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Chesshire Gaylor (Rauxa) Posted by Chesshire Gaylor (Rauxa) June 23, 2015

3 Myths of Customer Persona Creation in Experience Design

Be it a passion for experience or an affinity for altered egos, those of us who design digital experiences take customer personas personally. Each character plays a role in a brand’s story – a story that often spans multiple channels, involving both brand engagement and interactions amongst customer types. As web content management systems continue to advance, tailored experiences are not only possible, they are (more often than not) expected.

We at Rauxa are impassioned about persona development, considered a critical component of a well-rounded marketing strategy and a foundational element for generating successful omnichannel engagement. If eyes are the windows to the soul, then personas are the gateways to the digital experience. Each characterization represents an audience-specific lens through which one may focus content. Personas are not simply demographic and behavioral descriptions of customer types; they are actionable frameworks for engaging specific buyer groups and enabling tailored paths to influence each of them.

Fortunately, most companies now recognize that persona research is valuable and understand that the outcomes fuel better design. The enthusiasm generated by the “customer voice” no doubt drives empathy within the walls of the brand organization. However, persona development does not come without challenges. That marketing enthusiasm can backfire, and from the moment the first recommendations are made, the persona construct may come into question.

Let’s take a moment to address Rauxa’s top three persona pet peeves.

Persona myth 1: More is more is good.

Remember The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wherein the number 42 is the answer to life? It sometimes seems as if that sentiment spills into the persona conversation. To be clear… 42 personas will not bring life to your brand. Implementation complexities aside, it’s important to appreciate that each customer persona is meant to represent an entire market segment (or organizational role) via one relatable character, not to enumerate every piece of content that a user might want to consume. To keep your numbers manageable, try to keep in mind:

  • Personas represent the human element: user goals and needs as well as user preferences for content consumption.
  • Several titles and user types may process information in a similar fashion and engage in a similar manner.
  • Interaction patterns and format preferences should not be confused with content. The goal is to create a consistent framework for content delivery, regardless of the content delivered.

Persona myth 2: Prospects are unique from customers.

It’s easy to believe that engagement preferences differ when dealing with prospects versus known customers. However, while users’ actions may vary along the stages of the sales cycle, their core goals most likely do not. It is important to understand:

  • Prospects do not morph into other personas simply by completing transactions.
  • Journeys map content to stages; personas define styles of engagement.
  • Our goal is to leverage the engagement preferences outlined within the persona to anticipate content needs over the entire course of the user’s journey.

Persona myth 3: Each business unit requires individual representation.

This misconception is a hybrid of the first two myths, commonly expressed as, “Our verticals are unique, so each business unit needs its own persona.” Sometimes this is true; most often it is not. Apple is Apple – whether you’re purchasing iTunes, organizing app folders, or cursing the newest adapter you need to charge your Air – you‘re thinking in terms of one brand. In each instance, you’re still the same loyal customer (read: persona), anxious to hand over your money. Arm yourself with the following insights to push back on business units (BUs) during persona development:

  • BUs frequently operate in silos and develop quite narrow views into the customer’s brand experience.
  • We rarely find a market segment whose basis for action matches back to the brand’s corporate structure - or the goals of a single BU.
  • At the core of persona engagement is a goal to uplift a brand’s presence on a holistic level – tailoring users’ experiences while also delivering a unified brand story.

Customer persona creation is supposed to be hard

Long story short, the utility of a persona may come to a halt if it is not leveraged to its full potential. To create successful digital experience strategies, we must connect to customers through ongoing alignment of business and customer objectives. Along the way this connection helps us recognize the brand conversations we have to share, understand which conversations appeal to which customers, and time our approach accordingly. Though personas offer us a barometer for anticipating engagement permissions and developing conversation starters, they are only as useful as they are meaningful. Building in value is the challenge of their creation.

Simple or not, these multifaceted and at times contradictory characters make up our customer audience. Personas represent the heart of the brand’s conversation and the pulse of its industry reputation. Being frequently misunderstood as individuals – while aiming to both generalize and humanize groups of individuals – how could the persona construct be simple?

Truthfully, we marketers enjoy this challenge. It is our job as marketers to deal with these types of complexities and make the tough stuff seem simple – even when it’s not. Delivering solutions helps us sleep at night. In the end, if digital experiences tell the story and your users are inclined to listen, surely “happily ever” comes after.

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Chesshire Gaylor leads experience strategy and omni-channel engagement as Director of Experience Planning for Rauxa, an independent full-service marketing agency that uses marketing and technology to drive results for brands including Verizon, Chase and Mattel.