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So many times when I start a presentation on personas and the value they bring to any organization (whether it is a development team, a creative design team, or yes – even a marketing team), the push back I face is the perception that personas are really just “fluff” that cannot enable decisions and effect the bottom line.  In my experience, that is just not the case.  I have seen great products fail because the product engineers started with a set of cool features and later looked for a customer segment that might use them.  I have also seen mediocre products succeed because instead of building a segment around the product, the team started with a set of individual people, trying to accomplish specific tasks… and then built a product that could help them accomplish their goals.

How did personas help them do that?  Simple – they were based on research and facts (not archetypes or assumptions) and focused on behaviors, not segmentation data that represents how the business views its customers instead of how customers view themselves.

Personas Help You Focus on What Matters

When your audience is at the center of what you do, it is easier to move past the excitement of a new product or interaction and focus on the heart of why you are making the change in the first place.  In a product design project a few years back, I saw first hand how having a strong understanding of the needs and behaviors of all target consumer audiences helped ensure the success of a new Voice Over IP consumer focused product release.  How?  Consumers had an easier time understanding what the product washow they would use it, and what challenges it would address in their daily lives thanks to a tighter feature list, clearer product messaging, and an easier end to end experience of learning, buying, getting, using, and servicing the product.

Personas Reveal Unspoken Cast Members

I admit Customer Segmentation is very important for any good CRM strategy. It helps you better understand how your business defines its audiences (internal or external) and what each segment needs in order to meet their goals.  But equally important is understanding how your audiences define themselveswhat they need to do, and how they want to do it.  Personas often help align two important groups of people – business stakeholders and target audiences – by identifying the breaks or gaps in their intersecting roadmaps.  In one particular case, a quick look at attention grabbers and influencers of a key target audience helped us revise our overall CRM plan to include touch points previously seen as unimportant.

Personas Are Not Just For “Users”

Myth – personas are for marketers and website designers… only.  Truth – personas can help inform any interaction you are designing as long as there is an audience, a scenario, and a context in which it all comes together.  One of the most interesting and proactive ways I have used personas is in a global Change Management project where personas were introduced to help the team better understand what employees would need from their company in order to adopt and embrace a major change in how they work.  Personas were used to drive communication planning, training programs, and the overarching change management strategy by helping us make decisions around dollar spend, key messages, and channels of delivery.

Personas Bring Customer Segments to Life

Personas turn profiles of people into real people having real experiences.  As a result, personas can provide invaluable feedback on the designs, strategies, and interactions you are working on.  For example, in a recent web design projectpersonas helped us revise overall site design and content focus to speak directly to the audiences that would be using the website.   What was interesting about this project is that the website we were asked to evaluate wasn’t a bad website.  It wasn’t breaking any major usability rules.  That said, it was failing to meet (or even come close to) business goals around conversion rates.  To address the issue, we realized that a better understanding of exactly who was using the website and what they were trying to do was necessary.  After doing a quick study and persona development effort, we were able to revise the design to better grab the audience’s attention.  We also rewrote content to highlight the information they found important and could ultimately inspire them to make the desired change in treatment our client was hoping for.

Personas Drive Decision Making

Because personas can actually walk through the experience you are designing, they can help you make decisions about what to do with the insights you are gathering.  They can help decide which marketing initiatives are no longer providing value or what features will make the difference between a best in class product and a “keeping up with the Joneses” product.  One example of this is a web design project where personas helped us elimate unnecessary scope and better focus the elements that remained to speak to the audience that would be using the website – not the audience that would be visiting it once and moving on to their next task.