Personas: What they are, why they’re important and how I’m making them

Juan Growth Marketing

I encourage businesses to focus on people. Not customers, not users, not campaigns… but people. Focus on people. It sounds romantic, but it makes sense to me.

In life, we earn trust by caring and being conscientious of people’s expectations, incentives, strengths, sensitivities, weaknesses, drivers…

Everyone is unique, so we try to put ourselves in their shoes.

It’s much easier earning trust face to face, and one on one, than it is to do so at scale and over the internet.

However, trust can certainly be earned online – and by brands. Think about Airbnb, and people accepting strangers into their home on its behalf.

So, how can you earn trust online? How do you actually do that?

It goes without saying that you have to stand for something… And I’ll be blogging about that eventually.

For me, personas are a helpful tool for businesses trying to earn trust.

If you’ve got the vision covered, the next stage is to think about people and how you want to help them.

What are personas?

Personas are archetypal representations of your customers. I believe personas are what you make of them.

At a functional level, personas should allow you (and eventually your team, agency partners, copy writers, graphic designers, etc…) to have a clear idea of who you’re trying to influence, attract and cater to.

Here’s an example of one of the personas I put together for this website:Persona 3

At an emotional level, personas should bring you confidence that you’re doing things right by your customers, that you’re working on something that matters to them and that you’re putting people first.

Why are personas important?

My objective is to create a human connection, to earn trust, and I feel that user personas, user stories, etc… all these exercises help me create a closer connection with the people I’m trying to serve.

At the beginning it’s easy, but as businesses grow it becomes difficult to keep a close connection with every single customer.

Technology and a human centric approach help us address this challenge.

How do you build personas?

There are many ways to go about creating personas, I honestly believe everyone has their own way. I’ve also seen that the actual process is highly dependent on things like budget and deadlines.

You’re meant to put personas together using a combination of qualitative and quantitative data – usually you throw in a dash of anecdotal observation, because you can’t help yourself.

You collect this data in many ways, and to be fair it’s quite challenging to get good answers to your questions. A straightforward question-answer approach might send you in the wrong direction if your questions are not interpreted, understood or received well by the customers.

Just like in experiment design and behavioural science research, you have to figure out ways of ‘teasing out’ insight.

Here’s how I’m building mine for the website you’re on right now – my process has zero sophistication going for it.

Creating my customer personas

For me, personas are fluid. I revisit them as I learn more about the people I’m helping.

True to the growth mindset, I already have people in free trials even though I haven’t fully fleshed out the product.

I’m not sure exactly what the product will be, but I do know some of the type of people I’m trying to help.

Tools I used for this excercise

Step 1) I put together high-level bullet points about them

I like the idea of including the jobs to be done model into my persona representations. As I mentioned, I began my customer persona process by looking at the 4 people who have signed up for the free trial already.

I wrote some bullet points down about them as a way to get something on paper.

Step 2) Beefing up my personas

After making decisions about who I want to target and writing down some of their demographic characteristics, it was time to put them into a more robust document.

So, I emailed my 4 customers and asked: “If I was going to do some work for you for a week, what would that work be? What do you need done?”

I also added an automated email asking people something similar, as well as sending it out to about 10 other leads.

From the responses, I’ve noticed the first thing that came to mind for most of them was help with their websites.

The jobs they want done seem somewhat geared at execution and implementation as opposed to consulting – which makes sense given the stage of their businesses.

Even though I didn’t foresee writing blog posts about working with WordPress, I’m more than happy to oblige!

I realise this isn’t the most inspired way to start working on this model, but it is what it is.

I started building on Xtensio, and based them on observation and my user’s feedback.

The first persona for my membership service:

Andy Wilson Persona

Note how I didn’t include channels they use, brands they like or things like that. You can, it’s quite common, but I’m not doing it for this project, I don’t want to think about channels until later.

So far, this has been an exercise in observation. I’m interested in moving fast, so my 4 actual customers will be my initial customer personas.

I’ll iterate as I go, keeping people front of mind.

Step 3) Sleeping on it and improving my personas

I like to give myself time to revisit my work with fresh eyes, so I left my personas on ice for a couple of days before having another look at them. I made a couple of changes, but I was then good to go!

I realise this is not ‘best practice’ persona creation, but this is how I’m starting off.

I’ll make sure to iterate the personas and improve the as often as possible, by engaging my customers to learn more about them.

I’ve show you two of the personas already, here are the remaining two!

Persona 3

Persona 4What makes your personas a success?

In reality, if you were to just take this template and do your own it might not work. The important thing is to understand what you’re trying to achieve with the process. Since I’m working alone, I don’t have to compromise or agree on process – I can just do whatever I want.

However, for existing businesses, putting this together should be a collaborative effort.

If other people in the business don’t feel like personas are useful, don’t understand them, their purpose or the process behind them then they will not work – no matter what they look like or say.

Persona development is a powerful process when the result is staff that understand and connect with the persona, otherwise the exercise is useless.

How I’ll use my personas

These are my initial personas, but as I mentioned before I see them as fluid. I’ll be using these immediately as I build the service. For example how I write, how I promote this website, what I write… it will all depend on whether it fits my personas – i.e. what my customers want.

I will follow up on this post when I do my first iteration and revision of my personas.

Conclusion

That’s it, that’s how I built my initial personas for this project.

It’s not going to win me any brownie points with UX and SD practitioners, but it’s good enough for me to get started.

As I said, I see personas as fluid representations of my ideal customers, so I will add/remove things as I get to know my customers, and their problems, better.

Need a hand?

I’ve worked with businesses of all sizes, from startups to ING Direct.

I’m offering 1-1 support and consultancy to a select group of startups and small businesses – at a very low cost.

It’s a trial run to see if I can find a way to help entrepreneurs at scale, and you’d be in good company.

However, it’s a selective process. I want to make sure I’m helping the right people – it’s a passion project.

If you’re interested in it send me a message on live chat or visit the founding members promo page.

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