Personas are people. Data comes from people. Whatever data it may be. You may look at data about readership, usage, drop-out rate, heat maps, contextual studies or search terms analysis. Its when you start to visualize usage patterns as belonging to personalities that you can create & use personas.
Personas help you connect with your target audience. We as human beings intrinsically know people. We know that little children need to be protected and encouraged, we know that teachers have ambitions for their students, we know mothers want their children to be healthy and achievers. So when we find who it is that will be or is using our product, we know, can take an informed guess at or ask them what they want. For that you have to identify with personas as people. The more you identify with them, the more you think about them, watch them work or read tons of data that they generate, the more you come to know what is it that they want from your product and from your brand. Lets take a look at the three main type of personas that you may build for a brand, a product or a feature.
1) Target Audience Persona
A Target Audience Persona is made before you conceptualise & design a product. You research & visualise the target audience, recruit them into usability studies, talk to them and observe them to see what is it that will make the product something that they cannot do without. I’d call this way of working Darwinian because when you create a persona and a value proposition that may appeal to them, it gets refined over time. You are back at the drawing board after every couple of weeks trying to evolve your persona to match the product usage and evolve the product so it matches the persona even more. It works though.
At a mobile youth magazine, personas were used to set the tonality and content of the SMSs & MMSs they would receive. Gleaned from a contextual study of the digital habits of the generation, the personas helped set up the content calendar as well as engagement strategy. Since the magazine was digital, personalized and mobile, the content strategy was refined with real time data and results, as were the personas. As the personas evolved over time, as did the content strategy. A successful approach as illustrated by the exponentially high response rates. The average response rate calculated over hundreds and thousands of users, was between 30 & 80%. Here’s a sample of how the content strategy was arrived at:
2) User Persona
The second route is to create personas based on traffic and behavioural analysis. This is the most travelled road, but that does not make it any less useful. A study released by Vserve (left) about the personas of Indian app users is so accurate that you can actually guess the value of people’s phones using the persona as a reference. I’ve tried it in a Persona Workshop. Works like a gamble but the probability of you finding an accurate match is so high, you hit bullseye one in 4-5 times. Why don’t you try it? Check it out anyway…the personas are quite interesting.
Working with a persona journey or user walkthrough yields insightful usability issues and solutions. A journey for Indian Gifts Portal diagnosed issues in gift findability and a solution was designed using PET guidelines on the basis of personas identified. A gift suggestor, prototype tested in live conditions yields sky high conversion rates for them. Personas gleaned from traffic & audience analysis are a useful tool to keep handy for immediate design decisions like cart optimisation, mobile responsive design, content marketing, social media strategy etc.
The basis for this kind of persona is human experience and interactions. The data gathering for a Proto-Persona is done in workshop format. Stakeholders & customer facing employees of the product sit together to talk about their customers and their experiences with them. The evidence gathered in this format, although anecdotal, also translates to rich insights about what the information and content needs of their users are. It is good practice to validate as many data points as possible for each persona through segment analysis later. I call them echoes or shadows of the personas. You see their data footprints all around you and you know you’ve done it right. Multimedia consumption patterns, social sharing patterns, data tells you the story of that segment of users.
Proto-persona echoes can be heard in more engaged customers as well. It is most gratifying to see them in the customers who have bought, subscribed or donated. A recent persona based redesign for Down to Earth, an environmental magazine, brings in more profiled customers as well as more engaged readers who match their personas. Bringing home the validity of the personalities crafted in a proto-persona workshop.
No matter how or for what purpose a persona has been created, its always a good idea to hold on to them. Go back to your personas and their stories every time you refine the product. Get to know them better. Hang them on your walls. I like to keep track of mine in editable power-point format. Here’s a template, if you want to use a pre-made one, else its quite easy to make in powerpoint using shapes.
Next up in Data Drive Design -III is a the story of recommendations and personalisation. Exceptionally suited for mobile application design. Next week, if I can make it. Adios.