Commissioning personas that get used

Melanie Wiese

  • Chief strategy officer, Wunderman Thompson
Melanie is currently the chief strategist at Wunderman Thompson in Perth. She has spent over 15 years working as a communications strategist in Melbourne, New York and Perth helping some of the world’s biggest brands clarify their value proposition and effectively identify and communicate with their marketplace. Mel’s specialist expertise is in brand strategy, research design and co-creation methodologies to creatively solve organisational problems. She has three kids, makes a mean cupcake and loves to run.

A marketer once told me they ‘weren’t that into personas’. “They’re just caricatures of the lowest common denominator, that inevitably represent exactly no one”.

Done poorly, she’s bang on. For many businesses, personas represent a large investment that ends up in a Powerpoint no one opens. For others, personas become a business-critical tool that drive innovation, differentiation and competitive advantage.

So how do you ensure you’re commissioning a project that creates value? And what do you do with personas in the minutes after that holy slide deck lands onto your desk, to give them the best chance of actually being used?

Below are our five tips for buying the right work and using it well.

1) Know your segments from your personas

Personas are really useful for making customer understanding stick, providing common language and enhancing customer and future customer centricity. They also inform how an organisation might better innovate for current and future customer groups, based on their understanding of them as whole people, rather than a known-customer segmentation model.

Segmentation helps understanding the behavioural or demographic variance in your existing customer base. Personas group customers around their emerging needs state, to ensure you can design for the customers you are yet to acquire. The two can work together, and personas and segments necessarily serve different ends.

2) Know what you want to do with your personas

What decisions do you want this work to influence? How personas will be used, how they will change the   business-as-usual of your organisation and who will be responsible for those decisions? These critical questions influence the nature of the personas you build.

You need to understand whether this work will change the fundamentals of your employee communication framework, shape your social posts, retool your CRM or solve another problem.

Once you understand the kind of decisions that will be made, you can begin to shape the process you are undertaking. You should also be analytical about the template in which you will report your findings.

Your final document should be about utility and behavioural economy to ensure adoption - not a catch-all to house what you find. It should also be uniquely suited to your organisation, not the organisation creating personas for you.

3) Embed empathy to avoid stereotypes

Personas are not fictional stories of consumer stereotypes. Or at least, they shouldn’t be. If you fundamentally don’t like one or more of your personas - if they are belittling, dismissive or comically generalist - your odds of designing a useful solution are almost zero.

The answer is to find the drama and humanity at the bottom of all your personas. Chanel your empathy and, as you turn their data points and experiences into a story others can see and use, build in their motivations, trade-offs and pain points to inspire new journeys for them. This means including information beyond their relationship with your brand or product.

Great personas paint a rich picture of their subject that can inspire new solutions to old problems and inspire empathy is the design teams that will use them.

4) Bring Data to your Drama

While the need for human drama will make your personas catalysts for innovation, reinforcing them with real data stops the otherwise inevitable decent into stereotypes. Talking to a broad range of real-life humans, recording the depth of their experience and nuance of their actual lives is important in triangulating your data as multiple methods of collection.

Depending on what you’re doing (and, let’s be real, your budget), we also are big fans of quantifying that data to be able to size your personas in the population, running your hypothesis through your exiting database to assess how it stacks up against your customer segments, and using a manual or automated social listening tool to determine if the conversations you’re hearing in real life, also happen online.

Customer service or other front-line surrogates are also a great sense check for your personas before mass circulation.

5) Embed Business Wide

It is crucially important your initial proposal, work order or project plan doesn’t stop at beautiful persona cards. Embedding them within an organisation is far more than emailing them though or presenting to a room of people nodding.

A ‘so what’ workshop is the minimum standard, but you should be aiming for creativity to bring your personas to life: bring a problem and solve it in the shoes of persona, discuss, role play, mystery shop - whatever, but do something on day one that puts your personas into play.

The holy grail of personas is the tagging of your CRM with known and emerging personas types. Knowing ‘who’ is calling, chatting or emailing opens up the possibility of differentiated service based on human experience and expectation, not just what people are likely to buy. Knowing what is likely to matter or infuriate a consumer drives experience, efficiency and employee satisfaction and, while tagged personas are not the be all and end all on the road to true personalisation, it is a pretty handy headstart.

Personas are a weapon best used daily

Personas are a business tool that should inform everything from your organisational strategy, innovation pipeline, product mix and brand strategy through to retail execution. The more broadly adopted, the better.

So commissioning them needs to have one eye on best practice, and one on the realities of how your organisation operates. Having the end goal in sight, using a mix of data and drama, and ensuring a proper embedding process will ensure they’re not relegated to the bottom drawer of good-idea-at-the-time investments.

Tags: segmentation, personalisation

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