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6 Steps to Building User Personas and Why You Should Care
What is a per·so·na? You outta know.
According to Smashing Magazine, a persona is a few things…
1 A way to model, summarize, and communicate research about people who have been observed or researched in some way.
2 Depicted as a speciﬁc person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people.
3 A representative of a signiﬁcant portion of people in the real world.
Why should you care? FYI: Sales Reps, Marketers, Designers, and Product Developers should too.
Personas are meant to make your life easier. With a well-built persona(s), you can easily identify areas of opportunity for improvement and create a better user experience.
Better user experience More frequent, consistent, and happy users
Personas are meant to justify your eﬀorts. With a well built persona(s), you can segment your customers into groups that show how eﬀective your marketing is and how proﬁtable your business is as a whole within each segment.
Wait, what does that mean? Here’s an example: Enterprise personas probably pay more up front, but the cost to acquire them is usually higher as well. Instead, it may make sense to focus your eﬀorts on the persona that pays less up front but takes less to acquire. But, you can only measure this if you know your personas.
Enterprise Persona Acquisition Cost What you’re left with… versus Non-Enterprise Persona Acquisition Cost What you’re left with!
What should a persona include?
Every company will have diﬀerent personas. There are however a handful of key pieces to include, which HubSpot has neatly outlined: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Role Goals Challenges Company Watering Holes Personal Background Shopping Preferences Take a look at HubSpot’s breakdown here for speciﬁc questions to ask when interviewing/evaluating your users.
Keep in mind! Not all of these questions are relevant to all companies so decide what is important for your business to know.
for example: Inbound.org doesn’t necessarily need to know our users’ buying preferences to make their experience better. However, we do need to know why our users visit the site and what they’re hoping to get out of it. So we’ll swap that question in.
Ok, got it. How do I build a persona? This will only take 6 steps.
Step 1: Pick a representative cohort of users. Depending on how many users you have to represent using your personas, decide how many interviews you need to conduct or how many survey responses you need to get to be conﬁdent in your conclusions.
Here’s an example to help illustrate a representative sample size. Inbound.org has over 100,00 members. To get a representative number with a reasonable conﬁdence level (say, 95%) we would need 383 data points.
That’s a lot of data points.
Step 2: Be creative to get as many data points as you possibly can…or as necessary. There are many ways to do this. “This” being, getting open-ended responses to your questions. Utilize surveys, virtual/in-person discussion groups, even reverse Q&A sessions. Be creative and do what makes sense for your users.
Key phrase: “open-ended responses” When interviewing, focus on open-ended questions. Listen to what your users are saying. ‘Yes or No’ questions probably won’t give you the depth you need to build useful personas. Even giving users options to choose from can deter them from formulating their own natural responses which will skew your results.
How did Inbound.org do it, you might ask? We chose to use a survey. It consisted of primarily open-ended questions. We tried to keep it to as few questions as possible but worded them in a way that would get robust responses. The result? of data!
Step 3: Read your responses and put together a ﬁrst pass at your personas. Find a quiet spot and start reading through your responses. Jot down common words and phrases as you go to be used later for grouping. Once you’ve completed this activity, go back and begin grouping respondents based on the commonalities between them.
Step 4: Fill in your template. Using your groupings from Step 3, ﬁll in your categories (slide 14) by formulating the group responses into one single, uniﬁed response. You should be able to conﬁdently convey what their main challenges, needs, goals, and such are based on the group’s responses. You probably have multiple groupings which means you’ll have multiple personas. Try to keep your count between 3 and 6 in total. This will be version 1 of your personas!
Step 5: Conduct a few 1-on-1 user interviews. Now that you have your version 1, you’ll want to make sure that your conclusions are valid and hold true for a random (but relevant) user. Pick one user that matches one persona who hasn’t already been surveyed. Interview them individually. Not everything has to be spot on but their answers should be relatively similar to your conclusions. If not, reevaluate your original conclusions and try again. Do this for each persona.
Step 6: Place each user into a persona. Your users (or customers), minus the extraneous ones, should all fall under one of your personas. Now is the time to separate your users based on your persona criteria. There probably won’t be matches for all of them but there should be clear diﬀerentiators and indicators that guide your sorting.
Bonus: Take note of extraneous users. Not all users will fall under a persona. That’s ok. But if you start to see a lot of them as you sort, reevaluate your personas. Otherwise, these are just naturally extraneous people. Like a dog who loves catnip.
Double Bonus: Give your personas a name. Many personas have names attached to them, such as Marketer Mary. You don’t have to assign names to yours but it makes it easier to communicate about them internally instead of saying, “Persona 3”.
Ok, now take a deep breath. The steps are over. But we have a few important things to leave you with.
Building personas takes time. It could take just 1 month or maybe 3 months or even 6 months.
What’s important though, is not the time it takes, but rather the quality of your personas. Even once you’ve shipped your ﬁrst version of your personas, it's not over. It’s a never ending process of analysis and iteration.
Your personas probably won’t be perfect. customer Hey! This persona doesn't perfectly reﬂect who I am! It's okay if this doesn't describe you exactly! The story of the persona gives me context to help make decisions around the speciﬁcs like pain points, what content will interest you, and so on.
Don’t go it alone! Utilize data from other sources. Your team (especially support) is a very good place to start, before surveying your users. They know your users, why not ask them about it? Google Analytics is a gold mine of data and analytics on your users. Get demographic information including gender, location, and even general interests. Social Media is a great place to see people talk about the problem that you oﬀer a solution to. Learn from those outspoken tweeters.
You will probably end up with exclusionary personas. These are personas that are built from the respondents that you don’t care for or that your team should avoid selling, building, or marketing to. Inbound.org example: Someone who only uses Inbound.org to promote their own content and tries to upvote their posts to the top using voting rings. Boo you exclusionary persona, boo you.
An honest note. There are many ways to build personas. You can do this any way you like. This is how we went about it, but it’s by no means the only way or necessarily the best way. Above all, we recommend that you be thorough and never stop iterating. Check out the next slide!
Which Inbound.org persona are you? Take a look at ours and let us know which one you identify with most. Click here to pick your persona!