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6 Steps to Building User
Personas and Why You
Should Care
What is a per·so·na?
You outta know.
According to Smashing Magazine,
a persona is a few things…
A way to model, summarize, and
communicate research about
people who have been observed
or researched in some way.
1
Depicted as a specific person
but is not a real individual;
rather, it is synthesized from
observations of many people.
2
A representative of a significant
portion of people in the real world.3
Why should you care?
FYI: Sales Reps, Marketers, Designers,
and Product Developers should too.
Personas are meant to make your life easier.
With a well-built persona(s), you can easily
identify areas of opportunity for improvement
and create a better user experience.
Better user
experience
More frequent,
consistent, and
happy users
Personas are meant to justify your efforts.
With a well built persona(s), you can segment
your customers into groups that show how
effective your marketing is and how
profitable your business is as a whole within
each segment.
Wait, what does that mean?
Here’s an example:
Enterprise personas probably pay more up
front, but the cost to acquire them is usually
higher as well. Instead, it may make sense to
focus your efforts on the persona that pays less
up front but takes less to acquire. But, you can
only measure this if you know your personas.
Acquisition Cost	
  Enterprise Persona	
   What you’re left with…	
  
versus
Acquisition Cost	
  Non-Enterprise
Persona	
  
What you’re left with!	
  
What should a persona
include?
Every company will have different
personas. There are however a handful of
key pieces to include, which HubSpot has
neatly outlined:
1. Role
2. Goals
3. Challenges
4. Company
5. Watering Holes
6. Personal Background
7. Shopping Preferences
Take a look at HubSpot’s breakdown here for specific
questions to ask when interviewing/evaluating your users.
Keep in mind! Not all of these questions are
relevant to all companies so decide what is
important for your business to know.
for example:
Inbound.org doesn’t necessarily need to know
our users’ buying preferences to make their
experience better. However, we do need to
know why our users visit the site and what
they’re hoping to get out of it. So we’ll swap that
question in.
Ok, got it.
How do I build a persona?
This will only take 6 steps.
Step 1: Pick a representative cohort of users.
Depending on how many users you have to
represent using your personas, decide how
many interviews you need to conduct or how
many survey responses you need to get to be
confident in your conclusions.
Here’s an example to help illustrate a
representative sample size.
Inbound.org has over 100,00 members. To get a
representative number with a reasonable
confidence level (say, 95%) we would need 383
data points.
That’s a lot of data points.
Step 2: Be creative to get as many data
points as you possibly can…or as necessary.
There are many ways to do this. “This” being,
getting open-ended responses to your
questions. Utilize surveys, virtual/in-person
discussion groups, even reverse Q&A
sessions. Be creative and do what makes
sense for your users.
Key phrase: “open-ended responses”
When interviewing, focus on open-ended
questions. Listen to what your users are
saying. ‘Yes or No’ questions probably won’t
give you the depth you need to build useful
personas. Even giving users options to
choose from can deter them from formulating
their own natural responses which will skew
your results.
How did Inbound.org do it, you might ask?
We chose to use a survey. It consisted of
primarily open-ended questions. We tried to keep it
to as few questions as possible but worded
them in a way that would get robust responses.
The result? of data!
Step 3: Read your responses and put
together a first pass at your personas.
Find a quiet spot and start reading through
your responses. Jot down common words
and phrases as you go to be used later for
grouping. Once you’ve completed this
activity, go back and begin grouping
respondents based on the commonalities
between them.
Step 4: Fill in your template.
Using your groupings from Step 3, fill in your
categories (slide 14) by formulating the group
responses into one single, unified response. You
should be able to confidently convey what their
main challenges, needs, goals, and such are
based on the group’s responses. You probably
have multiple groupings which means you’ll have
multiple personas. Try to keep your count
between 3 and 6 in total.
This will be version 1 of your personas!
Step 5: Conduct a few 1-on-1 user interviews.
Now that you have your version 1, you’ll want
to make sure that your conclusions are valid
and hold true for a random (but relevant)
user. Pick one user that matches one
persona who hasn’t already been surveyed.
Interview them individually. Not everything
has to be spot on but their answers should
be relatively similar to your conclusions. If
not, reevaluate your original conclusions and
try again. Do this for each persona.
Step 6: Place each user into a persona.
Your users (or customers), minus the extraneous
ones, should all fall under one of your personas.
Now is the time to separate your users based
on your persona criteria. There probably won’t
be matches for all of them but there should be
clear differentiators and indicators that guide
your sorting.
Bonus: Take note of extraneous users.
Not all users will fall under a persona. That’s ok.
But if you start to see a lot of them as you sort,
reevaluate your personas. Otherwise, these are
just naturally extraneous people.
Like a dog who loves catnip.
Double Bonus: Give your personas a name.
Many personas have names attached to
them, such as Marketer Mary. You don’t
have to assign names to yours but it
makes it easier to communicate about
them internally instead of saying,
“Persona 3”.
Ok, now take a deep
breath.
The steps are over.
But we have a few important
things to leave you with.
Building personas takes time.
It could take just 1 month
or maybe 3 months
or even 6 months.
What’s important though, is not the time it
takes, but rather the quality of your personas.
Even once you’ve shipped your first version of
your personas, it's not over. It’s a never ending
process of analysis and iteration.
Your personas probably won’t be perfect.
Hey! This persona
doesn't perfectly
reflect who I am!
It's okay if this doesn't
describe you exactly!
The story of the persona
gives me context to help
make decisions around
the specifics like pain
points, what content will
interest you, and so on.
customer
Don’t go it alone! Utilize data from other
sources.
Your team (especially support) is a very good place to start,
before surveying your users. They know your users, why not
ask them about it?
Google Analytics is a gold mine of data and analytics on your
users. Get demographic information including gender,
location, and even general interests.
Social Media is a great place to see people talk about the
problem that you offer a solution to. Learn from those
outspoken tweeters.
You will probably end up with exclusionary
personas.
These are personas that are built from the
respondents that you don’t care for or that your
team should avoid selling, building, or
marketing to.
Inbound.org example:
Someone who only uses Inbound.org to
promote their own content and tries to upvote
their posts to the top using voting rings.
Boo you exclusionary persona, boo you.
An honest note.
There are many ways to build personas. You
can do this any way you like. This is how we
went about it, but it’s by no means the only way
or necessarily the best way. Above all, we
recommend that you be thorough and never
stop iterating.
Check out the next slide!
Which Inbound.org
persona are you?
Take a look at ours and let us know which
one you identify with most.
Click here to pick
your persona!

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6 Steps to Building User Personas and Why You Should Care

  • 1. 6 Steps to Building User Personas and Why You Should Care
  • 2. What is a per·so·na? You outta know.
  • 3. According to Smashing Magazine, a persona is a few things…
  • 4. A way to model, summarize, and communicate research about people who have been observed or researched in some way. 1
  • 5. Depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people. 2
  • 6. A representative of a significant portion of people in the real world.3
  • 7. Why should you care? FYI: Sales Reps, Marketers, Designers, and Product Developers should too.
  • 8. Personas are meant to make your life easier. With a well-built persona(s), you can easily identify areas of opportunity for improvement and create a better user experience.
  • 10. Personas are meant to justify your efforts. With a well built persona(s), you can segment your customers into groups that show how effective your marketing is and how profitable your business is as a whole within each segment.
  • 11. Wait, what does that mean? Here’s an example: Enterprise personas probably pay more up front, but the cost to acquire them is usually higher as well. Instead, it may make sense to focus your efforts on the persona that pays less up front but takes less to acquire. But, you can only measure this if you know your personas.
  • 12. Acquisition Cost  Enterprise Persona   What you’re left with…   versus Acquisition Cost  Non-Enterprise Persona   What you’re left with!  
  • 13. What should a persona include?
  • 14. Every company will have different personas. There are however a handful of key pieces to include, which HubSpot has neatly outlined: 1. Role 2. Goals 3. Challenges 4. Company 5. Watering Holes 6. Personal Background 7. Shopping Preferences Take a look at HubSpot’s breakdown here for specific questions to ask when interviewing/evaluating your users.
  • 15. Keep in mind! Not all of these questions are relevant to all companies so decide what is important for your business to know.
  • 16. for example: Inbound.org doesn’t necessarily need to know our users’ buying preferences to make their experience better. However, we do need to know why our users visit the site and what they’re hoping to get out of it. So we’ll swap that question in.
  • 17. Ok, got it. How do I build a persona? This will only take 6 steps.
  • 18. Step 1: Pick a representative cohort of users. Depending on how many users you have to represent using your personas, decide how many interviews you need to conduct or how many survey responses you need to get to be confident in your conclusions.
  • 19. Here’s an example to help illustrate a representative sample size. Inbound.org has over 100,00 members. To get a representative number with a reasonable confidence level (say, 95%) we would need 383 data points.
  • 20. That’s a lot of data points.
  • 21. Step 2: Be creative to get as many data points as you possibly can…or as necessary. There are many ways to do this. “This” being, getting open-ended responses to your questions. Utilize surveys, virtual/in-person discussion groups, even reverse Q&A sessions. Be creative and do what makes sense for your users.
  • 22. Key phrase: “open-ended responses” When interviewing, focus on open-ended questions. Listen to what your users are saying. ‘Yes or No’ questions probably won’t give you the depth you need to build useful personas. Even giving users options to choose from can deter them from formulating their own natural responses which will skew your results.
  • 23. How did Inbound.org do it, you might ask? We chose to use a survey. It consisted of primarily open-ended questions. We tried to keep it to as few questions as possible but worded them in a way that would get robust responses. The result? of data!
  • 24. Step 3: Read your responses and put together a first pass at your personas. Find a quiet spot and start reading through your responses. Jot down common words and phrases as you go to be used later for grouping. Once you’ve completed this activity, go back and begin grouping respondents based on the commonalities between them.
  • 25.
  • 26. Step 4: Fill in your template. Using your groupings from Step 3, fill in your categories (slide 14) by formulating the group responses into one single, unified response. You should be able to confidently convey what their main challenges, needs, goals, and such are based on the group’s responses. You probably have multiple groupings which means you’ll have multiple personas. Try to keep your count between 3 and 6 in total. This will be version 1 of your personas!
  • 27. Step 5: Conduct a few 1-on-1 user interviews. Now that you have your version 1, you’ll want to make sure that your conclusions are valid and hold true for a random (but relevant) user. Pick one user that matches one persona who hasn’t already been surveyed. Interview them individually. Not everything has to be spot on but their answers should be relatively similar to your conclusions. If not, reevaluate your original conclusions and try again. Do this for each persona.
  • 28. Step 6: Place each user into a persona. Your users (or customers), minus the extraneous ones, should all fall under one of your personas. Now is the time to separate your users based on your persona criteria. There probably won’t be matches for all of them but there should be clear differentiators and indicators that guide your sorting.
  • 29. Bonus: Take note of extraneous users. Not all users will fall under a persona. That’s ok. But if you start to see a lot of them as you sort, reevaluate your personas. Otherwise, these are just naturally extraneous people. Like a dog who loves catnip.
  • 30. Double Bonus: Give your personas a name. Many personas have names attached to them, such as Marketer Mary. You don’t have to assign names to yours but it makes it easier to communicate about them internally instead of saying, “Persona 3”.
  • 31. Ok, now take a deep breath. The steps are over. But we have a few important things to leave you with.
  • 32. Building personas takes time. It could take just 1 month or maybe 3 months or even 6 months.
  • 33. What’s important though, is not the time it takes, but rather the quality of your personas. Even once you’ve shipped your first version of your personas, it's not over. It’s a never ending process of analysis and iteration.
  • 34. Your personas probably won’t be perfect. Hey! This persona doesn't perfectly reflect who I am! It's okay if this doesn't describe you exactly! The story of the persona gives me context to help make decisions around the specifics like pain points, what content will interest you, and so on. customer
  • 35. Don’t go it alone! Utilize data from other sources. Your team (especially support) is a very good place to start, before surveying your users. They know your users, why not ask them about it? Google Analytics is a gold mine of data and analytics on your users. Get demographic information including gender, location, and even general interests. Social Media is a great place to see people talk about the problem that you offer a solution to. Learn from those outspoken tweeters.
  • 36. You will probably end up with exclusionary personas. These are personas that are built from the respondents that you don’t care for or that your team should avoid selling, building, or marketing to. Inbound.org example: Someone who only uses Inbound.org to promote their own content and tries to upvote their posts to the top using voting rings. Boo you exclusionary persona, boo you.
  • 37. An honest note. There are many ways to build personas. You can do this any way you like. This is how we went about it, but it’s by no means the only way or necessarily the best way. Above all, we recommend that you be thorough and never stop iterating. Check out the next slide!
  • 38. Which Inbound.org persona are you? Take a look at ours and let us know which one you identify with most. Click here to pick your persona!