By Danielle Riley

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Building personas isn’t easy, no matter if you’re a seasoned pro or fresh-faced newbie. Through each project you work on, and each persona you build, you learn something new that improves your process and informs your future work. To find out some of those lessons, we picked the brains of marketing and UX pros to see what they’ve learned about personas. Below are some of the insights they’ve picked up throughout their careers. Enjoy!

 

What's the best piece of advice you would give someone who uses personas?

“Commit to them! It's easy to check the box, create personas and then fall into the bad habit of company-centric marketing. When you make the decision to put buyer personas at the center of your marketing strategy, you need to have an unwavering commitment to getting those buyers what they need. You are their voice within your company, and you need to honor that by making sure their interactions with your organization are full of valuable information and answers they can use to make the right decision to use your company… or not.”

Matt Hensler, Senior Vice President of Marketing at HomeSmart International

 

Learn more in "The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing Personas"

 

“Instead of trying to identify segments first, I just talk to people. We do research talking or actually observing people—I call them emerging personas. I talk to people and find out what it is they want to do with the product or service. I look for patterns that start to emerge that tell me that there’s a group of people that all have similar needs that could use a similar product that match those needs.

When you do that, you’re much more likely to get your content read and absorbed and acted on, because you’re actually talking about specific needs you’ve identified that are unmet, instead of assuming these things are there and using the persona process to put faces on your pre-existing biases.”

Jared Spool, Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering and co-founder of the Center Centre



Back when you created your first persona, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?

“To not put too much focus on generalizing your personas by characteristics, but to rather switch your focus to the “job to be done” and ask yourself what this particular segment of prospects all have in common, then work from there. Not all your buyers are going to be like Carol, who has size 7 feet, stands 5’6”, drives a Prius, and enjoys a good book. By focusing too much on the characteristics and demographic details, we allow ourselves to stray from addressing the overarching goal that your market is looking to achieve. You may also leave out people who are looking for the same job to be done, but don’t fit the makeup of Carol.”

Noah Mithrush, V.P. of Marketing at Evisions



What mistakes have you made in the past when creating or working with a persona that has informed your current process?

“When we first launched our business, I assumed that our buyer persona was a VP of Sales at a B2B company. The problem: I assumed.

Six months in, I realized that sales executives didn't give a rip about our service.

I would've saved our team six months of opportunity cost if I'd spent one week validating our service with sales executives before deploying our entire marketing strategy to that audience.”

James Carbary, Founder at Sweet Fish Media

 

 

“Back before I started working at SmartBug, I went through the process of creating personas and made two key mistakes. The first was that we started with eight personas (that’s just crazy—start with three). The second was that we didn’t do persona interviews, which is a huge mistake. Interviews with real people are the only way to tell if your personas are on the right track, or if you’re actually completely wrong (or maybe just a little bit). Even if you don’t have customers yet, reach out to your network (or friends of people in your network) and ask if you can pick their brain for 10 minutes. It’s always worth it.”

Jessica Vionas-Singer, Marketing Strategist at SmartBug Media

Read Jessica’s post on The 7 Deadly Sins of Developing Buyer Personas to see what other mistakes to avoid when developing personas.



What's the biggest misconception about personas?

“The biggest misconception about personas is that they have to be your buyers. In reality, many SaaS businesses will find that their end user—and oftentimes the employee who is seeking out best practices for their job—is not the person that will be signing the contract. It's important to identify both the buyer persona that is an entry point into your customer's company (and potentially an end user) as well as the employee who will be purchasing your product. Both of these buyer personas will need to see the value in your offer, and have content tailored to solve their problems.”

Nicki Kamau, Marketing Director at SmartBug Media

 

“The biggest misconception is that you do [personas] first. You don’t do them first. You do the research first and the personas should emerge from the research. [Personas] describe the differences you see and the people you’ve met. If you think a persona is missing, then you haven’t met all the people you need to meet. And when you do it that way, because you’re now meeting lots of people, you have clear targets in your head as to whom you want to design for or whom you want to create content for. You have a clear understanding of what’s missing in their life that that content could help—and you’re solving real problems instead of imagining a problem for some solution you have. The big mistake people have is they start with a solution and then go in search of the problem.”

 Jared Spool, Founding Principal of User Interface Engineering and co-founder of the Center Centre



What’s the biggest benefit of personas?

“There are two main benefits to working with personas. The first is that personas encourage your team or your organization to think about the product [or service] in terms of the real people who are going to use it. These people aren't ‘users,’ or ‘customers,’ or one of a thousand clicks on the call-to-action.hey are living, breathing people with expectations, goals, and constant distractions, and it's important to remember that your product or service is never the center of their world.

The second benefit is that a persona codifies your team’s or organization’s assumptions. I cannot overstate the importance of having clear and written agreement about who your target user is, what they are looking for, and how your company or product might be able to help. That way, whenever you get lost in the forest of ad hoc feature requests or shiny ideas, you can reach back to the key things you all agreed were most important, and use that to find your way out again.”

Caryn Wille, UX Designer at CloudCoreo

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Danielle Riley

About the author

Danielle Riley was formerly the Creative Director at SmartBug Media. She has over 10 years of experience designing for business large and small. With a background in journalism, she approaches design from a strategic and research-oriented perspective. Good design is clean, useful and serves a purpose. Read more articles by Danielle Riley.

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