Personas is an important tool for audience research. In this post, I explain what personas are, and common misconceptions in how to use them correctly. I also share my personal methodology in how to connect personas to personality type indicator frameworks like the Meyer-Briggs
What are personas?
A persona can be defined as “a fictional character defined from a set of generalised audience characteristics discovered through audience research.” The idea of working with personas is to create an emotional connection to raw audience data by presenting it in the form of a fictional character with a name, a face, and a story that people can connect emotionally to.
Persona research is performed mainly within two principal methodologies; data representative- and exploratory.
- Data representative personas (DRPs)
- Personas created using the DRP-methodology are based on factual results and insights made from audience- and market research, such as customer surveys, focus groups, and data from CRMs. In the DRP-methodology, personas are used to visualise conclusions and findings from audience research by utilizing the data to create a fictive person based on characteristics, opinions, psychographics, and demographics of the main audience segments defined by the research.
- Exploratory personas (EPs)
- In exploratory persona research; personas are used as a brainstorming tool to define and explore audiences, customer journeys, strengths- and weaknesses in organisational processes involving humans. Exploratory personas differ from DRPs in the way that they are not based on factual data from audience research, but on hypotheses and assumptions. Exploratory persona research is a very effective tool for developing marketing concepts, and later in this article an example case is presented where EPs were used in creating a marketing campaign for the London Royal Opera.
When to use personas?
A common misconception is that personas only have a place in processes concerning marketing. This is wrong. Personas is an efficient tool to evaluate and learn about any organisational process involving people, and a few examples include:
- To visualise and understand how different audiences integrate- and experience public buildings; such as shops, airports, and hospitals.
- To get a better understanding of customer support strategies and efficiency by putting yourself in the shoes of the customers you are serving.
- To help evaluate communication problems within an organisation.
Why personas work.
As explained above, the purpose of using personas in audienceresearch, is to create an emotional connection to audience-data and research findings.
As an illustration, considering the following case that I often use when performing persona workshops:
THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON HOSPITAL (UCLH) CASE
During a three months’ period, UCLH interviewed patients after their visits to the emergency room to understand pain-points with their current patient process during emergency peaks, which resulted in a report presenting one of the primary audiences as follows:
Now consider the following story of Joyceline, a three-year-old girl who had to wait almost four hours in the emergency room of UCLH with a broken hand before getting to meet a doctor.
“ Three-year-old Joyceline had to wait almost four hours in the emergency room of the UCLH before getting treatment for her broken hand as of a big traffic accident earlier the same evening which had to be prioritised by all available doctors. Patients in a non-life threatening state, thereby, had to wait hours to meet with a doctor.The emergency waiting room soon had over 120 patients waiting to get treatment; some of which also were in an intoxicated state from the abuse of alcohol and narcotics, appearing aggressive towards other patients and staff which frightened Joyceline. When Joycelines father tried to calm her in the emergency hallway, a nurse told him they had to return to the emergency room as patients were not allowed outside the waiting room.“
The Joyceline story, above, describes the same audience segment and pain points as Table 1. However, when comparing the number of suggestions to how the hospital could improve their patient process when presenting the Joyceline story compared to Table 1, the number of suggestions usually is about twice as many.
Even more interesting. When asking people to prioritize how important and urgent they think this issue is on a scale from 1 to 10; people who only have read Table 1, on average, give it an urgency of five—while if presented with the Joyceline story, on average rate it eight.
Now; this is a crude example which in no way is statistically significant. What the example shows, however, is that when “humanising” audience data by giving it a name and a story; people not only get more creative in coming up with solutions—but even more importantly—also will form a better understanding of the problem.
Common misconceptions about how to design personas.
Unfortunately, there is a great misconception in the way personas should be designed.
Considering the following persona example presented by Adele Revella, founder of Buyer Persona Institute (Buyerpersona.com, 2017a) and the author of the book ‘Buyer Personas’ (Buyerpersona.com, 2017b):
Analysing this persona example in the light of Table 1 in the Joyceline hospital case where audience data and pain-points simply were listed in a table, there is actually not much difference. Sure, Adele’s audience data, above, has been given a picture and a name; but there is nothing in her “persona” that will make people reading it emotionally engaged and committed to making a change.
For a persona to be efficient, it needs to have an engaging story that makes the fictional character it represents to feel like a real person. Persona stories also should illustrate how the persona character integrates with the organisation for which it was created; pain-points and views of products or services. Great persona stories, like great dating ads, also have some surprising elements making them memorable. In short; the goal with any persona is that the people for which it was created (marketing team, sales, H&R, board members, etc.) immediately should start relating to it as a real person, and not just as a statistical number in a report.
Connecting personas to a personality type indicator framework (PTIF).
In simple terms; PTIFs are theoretical systems designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. They are used by managers to guide job placement, conflict management, team building, career development, and to build processes for sales and marketing. Many different PTIFs exist, all with their individual strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I have come to use Meyer-Briggs (Opp.com, 2017) to a great extent in my professional practice as I find this framework being versatile and suitable for all kinds of projects; including e-commerce, marketing planning, and organisational process studies. Meyer-Briggs also have a great body of literature which makes the framework easy to learn. If you are not familiar with Meyer-Briggs or some other PTIF, I strongly recommend you to take a few different PTIFs tests just to understand how they work and their different models of personality-type evaluation.
Connecting personas to a theoretical framework like Meyer-Briggs saves a lot of work, as much of the persona definition already is constructed. More importantly; if an organisation consistently works in the same PTIF, people within the organisation immediately will be able to visualise and understand the persona character by just recognising its personality type. This is also a great strength in larger projects where teams and stakeholders are dispersed in multiple locations, and the personas are distributed on, for example, an intranet with no project manager to present them live.
A persona case; London Royal Opera.
In this section, I present how exploratory personas (EPs) were used to define target audiences in the marketing planning for The Royal Opera. I begin by introducing the client brief, and will then present the process that was used to create the persona-sheet presented later in this article and which formed the basis for the campaign.
The Royal Opera, under the direction of Antonio Pappano, is one of the world’s leading opera companies. Based in the iconic Covent Garden theatre, it is renowned both for its outstanding performances of traditional opera and for commissioning new works by today’s leading opera composers, such as Harrison Birtwistle, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Thomas Adès.
While some young people might attend the ballet once a year as a special occasion, The Royal Opera finds that their audience is not as diverse as the population as a whole, and that young people are under-represented. To ensure the long-term survival of ballet as an art-form, they need to engage and inspire more young people to be part of their audience.
The Royal Opera particularly want to target young people aged between 20 and 30, already attending plays, gigs, and exhibitions, but don’t consider ballet as entertainment because they simply don’t think it’s for them.
- The target audience of London Royal Opera currently thinks that:
- Ballet is old fashioned, filled with tutus, musically dry, stuffy, formal, traditional, and not relevant to contemporary life.
- Ballet is for the wealthy middle England and old people; not ‘people like me’.
- You have to understand the language of opera choreography to understand or enjoy it.
- There are certain accepted opinions about ballet, and open interpretation or appreciation of it is not welcome.
- Ballet is just men in tights and ladies en pointe pretending they are in a fairy-tale.
- Ballet is mainly for girls.
- The Royal Opera would like to communicate to them instead that:
- Ballet can be exciting and alive and a thrill to watch – it’s everything from graceful and beautiful to violent and passionate.
- Ballets may have been created for the Royal Courts of Europe many, many years ago, but new operas are being created all the time ; it’s an modern and energetic artform.
- Because it deals with the big human themes — life, love, death, loss, passion, joy, anger, humour — opera is relevant to everyone, and everyone can understand it.
- Ballets can draw from a wide range of influences from fashion to literature and rock/pop music to full orchestral work. There are no rules.
The Royal Opera House persona.
There is no set rule of how personas should be created, and all organisations need to find their own way of working efficiently with audience research and personas. The process of creating the personas for The Royal Opera House, however, was performed as follows:
- After an initial evaluation of the brief, a brainstorming session was performed where portraits of imaginary visitors, inspired by the stated audiences in the brief, were cut out from magazines and compiled from internet searches. Each portrait was also given a name.
- In the second step, the personas were given some basic demographic- and psychographic characteristics; such as age, general interests, education, and income. When performing persona workshops, this step usually is quite straight forward as people, in general, after being presented with a portrait, quickly start to conclude who the person is by the impressions they get from the picture.
- In the third step after some initial brainstorming, each persona were given a Meyer-Briggs personality-type based on the characteristics in step 2. If you are not familiar with the different personality types defined by Meyer-Briggs you find some great examples on following links: personalitypage.com, www.opp.com
- With the help of the Meyer-Briggs personality definitions, the psychological characteristics of each persona character were defined. By having established how each persona perceives the world and makes decisions, this information then could be used to analyse and build a story around why this fictional person chooses not to visit the opera; information which was used to inform the strategic marketing planning.
Below is the final persona-sheet that was created as an outcome of the process presented above (click on the image to download it).
The persona workflows presented in this article are just one way of working with personas. Numerous other persona-strategies exist, and every organisation need find their own “best way” of creating them.
The key takeaway working with personas is to understand the importance of creating engaging stories which are what differentiate personas from traditional audience definitions where audience-segments are labelled with generic descriptions and presented as tabular data (see Table 1).
I want to emphasise that presenting audience research using a traditional format of listing audience-characteristics in a table by no means is wrong. For some applications, such as when creating formal organisational reports, personas might not be the most suitable method of presenting audience data and research. Personas for sure has a place in the ecosystem of audience research, but so do traditional methods of defining audience segments in a tabular format. What is important to understand is when and how to most efficiently use each methodology.
Whatever methodology you choose for your next project, just bear in mind that putting a portrait in the top row of a data-table does not make it into a persona.
- Buyerpersona.com. (2017). Buyer Persona Institute. [online] Available at: http://www.buyerpersona.com/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].
- Buyerpersona.com. (2017). Buyer Persona Institute. [online] Available at: http://www.buyerpersona.com/ [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].
- Opp.com. (2017). Myers-Briggs personality types (MBTI) – Personality profiles | OPP. [online] Available at: https://www.opp.com/en/tools/MBTI/MBTI-personality-types [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].
- Revella, A. (2015). Buyer personas. 1st ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.