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What exactly are user personas? Often created as a marketing tool in early project phases, personas give a birds-eye view of your key audiences and their behaviors. They visualize your user's wants, needs, tasks, actions, and emotions relevant to a situation or journey and help garner empathy. They cover the touchpoints a user has with your brand across multiple channels and highlight key moments that may trigger user behavior, whether that behavior is positive or negative for your brand. Personas can be beautifully designed posters or simple excel sheets, yet they ultimately provide a similar purpose:

  • Allow your team/s to understand the varietal makeup of your audiences.
  • Align internal and external teams (such as clients and agency partners) by establishing a shared language and mutual understanding of those audiences.
  • Provide strategic insight early on so that you can create purposeful and meaningful experiences that meet your audiences wants and needs.

Pause and ask yourself, are you creating or solving for something your audience wants? Is it helping guide them, fix a problem or take action? Or, are you creating something an internal stakeholder wants or thinks is a great idea? If it's the later, emphasize to your team and key decision makers the value of professional personas for your product or brand. While they might be an investment upfront, personas are a useful reference that can allow you to move forward with ideation, visualization, structure and messaging - all backed by behavioral and demographic data. They will continue to illustrate their value by acting as a consistent thread throughout different phases of a project - from early strategic conversations all the way to creating test cases during quality assurance.

Example of persona sketch

Does that sound like a lot?  It can be.  If you don’t know how to start or aren’t able to partner with an agency like Primacy to craft detailed personas backed by data and research, you can work with your internal team to create lower fidelity personas informed by what you know of your audiences collectively.   They don’t have to be overly complicated or beautifully designed to still be useful.

6 Step Persona Framework

Here's a simple 6-step framework that we've used at Primacy to start the persona process with our own teams or with clients. Typically, we like to do these sessions in person with whiteboards and sticky notes, but given the reality of COVID-19 there are digital tools such as Miro and Freehand that can mirror an in-person experience when conducted over a meeting tool like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

post it notes from a workshop meeting


1. Host a Brainstorm

Schedule a 1 - 1.5 hour brainstorm with colleagues and/or clients from different discipline areas which can help bring a more holistic view. Some ideas of who to get involved might include:

    • Key stakeholders
    • Strategists and Account Directors
    • Analytics team members and Researchers
    • Creatives/Experience Designers

2. Identify Your Primary Personas (Skip if you have already identified these)

Spend the first part of your brainstorm quickly identifying who your primary personas are that have the biggest business impact. Aim for the core group of 5 to 7 personas who make up the majority of your audiences. Alternatively, you could focus on audiences that may not be the most valuable, but represent a growth opportunity for your business. Some examples might include:

    • Healthcare: Speciality/Acute Patient, Pediatric Caregiver, Donor, Referring Physician,etc.
    • Financial Services: Current and Prospective Customers, Sponsors, Accountants, etc.
    • Consumer: Current and Prospective Customers, Wholesale Buyers etc.
    • Higher Education: Prospective Undergraduate Students, Parents / Caregivers of Students, High School Counselors or Advisors etc.

3. Define Your Personas

Once you have your core group of 5 - 7 personas identified, work to further define them. Depending on the size of your group, you can either decide as a team which persona to focus on collectively, or you can split into teams and tackle individual personas and regroup as a team to share. I would suggest smaller groups of 2-3 people if you're taking this approach.

4. Complete a Persona Worksheet

Download and distribute copies of this Persona worksheet and set aside 20-30 minutes to fill it in. The worksheet is broken down into:

    • Basic Profile (What defines them?)
    • Needs (What are they looking for?)
    • Wants (What would delight them?)
    • Top Actions (How do they interact with your brand?)
    • Decision Factors (What sways them to commit?)
    • Barriers and Pain Points (What's difficult? What stops them?)
    • Business Goals (What's measurable?)

5. Discuss Your Work

Come back together as a larger group and discuss your inputs. If you're leading, help facilitate the discussion and write things down for everyone to see. There might be repetitive behaviors among personas, or new insights uncovered during the conversation. Remember to keep your group on track - this isn't about ideation right now - it's about defining your user.

6. Document Everything and Distribute

At the end of the session be sure to collect any worksheets, take pictures of whiteboards or export the digital session. Take this back with you and complete final personas in an excel sheet or another worksheet and pass around to your team to use. Or, if you need more polished assets, create something more visual that incorporates photos of what the persona might look like, and other visual aids to represent their lifestyle, touch points with your brand, and so on.   Creating personas is an important exercise that teams need to go through and occasionally revisit as the marketplace, your services or products, and the world evolves and changes. It’s important to truly understand collectively who your audience is in order to strategically move a product or idea forward.  You might have personas that already exist, but they could have been done a long time ago - times change and audiences change.  It’s important to revisit those materials and make any updates as necessary. Whether you can make the investment into creating detailed, meaningful personas that are driven by data, or you use our framework above to scratch the surface, know you are still creating something valuable for your team or project that in turn will help drive meaningful experiences for your brand.