Why research is important for persona development

Enjoy Digital
By Enjoy Digital
9 minutes to read

Effective personas are incredibly useful and can support marketing messaging, direct strategy, and inform content ideas.

They enable you to truly understand your audience, which can have long-lasting effects on your business.

To create an effective persona, you need to do your research. Without research, personas are guess work; at best they’re not as effective and at worst they can misdirect you. By using interviews and data provided by real personas, you can easily create accurate personas.

What makes up a persona?

A good persona includes your customers’:

  • Needs
  • Challenges
  • The problem your product solves,
  • And the problems it doesn’t.

It sounds cheesy, but persona research can be a golden nugget for truly understanding your customers.

So why is research so important in the persona process?

Research removes guesswork and validates your assumption

Let’s take a persona card for a budget airline and evaluate what needs to be improved.

Name: John Smith 

Occupation: Retail assistant

Location: London 

Motivations: John works long, antisocial hours, his hobbies include golf and watching football

Goals: Take time to relax when he has time off or goes on holiday 

Frustrations: August is an expensive time to take holidays but John prefers to save for one long holiday per year and prefers this to be in summer months. He likes the hustle and bustle of busy resorts in Spain and Greece 

This persona card is based on guesswork, so it contains information that’s not useful.

First of all, not every persona needs to have a human name. While it can be useful to remind marketers that their customers are real, it’s also easier to remember what each persona represents if it’s given a practical title. If you want to humanise your personas, you can add a name to the persona description for example, Tristan – Millennial traveller.

Occupation isn’t useful either. While it gives you an indication of income, it’s not specific enough. It’s also unclear where and how this information has been gathered. Socio-economic groups are a better indicator of spending power, and give you enough information to tailor your marketing messages to each relevant group.

Location is only important if it’s relevant to the product or service; in this instance it’s useless.

Motivations help us understand what drives the audience towards your product or service. However, the motivations in this example don’t give any indication as to why someone in this audience would choose the budget airline. At most, it may help with targeting this persona for golfing holidays but otherwise there is very little information to understand why they would choose this airline.

Goals and frustrations are useful, but by changing frustrations to ‘challenges’ it would clearly show what the audience want to achieve but the challenges they face in doing so.

Understanding the audiences’ decision-making process can also help. Do they choose the budget airline because of price or is it because they live close to an airport that the airline flies from?

Personas for a budget airline could include:

  • Business traveller 
  • Family traveller - someone who travels to see a family member, flying with this airline because it’s most convenient 
  • Holiday traveller 

You should now be able to see the difference research can make in crafting personas.

Depth interviews, behavioural surveys, and focus groups provide accurate but cost-effective research methods. By using existing opt-in email lists and social media, participant recruitment costs can also be reduced. 

Persona research avoids the highest paid person’s opinion and gives a voice to customers too. They provide a deep understanding of the audience, help align internal conversations around the customer, and lead to better decision making.

 

Research helps get buy-in from stakeholders and management 

As we’ve already mentioned, research helps to validate personas but it can also instil confidence into key stakeholders. If they believe the personas are accurate, they will use them.

By including quotes from interviews, data from surveys, and information on user journeys from Google Analytics, you’ll find that you instantly have more buy-in.

The closer you can get your colleagues to visualising and understanding your customers, the more effective the personas will be. Don’t just use a stock image, but rather paint a (figurative) picture of your customer, outlining their challenges which are backed up with research findings.

It helps you to see beyond individuals

We need to stop thinking of personas as a picture of someone you’re calling Debbie, whose hobbies include tennis. This information is irrelevant. It doesn’t get you closer to the customer and can potentially be distracting as you focus on information that won’t help you make a meaningful impact.

You need to understand Debbie’s challenges, her motivations, what she needs from you, and how she views both you and your competitors. This isn’t information you can retrieve from a meeting with the marketing team. It requires robust research to help you prioritise information that’s representative of collective groups of people. 

Personas represent groups of people, not individuals. Which is why knowing that they enjoy water skiing at the weekend is completely useless.

By conducting research we can truly understand the drivers and motivations of audience segments, as the research reveals traits among groups of people.

As shown in this persona there are a number of useful pieces of information. Personas should be as actionable as possible, ‘Terry likes to play tennis’ is not valuable insight unless you’re a sports brand; while ‘Philip has two children aged 7 and 11’ is more useful as it shows ages of children typical for this demographic. But again, you’d only mention this in the persona if having children was a relevant piece of information for the persona.

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine useful information:

  • What do I need to know about this person?
  • What does the marketing team need to know?
  • What information is useful for the marketing team to be able to use for campaigns?
  • How will the marketing team target this persona?

This then influences the type of information included in the persona.

How to conduct persona research 

There’s a number of ways you can conduct persona research. 

Depth interviews provide detail behind answers. As the name suggests, these are in depth interviews with your real customers. It’s a structured session where researchers use the right questions to get you the information and understanding you need.

Surveys are another way you can ask key questions to help you to understand your customers, but they don’t provide the same detail an interview can give. They are a useful way to get initial answers but should be combined with other research methods to be properly effective.

Analytics data can also be useful. It gives you an idea of the type of person visiting your website but, like surveys, shouldn’t be used in isolation.

The most effective personas are made up of a mixture of research methods. The more research you do, the more accurate your personas are likely to be. We combine qualitative with quantitative research to get the answers we need as well as the detail needed to properly understand the answers. In a nutshell, this approach gives you the why behind the what.

Personas are powerful

For personas to make the biggest impact, they need to be actionable. Forget the hobbies and focus on useful information that will back up or influence your decisions.

Ultimately, personas exist to help marketing teams differentiate and target campaigns. But a true understanding, gained through research with real people, will always represent a customer base.

Persona research avoids the highest paid person’s opinion and gives a voice to customers too. They provide a deep understanding of the audience, help align internal conversations around the customer, and lead to better decision making.

Evolve your experience.

Create a customer journey that delivers today and plans for tomorrow.

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