There’s a widespread perception amongst product marketers that their respective orgs need to spend a small fortune to establish a clear understanding of who their target user personas are.

This is somewhat of a myth; while there are instances whereby companies will need to put their hand in their pocket and invest in specialist tools, a simplistic approach can give you all the answers you need, without asking stakeholders to bankroll a huge investment.

Before we delve into the finer details, let’s establish:

  1. What user personas are, and
  2. Why they’re so important in the first place.

What is a user persona?

As the name suggests, user personas target the people who use your product or service. Every single company has their idea of what a perfect user persona is. These personas can be defined by a host of key characteristics including:

  • Gender,
  • Age,
  • Budget,
  • Their main goal,
  • Pain points.

The semi-fictional character created by a company is either the epitome of an existing customer or representative of the type of customer a company aspires to attract in the future; these can be formed by communicating with users.

After a company has communicated with its users, it can then be segmented further into an assortment of demographics and psychographic data. These findings are used to enhance the overall output from a product marketing team and form representative user personas for the company.

Why are user personas important?

Companies devote considerable time establishing their user personas to ensure their products are targeting the right audience, but there are other reasons why product marketing teams are meticulous when it comes to ensuring they nail this stage.

User personas aren’t only a powerful tool for focusing teams and creating user-centered interfaces. They’re also super-handy for helping businesses grow and improve: they help uncover the different ways people search for, buy, and use products, so you spend your time ensuring the customer experience and use cases are tip-top.

Ultimately, companies must understand who’s using their product or service, whether they’re a one-man-band working from home, or a large-scale organization operating from a state-of-the-art HQ.

Product marketers can’t solve problems without understanding problems, and to start the process a problem statement is needed. But before you can start, you need a thorough understanding of your buyer personas.

It’s like trying to drive a car without a key in the ignition; you won’t get anywhere fast. However, if you do know your audience this’ll have an overwhelming impact on the features you choose to include. The design will be representative of what your user personas need, not what you think they want, putting you in a position whereby you can make your product more useful.

Key questions to consider

User personas establish who is in your target audience by providing thorough answers to key questions, such as:

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What are the current behavior patterns of your users?
  • Which goals is your customer hoping to accomplish?
  • What issues and pain-points are they currently facing?

If you have a comprehensive understanding of prospective customers, this will allow you to develop a product that will be well-received within your target market. A well-defined user persona will allow you to:

  • Identify the needs of the customer,
  • Communicate user needs,
  • Accurately describe users of your product, in turn, enhancing your value proposition,
  • Facilitate company strategies and decision making, and
  • Build empathy between you and your customer.There are times when you need a little bit of inspo to get your juices flowing. Our master list of user persona questions, exclusive to PMMs with a PMA membership, includes a whole host of questions you can use whilst building user personas.

P.s. Don’t worry, we have a whole other master list dedicated to those of you in B2C, too.

How to create user personas

While there shouldn’t be a company in operation without a clear-cut understanding of their user personas, some may not be as adept as others when putting their plan together. Therefore, we’ve outlined a simple POA of how you can create user personas for your product marketing team, comprising four simple steps:

  1. Create questions for a survey,
  2. Set up a survey on a popular page,
  3. Analyze data,
  4. Compile data and build the persona

Step 1: select questions to include in your survey

To start building a persona, you need three things to get started: a key demographic, a key goal, and a key concern or pain point. These are like the eggs, flour, and bananas in a banana loaf recipe; without them, you’d be kinda stuck.

Firstly, relax, because your initial survey needn’t be a piece of art. Its core objective is to provide you with a clear understanding of your prospective customers by asking three straightforward, easy questions. They may look a little like this:

Q1: How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

A1: “I’m a 30-year old product marketer based in Manchester who enjoys writing articles about OKRs.”

Q2: Why do you want to use this website/product?

Q3: What, if anything, is preventing you from doing it?

The questions you ask your customer acts as your portal into their mind, providing answers to important questions: how they use your product or service, what may deter them from using it, which features they like/dislike, etc.

While you may be tempted to cut corners, we can’t stress the importance of compiling a list of questions to provide you with a solid platform on which you can build your persona.

Step 2: set up a survey on your page generating the most traffic

Next, you need to set up a survey on the page attracting the most traffic. To any technophobes out there, don’t worry! This is a simple stage and it doesn’t take long.

Let’s check out how Smallpdf used Hotjar tools to see a working example of what this stage looks like, in practice:

1) Create a new poll

2) Name your poll

3) Set it to appear on your homepage

  • Select which devices you’ll show the poll on
  • Show the poll on your homepage by selecting the ‘On pages I specify’ option and writing your homepage URL in the dedicated space
  • Select the percentage of visitors that will be shown this poll (pick 100% if you want to get results quicker, or a lower number if you worry you might disrupt the experience):

4) Add the questions

For question 1 (demographic):

  1. Select ‘Long text answer’ as your question type
  2. Write your question in the ‘Type your question here…’ field:

For question 2 (goal):

  1. Click ‘Add Question’
  2. Select ‘Long text answer’ as the question type
  3. Write your question:

For question 3 (barrier):

  1. Click ‘Add Question’
  2. Select: ‘Long text answer’ as the question type
  3. Write your question:

Include a personalized ‘thank you’ message.

4) Set the appearance

Set the language, position, background color (make sure to match your site’s color scheme), and theme.

5) Set the behavior to launch after the page loads

6) Activate!

Set the status to ‘Active’ and hey-presto! You’re good to go.

Wondering what your data will look like? Good question.

As users complete the poll, you’ll be able to see individual responses in the Hotjar dashboard, like this:

Remember, while using data to gather surveys is fine sometimes, it’s also extremely important to pick up the phone and speak to people one by one. This will provide you with a source of rich, qualitative data, as surveys limit how much you get out of people.

For example, when you’re using surveys, this doesn’t allow you to ask follow-up questions and probe into the answers they’ve provided. It’s essential to use qualitative data, in addition to quantitative data. You don’t need to pick one over the other.

Step 3: complete data analysis

Your ultimate aim is to identify one or two personas where you can hone your attention; the sooner you establish your personas, the sooner you can begin focusing on offering an awesome user customer experience. When you’ve asked enough questions, you’ll be armed with a bank of feedback to offer a thorough, comprehensive insight.

In the interest of being open and honest, this data synthesis step can be somewhat laborious. Consolidating a bunch of qualitative and quantitative data is very much a manual process, but trust us, it’ll be worth it in the end!

Step 4: build your user persona

When you’ve finished analyzing your data, it’s time to create a user persona that’s representative of your user base. This must identify key traits, such as:

  • Demographics
  • Goals
  • Pain points and/or
  • Reasons they may be reluctant to invest.

Product marketers favor different approaches when building buyer personas, with Jeff Rezabek, Product Marketer at Quali, relaying his experience with using interviews to build his user personas:

“When I used interviews in the past, I asked each user what their goals were (asking this helped identify the most important part of their job). The users had very defined roles and responsibilities, so it made it easy. Depending on the role, we then asked them to show us how they would perform certain tasks within the software.

“I brought one of our Senior Product Managers along to help address any questions, identify any underlying bugs that were missed, and to help build the customer relationship. I know the customer was really happy to be heard.”

Jessica Armstrong, a PMM working in Customer Adoption at Seismic gave her views too, saying:

“With user personas, I think it's important to consider a wider range of time than buyer personas. The problems they are solving with your product in the first 90 days may look different than after one year or time of renewal. Expectations change, their needs grow, etc.

“So when you do user interviews, try to dig beyond just what they are doing now. Ask questions about their goals and expectations when they first started, vs today vs next year.

“Also, it's much harder to get, but if you can get churned user interviews, those can be extremely helpful.”

User persona templates

Many product marketers have been crafting personas for a while, so much so, it’s second nature - like riding a bike, or driving a car.

However, we understand the process is more natural for some than others, which is why a user persona template is included in our collection of templates and frameworks.

Not only does this save our members valuable time, but the tools have been tested and vetted by product marketing specialists, alleviating any fears you may have about using sub-standard tools within your team.

How to use a user persona

If you execute them properly, a user persona can have a profound impact when improving the overall experience for your customer. However, there are important points to remember to ensure you’re using a user persona well.

Here’s what to remember to ensure you’re using your user personas to their optimum potential:

Demographic and personas are different

There are times when a persona example creates a vivid impression of a demographic, only to stop dead in its tracks.

The best personas provide much more information than a person’s age and job title; it places the emotions of the customer under the microscope.

Let’s face it, if we found out our persona is a middle-aged man who indulges in online shopping once in a blue moon, this would be pointless. We wouldn’t know:

  1. Why they’re not shopping more often, or
  2. What they do buy when they do decide to shop.

There’s a reason product marketers aren’t interested in redundant information; it brings nothing to the table.

Sometimes, simplicity is best

It’s tempting to invest your time putting together all singing, all dancing user persona templates.

There’s no shame in simplicity. Sure, a simple one-page template may not be ‘sexy’ in the eyes of some, but who cares? If you identify a demographic, the main goal, and a major barrier, you’ve got everything you need to push on. People don’t have time to sift through pages upon pages of info, so short and sweet is generally best.

Adopt an authentic approach

Creating user personas based on your colleagues and boss is the easy option, right?

The easy route isn’t necessarily always the best solution.

We can’t stress the importance of basing your user personas on real people. A model built on bias never got anyone anywhere.

Communicate

It’s a common saying in the world of product marketing rearing its head again: you’ve gotta communicate with your target audience.

We’ve already demonstrated a super-simple way to talk with your audience via an online survey, but you can take this one step further by conducting marketing research groups.

There are times when forming a representative sample willing to take part can be difficult, so if possible, include a question at the end of each questionnaire where respondents can share their details.

You’ll be glad for it further down the line.

Expect the unexpected

It’s natural to go into a scenario with a preconceived idea of how you envision things unfolding and the same logic applies to user personas.

However, you mustn’t be blinkered by what you consider to be right or wrong; there’s a fair chance your initial thoughts may be proven to be incorrect. In which case, you need to swallow your pride and admit defeat.

In some cases, product marketers deviate from their findings and follow their instinct, even if it’s wide of the mark.

As far as product marketing goes, consider yourself blind, and let the customer guide you.

Examples of user personas

So, we’ve covered the essentials of user personas, including what they are, why they’re important, and how to form your personas.

Before we leave you to put the building blocks in place, we figured we’d leave you with a few examples of user personas for you to refer to.

Consider the following your sources of inspiration.

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