A persona starts off with a classic formula – name, age, demographic, location – and that formula can work when you have a focused audience with specific needs. But what happens when your product is direct to consumers, and there are an awful lot of them?
My career has been focused in media: I’ve worked at news organizations that have had over 20 million users a month (and some with more than 20 million users a day!). How do you write personas to match that many users? The answer is, you don’t! Grouping so many people into personas dilutes the power of the persona. Instead, here are some suggestions on how to identify areas of key growth through personas that will ensure your product is being built for long-term success.
Question Your Status Quo Personas
It’s time to retire Frugal Fred or Social Sally, and replace them with real people who have legitimate product needs. If you write fictional personas, then you insert your own bias into the character and make assumptions that can introduce risk into your product later on. Your personas need to be authentic and relatable in order for your product to accomplish a need and gain traction. Take time to research your user base and identify themes outside just demographics or location. Think of ways to paint the full spectrum of your users, fill representation gaps, and spearhead adoption through offerings that are meaningful to users.
Consider writing a persona based on the concerns that keep people up at night, how they like to spend their Saturdays, what causes will get them out to vote. More and more, people don’t associate their needs with the typical tropes like career or age. Break the mold of personas that focus on occupation and location, and try to drill down a layer or two so that a user develops a sense of personal attachment to your product.
But, beyond any persona writing, the best way to ensure that your product reaches the needs of your designated audience is to hire members of that community to work for your organization. When you have people who represent and are invested in the community you target, then they will act as the champion for that group in the product build.
Identify Under-served Communities for Biggest Growth
While you’re evaluating personas, you should aim to include a persona or two that targets an under-served group that could potentially contribute to significant audience growth. By focusing on feature developments targeting that persona, you diversify your audience segmentation, potentially spread your reach, and add to the bottom line.
Your personas should change as your product grows and you identify new areas. The best way to try this is to take a look at other ways of defining communities who engage with your product and pick a few small but mighty segments. Maybe there’s a group of people who use your product only in the morning, or who need ways to access it offline on the subway, or who have accessibility needs due to visual impairments. By adjusting your product to satisfy a new group, you explore new possibilities for retention and you become an expert in serving that group as potential for additional revenue streams.
So how can you bring this back to your company? Consider this exercise: go to every department in your company and have them explain the main audience they serve in their role and what that audience values about the company. Once you have that information, you can outline any discrepancies on your product’s main audience within your organization on your product’s main audience. It might also highlight areas for user research.
Create a Feedback Loop
You can see if your product resonates with the groups you’ve specified in your personas by talking to them! You’ll find out quickly if your persona genuinely reflects your users, or if you misjudged the impact of your product on that group. It’s an easy way to validate if the persona you’ve identified can be a primary source of growth, loyalty and opportunity. If your community allows it, constant feedback from your core users will give invaluable insight into your programs and features so you can calibrate them for success.
There are plenty of techniques on how to use user interviews to your advantage (for example the seven best ways to screw up user research and why moderated user research is worth the cost), but the crux of it is to get out of your office and talk to people. They might highlight something you’ve never thought of, debunk an assumption you had, or give you a whole new idea to investigate.
On May 22, Stephanie will be teaching Product Management Essentials, a Mind the Product workshop, in New York. The one-day workshop is intended to help product managers increase their strategic impact. Learn more and book now here.
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