Does your business need personas? (Spoiler: yes.)

Are personas worth the investment?

Yeah, they are. And we’re not just saying that because we make them.

Data-driven personas are the perfect antidote to assumption-based marketing. Investing in research will help you aim your dollars at the right people, and that will save you big bucks in the long run. If you’re just starting out, and you only have a very blurry, watercolor image of who your audience is, then you’re in need of cold hard facts and insights to back business decisions. This is where a team of capable researchers can really add value to your operations.

Perhaps your organization made personas before. Consider this, though: when was the last time you took the time to look at your audience and analyze how they’ve changed since your last deep dive? If you’ve been working with the same imagined audience for a long period of time, you may be holding on to outdated perceptions of who you’re talking to. Keeping an up-to-date profile of your audience can yield more money in the long run.

Think of the current context that we’re writing this blog in: the 2020 pandemic. Will any of your consumers be the same after this year? What will their new values and behaviors be? How does your organization fit into their lives now? Updating your personas helps you meet your audience where they are, here and now.

What makes a persona useful to your organization?

Think of a persona like a baseball card (no, I don’t have a more current metaphor, thanks for asking). It should give you a one-glance snapshot of who belongs in your audience segment, along with their “vital stats.” Emphasis should be on making it relevant and digestible. Personas are meant to be useful to your whole team—not just the people who spent time on the research. After looking at the personas, designers, writers, sales people, leadership and developers should all come away with an understanding for whom they’re designing/writing/selling/leading/developing.

Get “with it” with personas.

Along with demographics, including psychographic insights make your personas all the more valuable. While it’s great to know their age, education, income, geographic location, etc., it’s better to know what they think and feel. That allows your organization to swoop in and solve problems, offer solutions and speak empathetically to the people you’re trying to attract. Featuring these psychographic nuggets offers real, meaningful understanding of your audience.

Your audience can tell the difference if you’re speaking to their age versus their problems. People are much more likely to drop their dollars on the company that seems to get them. Position your services or product as the solution to genuine needs in their life. Define those needs with solid market research.

How much research is enough?

We get it: research is a daunting process. Good research is even more involved. But fear not: the end results will be well worth the investment. You can either approach it as an ongoing endeavor, with smaller updates added to your collective audience understanding on a scheduled basis. Or, you can invest in a more “one fell swoop” research package and get a lot of good insight all in one go.

If you’ve never done audience research before, we recommend going all out for your first go, in order to get the full-picture of who your audience is. This will provide you with a solid foundation of research, and marketing efforts will be grounded in data, instead of educated guesses. As time goes on, and market conditions change, you can do “maintenance research” on a biannual basis.

The more volatile your industry is, the more frequently you’ll have to update your perception. For example, if your business centers around young people, or is otherwise trend-reliant, you’ll want to temperature check market conditions and audience behaviors more often. If you’re in an industry that doesn’t exhibit a whole lot of variation from year to year, then maintenance research can be more spaced out.

“We’ve done personas before: no one used them.”

This is an opportunity to learn from mistakes. Maybe the traits and demographics that were reported on weren’t useful to the teams who looked at the personas. Maybe they had too little detail. Maybe they had too much detail about the wrong thing.

Like any user experience product (which, personas are, FYI), personas can and should be refined based on feedback from the people who use them (in this case, your internal teams). Ask your team if the personas helped, and if not, why? Personas are a part of your toolkit for deeper understanding and better business. Tools need to be sharpened, cleaned, and, most importantly, used properly in order to accomplish your goals. Personas left by the wayside may have less to do with their inherent value and more to do with their focus and format.

Download our persona template.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you want to get the most value out of personas, and ensure they’re useful for your team in the long run, reach out and we’ll support your research efforts. If you want to give it a go on your own, we’ve created an introductory template to help you craft personas, as well as suggestions for where to source information. Download it here.

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