What Is a Persona?

In product management, a persona is a profile of a product’s typical customer. Personas are used to help a product manager (and others in the organization involved with the product’s development) understand key traits, behaviors, goals, responsibilities, and needs of a specific type of user.

Why Are Personas Important?

If an organization builds and releases a product without a deep understanding of who that product is for, and what problems it will solve for them, it is more likely to fail than succeed.

Businesses build products to solve specific problems for specific groups of people in specific aspects of their lives. It requires a thorough understanding of those groups: what motivates them, what challenges they face, what goals they have, how they view themselves, what types of messages they find persuasive (and which ones they find off-putting), etc.

One of the first steps in building any successful product is to learn about the people who will eventually represent its target buyer or user.

Dive Deeper:

A Little Reminder About Your User Personas

What Details Matter When Building a Persona?

Personas can include many different types of personal and professional detail about the individual, and the specific details you choose to focus on will depend on the type of product. Here are some examples:

  • Age, geographic location, and education level
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Goals and dreams for their professional or personal life
  • Challenges, frustrations, and fears
  • The person’s potential biases for or against your product and company
  • How the person deals with the problem today that your product plans to solve
  • What the person will need from your product to deem it worthwhile

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What Are the Different Types of Personas?

Product managers and marketing professionals often document various personas for their products. Doing so helps these companies better understand how to meet the needs of the several different audiences they are targeting.

In a company that sells products directly to end-user customers, for example, the product department might create several versions of its flagship product. It could include an affordable, mass-market version as well as a higher-end, exclusive version.

The product and marketing teams will need to develop unique profiles for the target consumer of each of these product versions. Understanding who these people are, their needs, goals, and challenges will enable the company to develop the appropriate product features, packaging, pricing options, and marketing messages for each category of consumer.

In a B2B business, the sale of the company’s product will often involve several people in the customer’s organization. It includes the end-user of the product, an executive or other decision-maker at the company, and the person tasked with actually purchasing the product.

Let’s review each of these types of persona.

User Persona

A user persona is a composite biography (or series of portraits) drafted based on market research and experience to describe the relevant characteristics, needs, and goals of the people who will be using a product.

For a consumer-oriented product, the user persona will also typically be the buyer, so these two aspects of the person’s profile can be combined. Sometimes, this can be clothing or personal electronics products. For a product sold to businesses, however, the individual or team deciding to purchase the product for the company will often be different from the person who uses the product once the company buys it. For these situations, the product team will need to develop a separate buyer persona.

Buyer Persona

The buyer persona is a central figure in a B2B organization. Often, this person will have a say in the purchasing process. A buyer persona can represent several influencers and decision-makers within a company, who might not even use the product themselves.

The buyers will, however, have different needs, challenges, goals, and fears from the user persona. They might, for example, be equally concerned with protecting the company’s budget as with finding the right solution to help the user persona improve their job.

Decision-Maker Persona

Whereas a buyer persona can represent several people in an organization who might participate in the decision-making process, the decision-maker is typically a more-narrow persona—often an executive at the company.

This type focuses on the big picture aspects of the decision: Will it improve the company’s bottom line? Does it cost more than the business should spend? Product and marketing teams selling into businesses will need to build the product and develop the messaging in such a way to appeal to these concerns of the decision-maker persona.

Customer Persona

The customer persona is a catchall term to describe your product’s main persona. It might be the user persona, for example, for a B2B product or be the buyer and user for a consumer-oriented product. For a business that sells products to other businesses, a customer persona could represent either the user or the buyer personas.

How Do I Create a Persona?

Here are a few best practices for creating any type of persona for your product.

Best Practice #1: Create the user persona first

You should develop these profiles before doing any strategic planning for the product. They should come even before you draft the product’s vision.

Best Practice #2: Build your profile based on real people

Effective personas aren’t written from guesswork. You need to interview real people who represent the target audience for your product. Another option is to send out surveys to this segment. The more real-world details you can include, the more helpful it will be.

Best Practice #3: Use both quantitative and qualitative research

Strike the right balance between using aggregate data and anecdotal evidence to develop your customer profiles. Your personas will be as realistic as possible when you pull from market research and the personal stories of the people you speak with or survey.

Related Terms

user research / product vision / customer empathy / idea management / unique selling proposition

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