Answer updated March 7, 2016
Creating in-depth user personas that truly represent your target audience is a science. It can take a lot of research, time, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.
But everyone needs to start somewhere, right? Here’s a quick and dirty creative approach:
- First: What Is a User Persona?
- How Do You Create a User Persona?
- How Do You Make User Personas Useful?
The Problem: Plastic Personas: Early in my career, when presented with user personas (also called buyer personas) named “Domestic Dan” and “Sporty Sally,” I rolled my eyes. How could plastic lives be useful in creating exceptional content?
Turns out, they’re not. Not if they aren’t authentic, based on data, and life-like.
The Need: Authenticity: If they are authentic … and your writers, editors, designers, and videographers know how to leverage the personas … then wow! You’ll not only get more believable, moving, interesting, and useful content, you’ll get more of it.
Here’s a definition: User personas explain common motivations, behaviors, and attitudes (including potential obstacles) that a certain type of visitor exhibits when making a decision. Use this Audience Analysis Worksheet to get started creating yours.
User personas are less about demographics, although they do describe a specific person in order to bring them to life for writers and marketers. They help you focus on the audience’s needs.
Your personas will help answer these kinds of questions:
- Where is the individual coming from? (Literally and figuratively)
- Why are they here?
- What do they expect?
- What is holding them back?
- What do they hope to gain?
To create an user personal, you need audience data. Interviews, analytics, and customer service reports are a great way to start. If you must use surveys, leave the questions open-ended (no multiple choice answers).
After gathering this information, look for themes, concepts, attitudes that pop up frequently. You’ll start seeing patterns, and these patterns might become personas. I often find two primary and three tertiary persona types.
Summarize these people in a chart, that looks something like this user persona template.
(Instead of 1, 2, 3, yours should be descriptive names, like Newbie Dad or Health-nut Teen.)
My favorite exercise is to select one of the personas, step into their shoes, and go through the current site content or experience. If this person has a big family and just got home from work, long pages (like this one) might be frustrating. “Get to the point,” they might grumble.
Or on the flip side, another persona might be trying to make a difficult decision, like selecting a health insurance, and may need several avenues to find more in-depth data. “How do I compare? What’s the bottom line in terms of cost?”
Then step out of their shoes and into your own and answer their questions by adapting the content to suit their needs.
I’ve done this exercise with large editorial teams, and it’s always an eye-opener. Need help? I’m here for you.
Do you have other methods to get to the essence of your audience personas? Please share!