Recently, I had this decision with a friend of mine who believes that persona’s are not valid anymore and they’re old fashion marketing method. in her opinion, we need to replace persona’s with jobs to be done. Therefore, I have decided to write this article to explain why personas are still important and, to discuss the following arguments:
- Personas are based on assumptions. They aren’t a true representation of the user base.
- Personas are Vague.
- What’s the big picture behind personas?
In the beginning, let’s explain what is a persona, and what are the uses of a persona?
What is a Persona?
Personas are a reflection of your Product population. It’s a way to model, summarize and communicate research about people who have been observed or researched in some way. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world and enables the team to focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters, instead of focusing on thousands of individuals.
Thus, it helps the team to focus more on the end goal(s)and the objectives that a persona wants or needs to fulfill by using your product. The Product would aid the persona to accomplish their end goal(s) by enabling them to accomplish their tasks via certain features.
As we have mentioned earlier that a persona represents a significant portion of people or as we call it in the research world the (sample size). the reason why we call it that is, it represents part of the group of people (or target population) whose opinions or behavior you care about. but, the question is how do we create a representative persona?
Are Persona’s based on Assumptions?
Well, the short answer to this question is yes and no at the same time, in this argument my friend was debating that Personas are completely based on assumptions which mean that we are not 100% sure about them. Thus, our design decisions are based on assumptions. Well, technically she’s not 100% wrong but, creating a persona is a hypothesis, and no matter how much statistical power you have you will always end up with a small margin of error which could be 0.001%. In that case, we need to keep in mind that building personas are not as simple as interviewing a few people or sending some surveys to users.
Personas are continuous research that should keep happening on a monthly basis where you need to update your persona. What people tend to forget is that markets and people’s behaviors change over time, Therefore, it’s a must to keep updating personas. So, what do we need to know in order to minimize the risk of assumptions and have high confidence in our persona’s?
There are 2 important things that we care about when it comes to building a persona:
- Sample Size
- Independent Sampling
to begin with we need to find out what is our simple size in order to have a good reflection of our population. calculating the sample size is extremely important. So, how do we do it? well here is the formula:
Luckily nowadays there is a lot of websites that can do that for you, you don’t have to worry about the math, I will link a few of those online calculators that can help you with it.
So after we have calculated our sample size we need to find the participants who are taking our survey and, the way you find those people are called sampling now. before we dive into sampling let’s get to know it better, what do we mean with independent sampling?. Independence means that each subject is sampled independently of every other subject. Some sampling approaches can actually violate Independent Sampling. For Example, snowball sampling where you have one subject recommend the next one to contact.
It also means that measures on a subject are independent of measures on every other subject. It doesn’t mean in a within-subject study that measures on the same subject are independent because obviously, they’re not.
As soon as, you have those two factors now you can minimize the marginal error to your persona and build it with a 95% confidence interval. of course, this is not it, you still need to create the perfect amount of questions for your survey while keeping in mind which type of questions you are going to use such as open-ended or close-ended questions. Then, cleaning and analyzing the data. all of those topics are outside of the article scope therefore, I am going to link to an article that talks about all of this and how to create a Data-Driven Persona.
Are Persona’s Vague?
When my friend and I were talking about this topic she kept referring to that personas only usefulness is for marketing campaigns and targeting. Therefore, “Job to be Done” and user stories are more fitting for the product team instead of personas because; it focuses on what does the user need. Although the part about marketing is true, the beauty of personas appears when you have a well-organized database where you can document all of your research’s inside of it.
of course, personas are going to be vague when they are made for the first time, but they will continuously evolve with time and the more you research and experiments you do until they get really sophisticated. But, first, we need to clear something. Most people think that personas are one-time thing research and they don’t need to be revisited every now and then if you talk to a Marketing Officer or a Product Manager they will recommend that you need to update your persona every 6 months.
Well, in my opinion, personas could be updated every time you run a survey, experiment, User testing, etc… you can find good insights that could affect your persona, to see this clearly there is a case study done by CXL about optimizing a landing page for a truck driving company.
Usually, people think that personas are only created by Surveys and User/Customer Interviews. But, sometimes you can find interesting insights about your persona throughout Customer Support, Testing, Experimentations, etc…
In this case, CXL Agency was optimizing a landing page for a truck driving company. Throughout, the case study the agency did 6 tests to figure out how will they improve their conversions on that landing page. The interesting part of the case study was the insights that they gathered after each test, Those insights could be included into the persona to help you have a better understanding of what do the users like.
in the article, the agency had a hypothesis that short forms would outperform long forms from old experiences and researches. But, what was shocking to them was that it didn’t work and, the control beat the variation by 13.56%.
Although short forms usually outperform long forms, this didn’t apply here. More testing is needed to figure out why. – CXL
Shockingly this insight is what you have to learn about your user base, which could mean that your customers or clients would prefer things in a certain way, which goes against what is known in the Marketing or UX communities. This shows you why it’s so important to document your research’s for the long run. Of course, this would become more crucial to the business when it comes to personalization and user segmenting.
Learn from each test, make sure you send test data to google analytics, and segment the results. While targeting can be incredibly valuable, many in the industry haven’t fully grasped that targeting ALWAYS leads to greater organizational complexity, and that greater complexity means greater costs. The most fundamental thing people forget about is “personalization” – Matt Gershoff, CEO of Conductrics,
What’s the Big Picture Behind Personas?
After we have discussed how to build a persona with more confidence and how to keep it updated, now let’s discuss why personas are still important and a crucial component of our business. recently as we can see all the markets are getting crowded especially, with the acceleration to adapt technology due to COVID-19. (I have published an article about The Coming Digital Revolution).
Companies are heading more into market-based products more than feature-based products. The reason why; is that every market right now is heated with competition at a fanatic pace. It’s really hard to differentiate yourself from other competitions only by building new features and soon you will be stuck playing the feature game without creating any added value to the users/customers. Even if you had a feature that the market needs it would be a matter of time until everyone copy’s your features.
People tend to forget that personas are just a building block for something bigger which is the PMF (Product Market Fit). the example I am going to use to prove my point here is ConvertKit as we all know email marketing tools niche is one of the most competitive markets right now, and competing there is nearly impossible. But, Convert Kit has found an interesting way to penetrate the market through specific audience targeting and segmentation. therefore, personas would play an important role to achieve this type of market penetration.
Alright then, What did Convert Kit do to penetrate the market? well, ConvertKit made sure that they are a market-based product by creating a product for a specific persona. In their case, it was the Content Creator persona, the first thing they have done was target content creators, and research the needs of content creators and bloggers. Convert Kit features were designed to fulfill the needs of Content Creators to help them manage their email lists.
Without having a well-researched persona and a deep understanding of the needs of the users ConvertKit couldn’t compete in a market such as the email marketing niche, where you have big Category Kings such as MailChimp. let’s be clear market penetration is far more important than differentiation, Category Kings doesn’t have to differentiate themselves while everyone else does.
but, the question is how did ConvertKit go from 2000$ per month into 100,000$ per month in revenue? well, they did it throughout cold emails, at the beginning, they have been researching their potential clients very well then they would email asking them if there is anything that frustrates them within their current email marketing tool.
The point I am trying to demonstrate here is, persona’s are not just simple A4 page where you have information about; the age group, jobs, interests, etc… of your clients / Customers. Personas are more complex documents where you keep accumulating insights and data from User research, experimentation, etc… then filtering and analyzing the data you have been accumulating. The end result should be a deep understanding of the needs of the users and their problems.
Personas are not just a marketing tool that helps you to create marketing campaigns. Personas are a reflection of your product population needs, pain points, and goals. in an Age of data personas could an add value to your business which could be a building block for your PMF and Personalization efforts. Everyone can create a persona but the real challenge is keeping it up to date and documenting all the new insights accumulated from your research and experimentation activities. In the end, not every rule holds true to every customer base and that’s why it’s important to consistently work on your personas.