Most user personas are a great way to understand the hobbies of fictional Shutterstock characters, not so much for elevating product development.
Personas can be like gym memberships. Everyone buys one at some point but doesn’t always use it. Recent years have witnessed a backlash in the UX community against traditional user personas, causing teams to question their efficacy.
A sample user persona
However, that backlash doesn’t mean personas are inherently flawed. In fact, when used well, they can supercharge your product development, marketing, and sales. According to a report by Marketing Insider Group, 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals, segment their database by buyer persona.
So, the trick is not to abandon personas but to make them useful. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
Create Personas Collaboratively
User personas highlight gaps or assumptions in our understanding of customers, revealing insights relevant to all business departments. Even if one team owns and drives persona creation, they shouldn’t be the only ones involved in the process.
Organizing workshops to involve stakeholders in persona creation has two major benefits:
- Holistic understanding – Usually, each team tries to understand customers from their lens. For example, the marketing team might understand how customers discover the product, while sales executives might better understand why customers purchase the product. By piecing different parts together, you’ll develop a more holistic view of your personas.
- Increased adoption – For example, marketing executives are more likely to use personas while developing their campaigns if their insights were incorporated into developing the user personas.
Your team doesn’t need to be under one roof to create personas. There are online resources, including templates created by our team to help you organize persona workshops.
Persona workshop template on Miro
Prioritize Data Over Assumptions
Everyone has opinions on the ideal personas for their business. However, personas that don’t take factual information into account can jeopardize product goals.
Consolidate all the existing user research and feedback before creating personas to uncover underlying patterns. Focus more on user pain points and aspirations instead of demographics and interests. For example, it’s much more relevant for teams to know how the product can help solve user problems rather than knowing their hobbies away from work. Relevant personas will play a vital role in creating customer journey maps to visualize the entire customer experience.
This isn’t an argument against hunches. Subjective insights can indeed be quite valuable. But without a data-centric approach, you’ll always run the risk of making inaccurate personas.
The best way to incorporate assumptions is to indicate your confidence level along with them. For example, we use the following scale in our persona workshops:
Confidence ratings help others understand how informed each insight is during workshops. So, when consolidating insights from multiple stakeholders, you can prioritize those backed by either qualitative or quantitative data.
Make Personas Accessible
Creating personas is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is to ensure that personas get used by teams in their day-to-day projects. Making personas accessible is the first step towards encouraging their adoption. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Share personas with the entire company through a shared drive so that everyone can access them whenever needed.
- Archive older versions of personas to ensure that only the most accurate personas are available for use.
- Include personas in onboarding to encourage adoption among new employees. This is also a quick and easy way to expose new teammates to your existing market.
Include Personas In Workflows
All customer touchpoints revolve around user experience. By this logic, user personas should be one of the most used documents in the organization. So, why is that not the case?
It’s because personas are seldom documented in actual workflows. For example, when creating a landing page, we assume that we know what users want — a tendency that gets stronger with more experience in the organization. So instead of revisiting the personas, we jump straight to execution.
When using personas is included in the process, it forces us to revisit them before kicking off a major user-centric initiative. This additional step in the process might add just a few minutes to your work, but its benefits are two-fold:
- Even a cursory glance at personas can reveal if you’re missing out on important user details in your project, giving you enough time to adjust your approach right at the beginning.
- Revisiting personas also encourages you to think if the existing personas lack vital information. This sets the stage for improving them.
There are several ways to incorporate personas into your workflows, from adding checklist items to your task card to simply bringing them up in project kickoff meetings.
Revisit and Revise
User personas are not a one-time project. With time, all your teams will gain a deeper understanding of the customers. Therefore, it’s essential to update personas to reflect that.
Nielsen Norman Group asked over 150 UX professionals how often they update their personas and made interesting observations.
46% updated their personas every 1-4 years. The remaining are almost split evenly between 5+ years and quarterly (or more often). However, those who revised personas more often were more satisfied with the impact personas had on user experience.
This interesting yet unsurprising insight shows how personas are only as good as the data fueling them. Teams that understand this spend more time refining personas, and in turn, derive more value from them — a loop.
Again, the data doesn’t imply that you should update the personas just for the sake of it. However, it’s important to establish a regular cadence so that the gap between existing user insights and personas doesn’t get too wide.
The Persona Loop
The more you use personas, the more you revise them, and the more accurate they get — thus, getting more useful.
Therefore, if your personas are collecting dust, think about where the root of the problem lies. By simply fixing one part of the loop, you’ll pave the way for actionable personas that will produce a substantial return for your business.
Interested in learning more about developing personas or other vital steps in the product development process? Check out our Remote Product Development Guide for more information and interactive templates.
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