Personas Research

Forrester recently released an evaluation of latest trends in using Personas in their How To Get The Most From Design Personas research. I attend the webinar in which they revealed the results of their research, and found that Forrester had some pretty interesting updates on what’s been happening in the world of Personas, some of it new stuff I hadn’t been aware of.

I’ve been using Personas for roughly 10 or so years, but it turns out I’m apparently doing Persona’s all wrong – or at least missing critical elements, and not using Personas to their full extent in my enterprise (I’m so embarrassed). Don’t laugh, according to Forrester you probably are too.

Forrester’s Survey of Persona Use

If you’re a Forrester client, you can download the whitepaper for free. If you’re not a Forrester client you can download the whitepaper for a fee, they’re charging $279, which averages out to about roughly $12 per page. If you intensively use Personas or are considering using Personas you may want to check the whitepaper out.

Briefly, Forrester surveyed 26 firms, interactive agencies, including some of my favs like Organic and Avenue A | Razorfish, and some big enterprises like Charles Schwab, Staples and Wells Fargo, to name a few. They asked for samples of Personas, and they analyzed when, where and how Personas were used at each firm.

Persona Spending Up but Not Used Regularly

According to their analysis, Forrester says the good news is firms planned to spend more in 2008 on customer behavioral research, and spending on Personas continues to increase.

The bad news is the vast majority of Personas out there do not meet what Forrester considers as passing grades in their Persona evaluation. Worse, Personas are not regularly used, and few companies use Personas throughout the design process.

6 Criteria of a Good Persona

According to their research, Forrester believes there are 6 criteria that define a good persona. Among the criteria you know and love, such as making the Persona sound like a real person and making the narrative a good read while being informative, there are some criteria you may not normally associate with Personas. Criteria such as; does the persona call out key attributes AND high-level goals of the user? Another interesting criteria is; the Persona is focused on enabling design decisions. It’s a fascinating side note that in their scoring of all the Personas shared with them for the study, not one of the Personas passed all of the criteria.

Personas Can be Used Across the Enterprise

Here’s something very interesting, I won’t go into the details of why Forrester believes the criteria are important, but I believe in their criteria because according to Forrester, the Personas can be used across the enterprise, to aid decisions from everything from Marketing campaigns, to website design, to signage or even telephone support unit scripting IF the 6 criteria are present. Having the 6 criteria in place ensures you have a clear and accurate Persona with which to make design decisions, for web development as well as Marketing or Customer Service decisions.

For me, I never really considered using a Persona beyond the design of a website or microsite or other web-based application. But I can see the logic of why it makes sense. If you research and define your Persona correctly, and your Persona does indeed represent your typical customer, then it stands to reason you should be able to use the Persona again and again across the enterprise for other design-related decisions.

Personas and Cross-Channel Behavior

Another Persona technique I found new and interesting was mapping all the major touch-points a Persona experiences as they move through a typical task. Think about making a decision to purchase a car. You’ll see a Persona moving back and forth between Brand websites to research the car, potentially TV or radio commercials that tout the car, a dealership or two to test drive the car, potentially 3rd party websites to further analyze other people’s perspective on the car, to finally the seat in front of the financing manager to buy the car. What’s the Persona’s experience across all those cross-channel touch-points, consistent or disjointed? This cross-channel view provides a much greater degree of perspective about how a goal is accomplished by a Persona through all the key touch-points a Brand has, beyond the myopic view of just the web experience. It also bridges the gaps of understanding the complete user experience, which ultimately is the true test of a Brand.

Four Pages of Persona

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An example Persona in the Forrester whitepaper provided from by WhittmanHart demonstrated there are four pages that provide information and detail about the Persona (including of course a photo of said Persona in her environment). According to Forrester ala the WhittmanHart example, a Persona should include a story, some basic geographic/income information, the goals of the Persona, issues or opportunities when communicating with the Persona, habits that could be significant, cross-channel touch points, a brief personal history and more… (phew!). Sort of makes me feel like my prior Personas were rather, well, immature.

In my opinion, balancing this greater amount of detail while still maintaining the focus on the essential information necessary to represent a typical customer makes this Persona a more complex, but potentially better tool for design decisions, especially decisions across the enterprise.

I don’t know about you, but my next Persona will be an attempt to replicate this treatment, but it may not be easy considering the great amount of contextual research that needs to take place to gain these insights into customers and Personas.

Personas are Critical for Experience-Based Differentiation

There is additional information in the Forrester report, including the five levels of enterprise Persona usage maturity and a compelling graphic about how Personas enable experience-based differentiation. But of great interest to me are the 2 pages of endnotes, which provides a wealth of additional resources (additional Forrester research) about Personas, experience-based differentiation, customer research and more. There’s easily enough reading in the reports to fill the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to New York!

Personas & Contextual Observation

Finally, another interesting take-away from the Forrester Persona webinar was information about the latest trends in conducting contextual observation and field research. Turns out there’s an upswing in the usage of diaries. Firms that want a broader perspective into what motivates a Persona use all the usual suspects of field research, but include diaries that participants keep. I’ve been of the opinion that with the recent explosion of online, high-tech “diary” type tools, include MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blogger and more, that finding customer behavior and opinions has never been easier. And yes, the good old fashioned paper-based diaries are still a great way to obtain this ethnographic data as well.

By the way, here’s a hint from me to you at absolutely no-charge; do your Personas have a MySpace or Facebook site? They should! It’s a great way to enable others in your organization to access and learn more about your Personas, plus it adds a bit more reality to your Persona, especially if your Persona is a younger demographic.

Personas Enable Enterprise Design Decisions

So, in conclusion, Personas can be and do more than only be used to design a better website experience. By spending time and energy upfront in conducting contextual observation and field research into your customers, you are able to provide a much richer Persona. This richer, more meaningful Persona can be the basis for many additional design decisions across the enterprise. Plus, this richer, more meaningful Persona can be used across the multiple touch-points that comprises the Brand experience. I think Forrester did a good job with this research, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from them on the subject.

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