How to Work with Customer Personas

By Jeff Sauro

When you embark on the process of creating customer personas, multiple personas typically emerge as you identify various customer segments and use cases. The number and type of personas reflect the diversity of your customer base.

For example, automotive websites like Cars.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmunds.com have different types of customers that research information on cars. Some customers are auto enthusiasts, others are parents with kids, and still other significant segments of the customer base are young professionals intimidated by the car-buying process.

One such car company created seven personas from the data it collected from interviews and surveys on how customers researched automotive information online. The company broke the seven personas into four primary and three secondary personas.

Breaking the personas into primary and secondary groups helps website developers decide on the prominence of automotive information. The primary customer segments are embodied in primary personas that want many details about car specifications. The designers then cater to this primary class of users by providing multiple views on engine, body, performance, and feature details.

However, they can’t ignore the secondary personas who represent another significant portion of website visitors — those who are intimidated or less interested in the minutiae of car specs.

In building the personas, the key characteristics identified in surveys and interviews that defined the persona were the type of car (new versus used) and the emphasis on price versus style.

One primary persona, Bill, is 34, single, and possesses strong opinions about car brands and style. He’s less interested in other people’s ratings and loves to research cars whenever he has time. His defining quote is: “I have to have a new car every year.” An abbreviated version of the Bill persona is shown here.

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In contrast, a secondary persona is represented by Sam. Sam doesn’t like researching cars, and this is the first one she’s buying on her own. She’s just out of college and is looking for a good deal on a used car. She wants something reliable but fun. Her defining quote is: “Buying cars is intimidating but I have friends I can ask.”

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Having the relevant information about primary personas like Bill means the designers should be sure car enthusiasts can get to all the technical specs they want on the website. The designers balance the Bills with the Sams, who will visit the website to look for basic information like features and reviews.

Sam isn’t interested in technical jargon, so the designers have summary information and graphics to denote high and low gas mileage vehicles and price, and display the rates prominently on the car detail page.

It’s common to use stock photography for personas. While it’s fine to use actual customer pictures, it can be difficult based on customer privacy concerns. Give the persona a face, but don’t be too concerned if it’s a model rather than a real customer.