The Importance of Personas to Customer Analytics

By Jeff Sauro

When you’re busy developing a product, it’s easy to start wondering what a hypothetical customer could want to do and build in new features to support these possible scenarios.

Product managers and developers spend lots of time discussing all sorts of scenarios. That’s part of product development: understanding what customers need and meeting that need. However, there’s a difference between making sure a product meets core customer goals and getting bogged down in making sure a product can do everything.

Unusual scenarios are called edge-cases and include all the things a customer might do with software but probably wouldn’t do most of the time. A customer might want to customize the toolbar in a software program. A customer might want to access the command line. A customer might want to code plug-ins.

The problem with the “coulds” and “mights” is that there is an almost endless list of things one customer could do or might want to do with any product. Trying to build for every possible scenario means building a product that doesn’t work well for the most common scenarios customers want.

If you try to build for all users, you build for no users. A persona is intended to focus design thinking. If a persona named Marcus represents 70% of your customers’ goals, behaviors, and profiles, most design questions can be answered by asking: Would Marcus do this? Personas are powerful if they are specific.

When you understand your customers’ motivations, expectations, and abilities, you have a more accurate picture that helps to design better products for them and how to make them choose your product over your competitors’ offerings.

Counterintuitively, precisely defining the goals, motivations, and needs of a narrow slice of customers and designing for them will not necessarily narrow your market. On the contrary, it enables you to fully focus your efforts on entirely satisfying these customers, gaining their loyalty, and letting them take care of marketing your product in the most effective way: by recommending it to those around them.

It’s important to create a persona that represents the primary segment of customers for a product. The advantages of thoroughly researched and well-developed personas are:

  • As stand-ins for real users, they guide decisions about design and functionality.

    What is Marcus going to use this product for? If Marcus’s needs and skill level are already defined, it is simple to figure out how to serve him better. Personas help prevent programmers or designers from creating products that would be perfect for themselves or from making guesses about what customers want. A persona helps keep the end user involved in the product development.

  • They allow you to concentrate on designing for a manageable target who represents a larger group.

    Focusing on one customer segment and fully satisfying it is much more efficient to increase sales and profits. Trying to satisfy all your customers at once does not work.

  • They give a common and consistent goal to the design and marketing teams.

    Marcus, with his particular motivations and level of proficiency with the product, needs to be on everyone’s mind. If everybody works to satisfy him, not only the design of the product but also the message sent to customers will be consistent and more convincing.

  • Prioritizing design elements and resolving design disagreements can be done in an economical way.

    Personas are great communication tools. In explaining decisions to colleagues or people higher in the company hierarchy, use of personas helps refocus the conversation on the target customer.

  • Identifying opportunities and product gaps to drive strategy becomes easier.

    Having a precise idea of the target customer, actually trying to see things from his point of view, is an excellent starting point for brainstorming. Novel feature or product ideas can emerge from this single customer-oriented thinking.

  • Designs can be continually evaluated and validated based on personas to reduce the frequency of usability testing.

    If the whole programming team strives to make a product designed for Marcus, there should be fewer surprises when conducting real-life testing.