Personas: when imaginary characters make a real difference

They may be fictitious characters, but they can fundamentally alter the way you run your business. Personas are imaginary users that you can create to understand real customer needs, behaviors, and expectations. When done properly, personas can unlock powerful learnings, help you optimize the supply chain, or give you a significant edge over competition. As Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF) points out, personas can guide your ideation processes, and they can help you to achieve the goal of creating a good user experience for your target user group. 

Advantage persona

Unlike the usual approach of creating solutions or services based on what the design team or the management thinks is optimal — or what their ‘gut feel’ says — personas are data-driven and derived from insights on users, market research and feedback flowing into the system. This makes the approach far more scientific and accurate. As IxDF adds, “Personas do not describe real people, but you compose your personas based on real data collected from multiple individuals. Personas add the human touch to what would largely remain cold facts in your research.”

Personas fit in neatly with design thinking. Both concepts put users at the center of what you are doing or hoping to achieve. And as Adobe notes, a deep understanding of your target audience is fundamental to creating exceptional products. User personas are an invaluable aid that can help product teams answer that most important question — Who are we designing for? “By understanding the expectations, concerns, and motivations of target users, it’s possible to design a product that will satisfy users’ needs and therefore be successful.” Personas also help designers build empathy with their end-users, allowing them to see things from a user’s perspective and enabling them to, figuratively speaking, put themselves in a user’s shoes.

Steps to building personas

Innovation Training lists four steps for successfully deploying data-driven personas in design thinking. The basic building block, of course, is extensive research on who your customers really are. The more data you can gather about them, the more you can flesh them out. This data-gathering can happen online or offline, through calls and interviews, or through survey forms and email conversations. It can even happen on various social media platform. 

After a few interactions with your customers, you will notice patterns and trends emerge. This will lead you to the second step of analyzing the data gathered so far, crystallizing points of interests and being able to create descriptions for the personas. “These personas could include details about the user’s education, lifestyle, interests, values, goals, needs, desires, attitudes, and actions. Give each of the personas a name and try to make them as realistic and representative of your customer types as possible,” advices the Innovation Training guide.

The third step is testing the personas and using them for problem analysis. This would typically involve looking at an issue your organization is grappling with, and then wondering how your personas would respond to this issue. The answers should effortlessly flow from the data you have collated so far. If not, you might have to go back to the drawing board and collect more relevant data. 

The final step is that of collaboration and iteration, where the creative and executive teams fine-tune the personas until they become practical, reliable, and useful to an organization. Throw any problem their way, and you are likely to get clear, succinct guidance from your personas. “Personas can take a while to get right, so don’t be afraid to iterate and revise as many times as you need until you are happy with the end result.”

Automating persona generation

By now it should be obvious that personas can only be as good as the data they are based on, and the tweaking you do to get them working optimally for your organization. This used to be a manual and tedious process till a few years back, but now you can deploy cutting-edge technology to speed up every step. An exciting development has been in automatic persona generation (APG), where intelligent algorithm and machine learning is applied to the multitude of data points you have accumulated on your users. This approach also makes it easy to keep iterating with your personas by letting AI do the heavy lifting. Moreover, APGs can be set up to learn and auto-update as new variables flow in. And yes, APGs are significantly cheaper to create than hiring specialists or consultants to create personas manually.

To find out how APGs can transform your supply chain and logistics business, do connect with the leading AI solutions provider, Amplo Global, for demo and further discussion.