The 7 Signs You Have a Problem Persona
(and what to do about it)
If you create user experiences or marketing programs and use personas, then be on the lookout for the seven signs you may have a problem persona.
These seven signs are dead giveaways that the assumptions and decisions you are making to create a user experience or marketing campaign may produce flawed results, based on using flawed personas.
Oh, and by the way, if you are creating UX designs or marketing programs without personas? Yikes!
1. Your persona did not come from actual user observations
Where exactly did the data come from that is used to create the persona? Committees or internal groups that provide their ideas on what a typical user or prospect is do not count. Nor do feelings or recommendations from marketing teams armed with demographic data. Nor does guess work from internal teams about vague descriptions based on typical customer or client profiles in a database. All those things are helpful, but they do not replace contextual inquiry with actual users or prospects.
If you do not conduct contextual inquiry to learn who your users or prospects are, what their needs are, how they think about things (their mental map for a process or solution), what goals they are trying to accomplish, what terminology they use, etc. etc. etc., then you do not have the information you need to create a persona.
Personas are based on factual and verifiable observation data, not committee meetings of internal stakeholders or other forms of guess work.
If your persona was not created from actual user observations via contextual inquiry then like an apple with a rotten core, you have a problem persona.
2. Your persona does not have actionable data
If you do not have information in the persona to be able to answer yes or no questions about the experience or content you need to create, then you have a suspect persona. Being able to use a persona to make decisions requires you have enough information, and that the information you have is actionable. Review your persona and ask yourself a question:
“From the data in this persona can I confidently answer any yes or no question about what should or should not be included in my UX design or marketing campaign?”
If the answer is no, run, do not walk, away from that persona because I must, with a somber and lugubrious tone, provide you with the unfortunate information that you have a problem persona.
3. Your persona is missing specific measurable goals
Your persona should have very clear and specific goals. Goals should be about what that persona needs to accomplish to be successful. Not vague statements like “Betty needs a better way to find a baby sitter” or “Tom wants to find a new hosting provider” but real goals. What’s a real goal? It varies depending on your persona, but here is an example that could qualify…
“Tom needs to find a new hosting provider that costs either less or the same than his current host, includes free customer support via call, chat or email, and provides equal to or better than 99.99 percent uptime.”
If you do not know what your Persona has in the way of real and measurable goals, then you my friend have a problem persona.
4. The persona does not provide clear metrics for success
Once you know the goal or goals for your persona you can determine their metrics for success. Metrics for success should be clear and measurable. Real numbers are needed here, not guesses or vague statements that your persona is now happy. Your metrics for success should be defined in such a way that you can provide actual data when asked, “Did our persona achieve success based on their goals?”
If you do not have clear metrics for success then it is my sad duty to inform you that you have a problem persona.
5. Your persona is more than a couple of years old
Personas, like milk, spoil with age. For example, have you noticed how more and more people use their mobile devices to perform user experience activities this year versus last year versus two years ago?
It is really shocking how more and more business decision makers are now using mobile devices in ever greater numbers to read email and marketing content versus just a couple years ago.
Have you updated your personas to include the fact that there is a greater likelihood they are doing something different now versus how they were doing it just a couple years ago?
If your personas have not been updated in the last couple of years then I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, [whispering] but you have a problem persona.
6. Your persona is too generic
Having a persona that is too generic is very much like having a map of the entire globe when you are trying to find the best road route from Sheboygan to Chicago (or Lowestoft to London for my over-the-pond friends). Vague information that can pretty much be applied to almost anybody, at any time, is just not helpful in guiding you in UX or marketing decisions, and causes too much guessing.
Too much guessing can cause you to lose too much sleep about your UX or marketing campaigns. Losing too much sleep about your UX or marketing campaigns can cause you to under perform at work. Under-performing at work can cause you to get fired. Do not get fired, use personas that are not too generic.
Learn enough about your users or prospects in your contextual inquiry that you can build a persona based on the information you need to make good decisions. How much information? Just enough to be able to determine the answers to your yes or no questions about your UX design or marketing campaign decisions without having to guess.
If your persona is too generic then you, yes this means you, have a problem persona.
7. Your Persona is too specific
For every Yin there is a Yang, and for every persona out there that is too generic there is another persona that is just too darn specific. The secret of good design (UX, marketing, interior, landscape, whatever) is not to design for the extreme cases, but instead to design for the majority, the top of the bell curve. Having a bounty of personas because you have 12 different products and 3 different types of users and thus 36 unique personas is a sure sign you have too much detail.
Too much detail is a great way to lead yourself to failure, and a mental breakdown. Remember that too much information will cause your persona to not be able to help you accomplish your goal, which is to be able to answer specific yes or no questions when faced with designing a UX or marketing campaign for that persona.
If your persona is too specific then I must regretfully be the bearer of bad news and inform you that you, yes I am talking to you, have a problem persona.
Conclusion: Seven Signs You Have a Problem Persona
So here again in brief form is the list of the seven signs that signify you have a problem persona:
- Your persona did not come from actual user observations
- Your persona does not have actionable data
- Your persona is missing specific goals
- Your persona does not provide clear metrics for success
- Your persona is older than a few years
- Your persona is too generic
- Your persona is too specific
For more information on personas here are a few resources for you…
Personas from the Forrester Survey of Persona Use from UsefulUsability.com
Personas and how to use them from Usability.gov
Buyer Personas for B2B marketing from Tony Zambito
The ROI of Personas from Forrester (requires login or purchase to review the report)
Persona user experience definition from WikiPedia