Really you don't need a persona for guessing, or for traditional marketing based on data.
Personas can help you question basic assumptions
. That is the real power of the persona.
Let's say you're getting traffic from a search term. Okay, those people might be coming in on a fairly generic or ambiguous search term. Whether you're searching for "widgets" or "copper plated boxcar prongs" that doesn't answer nearly as many questions about objectives. At best you might get a clue as to the immediate task.
Let's say traffic is coming in for backpacks. Okay, you know the term. ...then what? Let's make the term more specific -- backpacks for students.
Again ...so what? This tells you almost nothing about human motivations or desirability. Let's look at a persona.
Amy is looking for a backpack for her 14-year old son. She has been seeing news reports on how overloaded backpacks cause back problems and other injuries. Further, Amy knows her son doesn't want something "lame."
So, the immediate task is to find a backpack. But your persona allows you to step outside preconceptions. You know from this persona you should talk about ergonomics, perhaps rating backpacks on a scale or citing recommendations from health or parent groups for certain designs.
We're also talking about a secondary persona -- Amy's son Mike. Even if the backpack is right for Amy, she's buying for Mike. What a savvy designer would do is 1) Show Students wearing the backpack in a photo. 2) Get testimonials from the reference age group. 3) Allow comments where parents and students may make comments about their experience ....how kids got compliments from friends, etc.
Using personas to step outside your own shoes, you may test things it would never occur to test otherwise. You may find your keywords aren't right for the traffic you're trying to attract. You may find you have to put common items into backpacks because otherwise, the shopper has no sense of scale.
I'm constantly seeing sites which were never designed with any customer in mind, simply "the market."
Here's a discussion on 37signals, Showing the Plug, not the cable
. Now I don't care how smart a marketer, showing the plug when everybody shows the cable just isn't an insight that comes out of the groupthink of assuming who your customer is from keyword analysis.
Everything about analytics shows you where you are, nothing shows you where you should or could go. Personas provide that.
I've done hundreds of critiques, and it's clear people need a lot of help looking at their site like the customer does. You don't need a persona to see that this much traffic is going to the site for certain kewords. You do need personas to understand these aren't the keywords you should be using, and by targeting you could be doing five times better than you are.
Crossing The Chasm
The broader implication here is that most marketing teams fail right at the beginning. They do not personalize their image of the market but go straight to some set of abstractions or number. What gets lost in the process, as we shall see, is any clear insight into the compelling reason to buy.
-- Geoffrey A. Moore Crossing The Chasm
is probably the most famous marketing book nobody actually applies to what they are doing. Data is history. Personas are information tools, prescriptive and about the future.
Usually people gravitate towards overbroad keywords and unfocussed copy. Copywriters writing to a persona can find a different copy angle that works far better. Using a persona a marketer can understand there is no "the market" and focus on specific segments instead.
Looking at keywords, you see people are searching for blinds, and you put in some blinds, and people buy them. Looking from the point of view of a persona, you understand that person has a window, and you then put in a section on window treatments, and show "People who bought this also bought..." sections at the bottom of the page.
The result is people don't just buy blinds, and while everyone is struggling with a certain level of sales you're making several times as much because you didn't just give the customer exactly what they came for, you're anticipating.
The keyword may be "blinds" but that in no way means 30-40% of the people won't buy an entire window treatment.
Related: Storyboards, Scenarios, Design Personas
is my page on persona design. In actual practice, personas aren't treated like real tools. Most personas become the designer's imaginary friends. I suggest this is because personas aren't given an accompanying scenario. People have the assumptions, make the persona and then wonder what to do with it.
Too often they simply mold the persona into an "Elastic User" able to contort and do the most amazing backflips ....anything to make the preconceptions work.
You don't make the persona, check it off as "done" then file it away. You have to use the persona as a frame of reference for design decisions. They only way that gets done is to have the persona move through a scenario. Scenario development is why personas fail.
Edited by DCrx, 02 November 2007 - 08:52 AM.