profiles which could be created across industries might look like:
- The project manager
Brands who are appealing to senior level B2B decision makers will need project manager user personas. Project manager profiles might encompass:
- Character traits (enthusiastic, focused)
- Archetype (“the leader”. Find out which one your brand falls under)
- Backstory (“the startup needs to rebrand for growth, PM is looking for expert analysis to guide this journey”)
- Personality evaluations (more extroverted than introverted, more intuitive than sensical, feels more than thinks)
2. The head designer
Brands that are aiming to refresh websites or branding materials for B2B or B2C companies will likely need to appeal to the aesthetic desires of a head designer. If you’re hiring a freelance web designer make sure they reinforce your brand visually and make your site and collateral marketing products more appealing. An example profile might include:
- Job title
- Personality traits (empathetic, meticulous)
- Personal preferences (like favourite brands or design magazines)
- Pain points (“finds information too varied”)
- Motivations (“to produce graphics that provoke empathy in customers”)
- Needs (“design expertise to refresh a tired image”)
- A larger backstory (“Designer has designed since age of X, is creative, loves to use colour to evoke emotion”)
3. The influencer
The influencer is a modern-day user persona that almost every industry may need to call upon! Example influencer profiles might include information like:
- Preferred/expert niche (“fashion”)
- Personality attributes (“Extroverted, travels regularly, parties a lot”)
- Motivations (“Always seeking the next new thing”, “loves to inspire”)
- Core needs (“Needs something innovative and exclusive”)
- Pain points
4. The “normal Norman”
The “general Gary” of all businesses: the normal Normal is a business’s standard customer who is not necessarily a dream target, but still plays a vital role. Examples of these will vary sector to sector but might include things like:
- Job title
- Marital status
- Customer quote from satisfaction survey based on a similar user persona
- Motivations (“why does Norman use us”)
- User story (“when and where Norman began using us”)
- In depth analysis into goals and challenges (challenges faced by Norman before finding your brand, the goals Norman hopes to achieve by using your brand)
- Conclusion of how the brand addresses Norman’s pain points and motivations.
5. The overall dream target
The main-stay customer, the brand advocate, the loyal ideal one that every business seeks and the exact customer user personas are designed to build. Dream target templates are usually much more in depth and will vary on their information based on the industry, but will overall include things like:
- Job title
- Marital status
- Backstory relevant to your business (“i.e, a fitness enthusiast”)
- Personality traits
- Personality preferences (“favourite colours include”)
- Pain points
- Semi-fictional bios (“Dream target is a 26 year old professional with a longstanding interest in biking since the age of X”)
- Customer quote taken directly from the customer or from a similar user persona
How to create user personas
Creating user personas sounds tough. But it’s simple, we promise. User personas don’t need to be extensive or elaborate: they can be concise and memorable. For that reason they’re able to be created in a number of different ways depending on budget, team size, the scale of the project and even the overall purpose of creating the persona in the first place.
Whilst we can’t provide detailed step-by-step instructions (as every business’s process will be unique), here are five actionable steps that you can take on your road to creating accurate user personas.
- Collect information
The first step to creating any user personas starts with research. Research can be as simple as observational data taken from your website analytics, or it could be taken from user interviews or other methods of market research either manually or using marketing analytics software.
It’s important to try and collate as much information as possible so that you have an accurate representation of your target audience in which to build personas from. Whatever you do, try not to fill in fictional information where there might be gaps. Designers can add semi-fictional information later when they’re working with a large quantity of information, but in the research stage making false assumptions can create poorly constructed profiles which can undermine the entire purpose of creating your personas.
2. Identify the most common persona patterns or themes
The next step is to analyse your research findings to find patterns or themes in your data that make it possible to start organising similar people into groups. For example, a group that are frivolous spenders, and a group whose collective pain point is too much choice.
To make identification easier, you can:
- Make a list of all of the behavioural variables of your customers
- Map each user or their attributes against the corresponding set of variables.
- Look for common trends. Try to find groups of people who share six to eight variables). Once you’ve found these groups, you’ve found the basis of each of your user personas.
3. Begin to build out personas
Once you have the basis of your personas from Step 2, it’s time to layer that information and build your personas out.
To do that, the first step is to assemble your personas around behavioural patterns - after all, these will form the foundation of your connection to your customers. The trick here is to describe a persona in a way that expresses understanding and relevancy, but doesn’t end up being submerged in too many personal details (this can become distracting and devalue the persona as an analytical tool).
Try to limit your user personas to three to five profiles too. Too many risks blurring together users, or overloading profiles with too many details which harm the accuracy of its targeting.
4. Test draft personas against imagined scenarios
Personas alone cannot inform your design, branding or messaging: it’s the context in which you apply them that truly provides you with actionable insights.
To apply context, it’s time to create scenarios so that you can evaluate how your personas are likely to interact with an imagined situation, measure their responses and record which actions they’ll take to reach their end goal.
Scenarios aid designers in understanding user journeys by revealing design solutions a user may need as they move through the funnel, so ensure too that they are written entirely from your persona’s perspective and only create use cases that are likely to happen.
5. Collaborate and corroborate findings with teams
Finally, sharing your personas with teams and stakeholders can help to add important additional or contextual information that can help increase the personas accuracy and relevance.
Once user persona traits or even the profiles themselves have been agreed upon, they can start to be used in more general business discussions going forward, including in marketing, sales, branding and UX strategies.
A sign of a well constructed persona is often if it acts as an external member of the team due its significant influence and information!
Need a hand?
Reach out. At Huddle Creative we create user personas using market research, customer and stakeholder interviews and workshops for a wide array of different businesses in a number of different industries. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that the right targeting can make to a brand, whether it’s reflected in its brand identity, design, marketing or messaging.
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