The Characteristics of Effective Personas

It’s an ongoing debate here at Sundog: What’s the ideal approach for persona development?

Before I go further, let’s define a persona. As I wrote in a previous post:

Detailed customer profiles, or personas, force teams to truly appreciate audience needs. A typical persona might include a (fictional) name, demographic data, relevant lifestyle and personality characteristics, their relationships with the organization (if they have any) and their goals for a particular decision or purchase.

The path to persona development often varies. In some cases, we’ve extended a client’s fully-developed personas to include contextual needs and content objectives. For others, we’ve created personas for already-established audience segments. We’ve developed higher-level audience profiles for user experience needs. And for a recent project, we merged our audience insights with initial personas that our client developed.

But what’s our ideal persona destination? Should we create personality-filled profiles to better develop the persona? Or do we take a less-is-more approach, focus on broader audience segments, and focus on essential goals, wants and needs?

My take: It depends on the client, project and objectives. Here are my most critical characteristics for any persona effort:

Personas must be detailed enough to easily distinguish your audience types. It’s unlikely that Persona Jane represents your entire prospect audience, for example. So multiple personas are probably necessary – as long as they reflect the unique characteristics of your audiences.

Personas must be detailed enough to fully understand individual audiences. While we don’t need to identify every aspect of Persona Jill’s decision-making, our profiles should include the essential factors that influence her inclinations, needs and choices.

Personas must be free of unnecessary details. Although it may seem fun to reference Persona Joe’s love of French cuisine, his state high jump championship and his golden retriever named Rusty, those details are irrelevant if they add nothing to his profile. Personas aren’t creative writing exercises.

Personas must include the desired behaviors/conversions. To deliver any value, our personas must identify the calls to action that are most meaningful and relevant for the organization and the individual.

Personas must be useful enough to reference all the time. If personas are created during discovery and forgotten for the rest of the project, their value will quickly fade.

Personas must be prioritized. Whether it’s a website redesign or a social media effort, your organization can’t be everything to everyone on every channel. Prioritize your efforts.

Personas should span all of your marketing efforts. We may develop personas as part of a particular project, but their core attributes shouldn’t be specific to a channel or tactic.

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