Personas define the ideal profile of a product’s typical customer, both those who buy and those who use it.
The industry has adopted the term “persona” to refer to the ideal profiles of typical customers. In creating products and designing marketing materials, product teams require clarity on the types of people who buy and use the product and its promotional material.
Most product managers and product marketing managers use personas to represent the types of people who buy and use their products. Personas are short descriptions or biographies of fictitious, archetypical customers. A persona definition provides clarity on your target for programming and for communication.
But many technical teams say, “Oh, that’s a marketing thing.” And sales and marketing teams say, “Oh, that’s some technical thing.”
Savvy product managers are creating innovative products that address specific problems of their personas instead of just building a glob of features and hoping they will sell. To effectively design and develop products as well as the necessary marketing materials, we must first define who buys the product and who uses it.
Laura, the college student
Consider Laura, the college student. She was born after September 11, 2001. She’s always had a smartphone; she’s always had a computer; she’s always had access to the Internet. In almost every way, Laura is different from her college professors, who had none of these things when they attended college. Professors who understand this disparity can relate their topics to Laura’s college experience instead of their own. The best professors connect with the students—the best marketers do, too.
Laura’s college requirements are much different than those of the buyer, her parents. The user (Laura) probably wants more parties and fewer early-morning classes. The buyers (mom and dad) want a safe environment with a minimum of parties.
You can tell a product does not have a specific target in mind when every sale comes with requests for custom work.
The buyer persona helps us identify the right approach for reaching those who buy. Should we use social media, blogs, webinars, trade shows, advertising? The better question is, “which are the best to reach our buyer personas?”
The user personas guide the design of the problems to solve; they help determine which features solve problems for the persona.
Without a target persona, developers and marketers design for themselves—or their parents.
Many programmers mistake themselves as ideal programming targets. For that matter, so do many executives, salespeople, and marketing people. Employees of your company rarely represent your customers.
On embracing personas, one company realized that their developers of programming tools were not representative of their users of programming tools. While both sets of developers used the same programming languages, the vendor programmers were vastly more advanced than the customer programmers.
How many personas?
A typical product usually has three to five personas—people who regularly buy, use, and maintain the product. You'll need a persona definition for each type, including a name, role, technology environment, education, and job scenario.
The persona concept helps product teams focus on the specific problems of a type of customer. And the concept helps product marketing managers connect with them when they’re ready to buy.
Buyer personas extend the idea to profiling the various buying influences in a sale. A typical sale includes a decision maker or economic buyer plus multiple technology reviewers. Most large-ticket purchases also include user buyers on the evaluation team.
Personas: an archetype
In our discussions of personas, we often get tripped up by the terms ‘archetype’ and ‘stereotype.’ They are so similar, can they be used interchangeably? My dictionary isn’t completely clear on the difference but my interpretation is:
an archetype is used to inform;
a stereotype is used to demean.
So, a persona is an archetype (but not a stereotype) for the ideal user and buyer of our products.
The titles and profiles of these personas are also likely to vary between market segments. In this example, the sales rep may be the same for each segment but the technical reviewer profile changes greatly depending on the size of the implementation. Define the personas for your primary market segment and then create variations based on additional segments if the persona differs greatly.
One vendor identified four typical buyer personas for a generic market segment but ultimately found 26 personas once market segments were taken in account. The IT buyer in a large car dealership is incredibly different than that of a small body shop. The large dealership has two or three full-time employees who manage the servers and the desktop computers; in the small body shop, the IT staff is likely to be the owner or the owner’s nephew.
Likewise, products designed in the U.S. assume a certain technology infrastructure that cannot be assumed in other countries. Rather than sell what we have to anyone we can, we should design products to fit perfectly into each persona’s environment.
Personas provide clarity, resulting in resonating with the buyer personas and delighting the user personas. Successful products focus on the needs of Laura instead of “the customer,” “the user,” and “the buyer.”
We teach how to create personas in our Fundamentals of Managing Products course.
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