The Layman’s Guide to Creating a Customer Persona [Part 1]

As the ancient marketing saying goes ‘know thy customer’. It’s one of those industry ever-greens that stays relevant despite all the changing trends and tendencies. In reality, the actual question is not whether you’re aware of the fact that you should know as much about your clientele as possible, but rather what are you doing to obtain the information and how are you using it. One of the most powerful techniques combining the acquisition and utilization of consumer data is creating a customer persona. Join me for part one of two of the guide to learn all the whys and hows that you’ll need to get it going.

Since the idea of a customer persona isn’t entirely new and some of the readers may have certain preconceived notions of its actual nature and usefulness, I’d like to take a moment to discuss a couple of the finer points of these client avatars, as personas are sometimes called.

Now, what a customer persona does, is it helps the product or software designer visualize things, and this, just as in real life, is a very powerful skill that strongly contributes to achieving the set goals.

And what exactly is being visualized? Well, more often than not the designer or a marketing strategist, for example, isn’t like the people who are going to use the product. Thus, it’s of great help to be able to avoid subjective thinking by referring to a client persona for better understanding of the target audience.

And speaking of target market, it’s not enough to talk about demographics, you need to go way deeper and reach people on emotional level. This is why, when creating a customer persona, you need to include things like hobbies, needs, motivations, etc., for the best possible effect.

What is a customer persona?

The concept of a customer persona dates back to the early 80’s, when it was first used by Alan Cooper as the basis for better understanding of software users. Cooper wanted to put users at the center of the design process to create a product that meets their expectations. The mechanism of developing ideal client profiles and how they’re used have evolved but the key premise remains the same – understanding customers thoroughly is essential to delivering exceptional products.

To answer the question of ‘what is a customer persona?’ think of a model or an archetypal user of a product or website. It’s a specific person, however, not a real individual. This client avatar is a blend of many observed persons that are similar and constitute a certain segment of clients, usually the majority.

The point is to design products for specific people, concrete personalities, instead of faceless everybody, and a customer persona is intended to sum up and convey the data about people who have been observed or researched to different team members working on a project. To fulfill its function it has to be specific. Too broad won’t work, as designing for everybody is designing for nobody in particular.

How do you present a customer persona?

A customer persona should usually fit onto a single-page document meant to communicate the results of customer research to other departments. Although, what really counts is the fundamental understanding of who the ideal client is, and not as much the form of the document.

The document itself IS NOT the customer persona. What matters the most is the complete understanding of a particular group of clients and getting on the same page with other team members.

You might want to take a look at this customer persona template but whatever format you’re going to assume, you have to make sure you include information like: a leading phrase or quote, experience/knowledge, emotions, values, socio-cultural environment, demographics and even physical attributes.

How is a client persona created?

Again, there’s no fixed course of action for developing a customer persona. I’ll discuss the details of the process in the second part of this guide, however, to get an idea of what steps have to be taken to build a client avatar take a look below.

  • interview/observe/do research on a sufficient number of people; you can gain valuable information even from watching and listening to people you provide your services to on a daily basis
  • find patterns in their responses and use them to group similar people
  • create archetypal models based on those groups
  • share the models with other team members
  • drawing from the gained understanding, create user-centered products

What do I use a customer persona for?

So, in case you’re still unsure of the usefulness of customer personas or maybe you could use a little reinforcement of the ideas discussed in this post, let me feed you some more information.

Right, you now know what a customer persona is and how it should look like. As I said, I’ll discuss the very process of creating an ideal client profile in the second part of the guide but for now let’s just take a look at what could you use a client avatar for, exactly.

One of the main points of creating a customer persona is to avoid thinking in an abstract way and having to analyze barren data. Instead, you focus more on an idealized but a highly humane concept of an actual user and what lies in his best interest. Your goal in the process is to attract ideal, targeted customers by not being generic in the course of design.

Among things that a customer persona helps with are:

  • building empathy: creating a persona puts you in the user’s shoes; you gain a similar perspective; decision making is based on the persona’s wants, wishes, needs and goals;
  • developing focus: you make a decision who is it that you’re creating the product for; you’re establishing a clear target and that’s crucial; you’re prioritizing by acknowledging that you’re not designing for everybody;
  • communication: multidisciplinary teams with different knowledge and perspectives; a customer persona helps to communicate the findings of research; sharing knowledge and getting on the same page;
  • decision making: not only for whom but also what to design/produce; determining what’s useful or needed; when questioning certain decisions, there’s real data to fall back on, showing user-focused drive and logic;
  • measuring effectiveness: you can play-act personas if there’s limited budget for real testing; if the person playing the role of a particular client has troubles with something, the real person will probably experience them as well.

Summary

The sheer concept of a customer persona isn’t difficult to grasp but being able to use it efficiently takes time. Things like referring to these client avatars by name may seem silly at first but that’s what it takes to make the best use of them. A customer persona isn’t a standalone tool, it has to be used in conjunction with other processes and methods for best performance.

Your task as a business is to increase the quality of your products or services and this is what customer personas are built for. Moreover, they make work more fun (and this aspect is not to be treated lightly) and the final product you release is more useful to its recipients.

If you haven’t tried creating personas yet, I hope I’ve raised your interest enough and you will give them a shot. Meanwhile, stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll discuss the data collection process and analysis.