Personas – non grata?

Today we had one of our regular Equator Academies.  These are really good sharing sessions where people take turns to share knowledge they think other people will find useful.  There’s often a big discussion that follows and we identify things we can start doing (or do even better) as a result.

Today Elaine was talking about what she took from the UX London conference earlier in the year.  She said something very interesting about personas, which sparked a big conversation.

She said that the speaker had said that:

  1. Personas should be developed by the same person who does the audience research
  2. Everyone should agree on the personas

These are two very important points, which we wholeheartedly agree with but which led to the following points in our discussion:

Personas should be developed and written by the same person who does the audience research

  1. This is true but the audience research and development of personas should be done by an objective observer, rather than someone in-house.
  • This helps to avoid it becoming too much about what the brand wants its customers to do, and be much more about what consumers want – i.e. it becomes insight, attitude and behaviour based as opposed to business goal based.  I am sure there are people out there in insight teams who do write good personas, but as a rule, it makes sense for it to be done externally.
  • There should also be a consensus about what a persona is.  And what it is for.
  • We come up against ‘but we have already created a segmentation for DM that you can use’ – or – ‘we gave you Mosaic profiles’ fairly often.  Personas are different from these.  A persona is not a specific group of people, more a state of mind.  The big difference between personas and segments is that the same person can be all kinds of personas – it just depends on when they visit the site and how they feel when they visit it.  For example, on a hotel site, I could be a room-booking persona, a party venue researching persona, and a business meeting persona, on 3 different occasions.
  • Personas are very specific to online.  Getting them right means you design sites that work really well, in terms of meeting your business goals but also in terms of making life easier for your target audiences.  It’s worth spending lots of time and effort getting them right because they can be used over and over again, reference documents that are as important as your brand guidelines or marketing plan.

2 Everyone should agree on the personas.

  • Because personas are so important as a resource, everyone should agree on them.  This is not the same as them being designed and tweaked by committee.  Someone has to ‘own’ them and protect them from harm.  They have to make sense to your company, but also to your agencies.

Anyway, that’s just a couple of points I thought were really important.  I love doing my own focus groups and depth interviews because it really does help me understand my audience, and I also love making personas up (it’s like writing stories).  My favourite book about personas is The User is Always Right because it makes everything seem simple.  Because it is simple.  Once you’ve made it simple.


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