Up, close and personal with your customers

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

Companies these days describe themselves as ‘customer centric.’ Cliché, till proven. True orientation is manifested by how activities and business decisions are conducted with a customer’s best interests in mind.

I’ve come to realise that understanding customers by traditional characteristics– social class, demographics and worker type, is simply not enough. Enter Personas.

Personas, as the name suggests, indulges in defining characteristics about your customers, as a person or individual. It is based on a fictional person’s preferences, cultural tendencies, role within an organization (for business), behaviours and personal/career goals, which, if simulated effectively during research, should effectively represent multiple individual consumers of your product or service.

What Personas do is compliment, rather than replace, existing customer segmentation for a business so that more informed decisions are made. My recent experience with developing Personas for the Media Monitors group demonstrates its versatility – rather than just steer product development and interface design (which was the original intention), our HR department has taken a chapter out of Personas to recruit staff, whilst our CEO refers to our Persona profiles to justify decisions made on corporate strategy.

The process of learning about current and ideal customers is also uber fun. Commissioning Different, a research company who specialises in user design for the project, we were a fly on the wall for a few hours as 12 of our customers went about doing their usual business (observational research). We were also heavily involved in bringing the Personas to life: choosing a face and name (a female staff member specifically asked for a more ‘handsome, meterosexual-type’ representation for one of ours!) to the size of their family and the type of job they’re in.

Whilst you might say that this level of detail is pointless and questionable in its representation of the entire customer base, I’d argue that any data is worth considering for validation purposes, be it a product concept, marketing campaign, or business case. Particularly when what you’re validating is radical, and rocks the ‘norm’ boat!

So now, as a Product Manager, I am better equipped to make the right decisions as:

  1. The concept of a primary persona focuses effort when there is a resource clash. In addition to 1 primary persona, we have 3 secondary personas who, as Brainmates point out, should still be accommodated for, provided the needs of the primary persona is not compromised;
  2. It articulates in detail the characteristics of a Persona, so that there is minimal uncertainty on who a company, product or brand is targeting;
  3. Personas direct corporate strategy, and all the activities that support this strategy.
  4. For Product people, products are designed and subsequently tested against a manageable set of requirements. As Step Two puts it succinctly, ‘design for a discrete set of personas and satisfy all users with similar goals.’

Here’s a comprehensive perspective of the Personas process, courtesy of Technomarketer.

Do you also have Personas for your company? How useful have you found them? Do share!

  1. paulalexgray says:

    Great post and a good summary of what personas are, why they’re useful and things to consider when creating them.

    I’ve used personas for multiple projects in a range of industries from entertainment to financial services.

    My key recommendation for people creating personas is to avoid the temptation to act on hunches or assumptions. It’s important when fleshing out the ‘character’ that you base all elements on real or validated data. Try to access whatever you can about your target market segments – demographics, size, what they do, where they do it. There are numerous free resources on the web that can help add this detail but the best recommendation would be to speak to a sample of customers or at the very least talk to people in your organisation who face customers on a day-to-day basis (sales and service staff for example).

    • schmediachick says:

      Completely agree. Conducting research with a handful of customers and Field Sales/Service also demonstrates an interest in knowing more about their needs – a marketing exercise!

      The Brainmates White paper was great by the way. Clearly summarised the Personas concept and how it could be effectively used by Product Managers and the like!

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