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Telling stories with personas

July 8, 2015

A Persona is a character that you develop based on what you know about your customers. It's an easy way to segment your audience and make sure that whatever you're doing is based on their needs and opinions and not your own.


In old money, they are customer segments with different names.


Let's say you're running a craft website, you might attract a number of types of crafter from the beginner to the expert, from young girls 'looming' to older women making socks for their grandchildren. If your content isn't targeted to one or the other, you'll always be sidelining one part of your audience. This might be OK if they have ways to only access the content they want and you've got the means to generate enough content to keep them both happy, but it'll usually result in confusion and abandonment as they seek something more relevant to them. You'll also find it difficult to target them through advertising and the imagery and words you use in your content may not hit the mark.


Why do you need personas? Because you can't please all of the people all of the time. But, you can please some of the people most of the time.


Sometimes, it is delicious to find out that you are attracting people unintentionally, you can then adapt your style and harness the opportunity.


How to create Personas

What you need to do, is figure out who the main characters are in your story. Get hold of as much data as you can, try and use your web builder/hosts analytics or Google Analytics to get this .If you can't, add a little survey to your site or email newsletter using www.surveymonkey.com. If you can, offer a little reward for completing the survey, a coupon or entry into a competition to win something. If you're a big site you will need to comply with all the competition laws wherever you are.

Here are some basic things you need to find out:

  • Gender

  • Location

  • Age

  • Interests

  • Products they're buying

  • Number of products

  • Where they're coming from (which sites/links)

  • Articles they read/content they read

  • Time on site

  • etc.

With this data, you can start to identify your Personas, be harsh, and only focus on the big ones.


Do you have a source of traffic?

Does that indicate their intentions?


n our Craft example, if everyone is coming from Google organic search keywords like 'learn to sew', it helps you understand the that you're dealing with beginners here. It's not rocket science, but you need to be brutal. Don't obsess on the small data, just get the big stuff and draw logical conclusions. This isn't meant to take a long time, you could probably figure out a few main personas in a few hours.


Once you've identified your Personas, give them names. This really helps you form a mental image of them. And, every time you make a decision about your product and content, you can ask yourself 'what would Maggie want'.


Here are some more examples of how the data might tell you a story:

- Most people are in the US, female and coming from Google searches on 'learn to sew/craft/make x'. They're 30-35 and interested in health, life style, and creativity, they have kids, they work.

- The story: Maggie is a young mother trying to find time for herself, saving money by making things and using it as a way to exert her creativity and personal needs - not just for the family.


- Most people are in the US, female and coming from Google searches on 'make my own clothes' they're 15-25 and interested in fashion, music, and dancing.

 - The story: Lizzie is a young woman who wants to make her own mark in the world and expresses herself through her own clothing creations.


Of course, these stories are made up. But they're interesting, they give your Personas life and shape. You can change their stories as you find out more about them. But for a start, you can begin to channel your content and product to help them achieve their goals.

Maggie might want to create things for her children, but you could encourage her to make special things for herself, appealing to a different part of her needs than the usual 'mum' craft site.


If Lizzie is your girl, then you need a totally different approach, but don't change too much, she already chose you so figure out what you've been doing right.

Now you know who is using your product today, it is time to take a punt at who you'd like to reach in the future. Do you want to reach more Maggie's, but in other Countries? Will you add other languages to target different places? Or do you want more Maggie's in the USA, if so, how do you encourage word of mouth? Can you reward sharing? Do you play on the US style and culture and use that language, instead of internationalising it?


If it is Lizzie you want to reach, perhaps you might change your medium and invite content from your community, reward behaviour with badges and awards (like a game) and include social media so that they will be recognised publicly for their achievements.

There are so many ways to reach these amazing women. I'm excited and it's a fictional site with fictional Personas! The fact is that your data, however, limited will help you form a picture of who your customers are and from that you can begin to focus your activity.

You can not underestimate the power of focus in activity.


It is one thing to be busy, it is another to be productive.


If you're focusing all of your energy on creating content for Maggie and her kids and not thinking about the fact that she wants time away from them - you're going to alienate her. If you're focusing on Maggie and actually you've got a whole bunch of Lizzie's, well you're doing it again. You can't have Maggie and Lizzie. You might think you can, but you'll just end up being adequate for both rather than amazing for one.


Remember too that Personas help you make better decisions, because you are not in the equation. What happens if you're a Maggie and your customers are Lizzie? You're going to need to be objective and stop writing about rocket ship craft ideas and focus on that great new copy of the latest look. It may seem stupid to think that your customers are nothing like you, and if you've started your own business they probably are like you - but for many of us, we run sites and products for other people and often, they are nothing like us. So, talking about Maggie and Lizzie really helps to make sure we're honest and making decisions with them in mind.


Personas for Product Planning

Try plotting out your Personas on a chart. Just on the back of an envelope draw two axis. One is time, from now to later, and the other is your measure of success (revenue, sales, page views etc) from zero to lots. Now, where does each Persona come in?

You might start with Maggie and then move into Lizzie later as a 'microsite' using the same content but branded and styled differently. You may decide to focus on Maggie US then Maggie UK then Maggie in the developing world. There is never going to be a shortage of options, just a shortage of your ability to serve them adequately, let alone amazingly!

Happy storytelling.


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