In an earlier article, I provided some templates for Customer Journey Mapping. And I even mentioned how you might need to do different maps for various customer cohorts. What I didn’t provide was any guidance about those cohorts. So I’m going to try to fix that now.
As is often the case, there’s a lot of tools and templates out there for creating user personas. Some of the tools are behind paywalls as part of various product management tool software. And a lot of this stuff is really good. But also potentially expensive for startups or small teams. But the “free” templates are often either poor, (my opinion), or behind presentation template paywalls or possibly riddled with embedded malware. So here you go…
I’d originally produced this template as part of a product management training program I’d built for one of the large online courseware offerings, but the template itself is already public so here it is:
I’m going to replicate the instructions here, but here’s the most important one… “Don’t cheat.” That is, don’t just make things up. The result should be a synthesis… an amalgam that truly represents your customer. It should be based on some degree of research and not simply a brainstorming session. If you’re stretched for time or resources, fine. But it’s better to do the actual work, because this exercise isn’t just to create this document as an artifact. Used properly, it’s a jumping off point to help with defining customer journeys and messaging. Know Your Customer (KYC) is a term used in finance and it’s mostly related to knowing who your customer is for legal and other purposes. But I think it should be applied in a much broader sense when we’re talking about marketing or crafting products.
- User personas are a means to define a model of a general type of person. It’s not an individual, but a syntheses of demographics and psychographics that represents a market. They are reference representations of your customers.
- Your goal is to capture, in essence, enough of the following to have a strong sense of who your customer is:
- Geographic: country, region, location density, climate,
- Demographic: age, gender, family size, occupation, income, education, religion, race, nationality
- Psychographic: lifestyle, social class, Activities/Interests/Opinions, Values, Attitudes.
- Behavioral: occasions, loyalty, buyer intent.
- Please remember: Done properly, personas are not a matter of Marketers sitting around brainstorming about what their ideal customer might be like. It’s an exercise to try to really discover who their customer is or might be.
- Typical Components of a Persona.
- Descriptive title.
- Day-in-the-life narrative.
- End goals (explicit and tacit).
- Needs and wants, responsibilities, motivations, attitudes, pain points, behavior (such as device usage), and design imperatives.
- Some persona creators like to include scales for various attributes, such as a scale for “liking new products” or similar, and perhaps adding comparisons between the Persona in question and a general marketplace.
That’s it! I hope these tools are useful to you. Take, copy and modify as needed for your own use. If you have additions / deletions / changes you think might be useful for everyone, contact me via LinkedIn and let me know what specifically you think should change.
I’m going to tell you a few things about people. You don’t need to read this part. The above section on Instructions covered the ‘need to know’ for this post if you just wanted a template. These are just some snippets of life to drive home some points about making assumptions about your customers. And I’m sharing this because throughout my career I’ve seen and done a fair amount of customer discovery and research. And I’ve also seen some others who just like to make assumptions. A lot of times those assumptions will be correct. We’re all people after all. And yet, the whole idea of “well, I am like the customer” is often quite wrong. And beyond that, it’s one thing to sort of get some things somewhat right. It’s quite another to more fully understand in a way that can spark depth of insights.
Done properly, this can be expensive. Ethnography goes beyond demographics. It’s an attempt to understand the consumer’s perspective with regard to culture, lifestyle, attitudes and social context. And of course, how these things might impact product and service decision-marking. It’s expensive because often the best way to do this is to actually go to people’s homes and spend time with them. So you have your screening, just like a focus group, but now some personnel have to travel and go somewhere and visit with individuals or families for up to several hours. Some marketers have come and stayed whole weekends. There is little that can just blow away your assumptions more than actually visiting real people in their homes. And there’s serious challenges to this. Your customers may cross socio-economic, cultural or political boundaries that differ from your own perspectives. But the value can be immense. You can do some of your own searches for “consumer ethnography results” and similar to see some of the many product insights others have achieved using these methods.
If you can’t afford these kinds of studies, there’s at least two alternatives. Especially today, you can try to do these virtually. We’ve all learned a lot about each other via Zoom calls and such. (OK, perhaps not always for the better… but still there you go.) And you can be a bit outgoing while shopping. I’ve been at places like BestBuy and seen someone scanning a QR code and gone up to them and simply said, “Hi, sorry to bug you, but I work in marketing for a product company and I was wondering… can I just ask you why you’re scanning the QR code?” Most of the time, people are happy to share with your their whole shopping methodology. Yes, of course, some will look at you oddly and say, “um… could you just get away?” or similar. But most? Most will lay out their whole customer journey for you. So if your product happens to be sold at retail, just go do a store check and engage with some shoppers. (Side note: some years ago I worked on an analytics exercise with a retail product. While QR code scan folks may be a small percentage of users, putting QR codes for more info on packaging at least offered a small glimpse as to what kind of info consumers sought while making a product decision. While this might not be as great as full time retail surveillance and studies, the cost was minimal for the information value.)
People Live Differently than You and Differently than You Think
You probably have some friends and family. (Ideally.) And you’ve probably been to their houses. For most folks, that’s a fairly small number of other homes. For others though; tradespeople, service personnel, etc., it might be a whole lot more. Personally, I will tell you this… while I’m a digital product manager for career, I’ve also been a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for many years. I work for a local fire / rescue team part time. I’ve been doing this for decades. That’s thousands of rescue calls. Thousands of hours of volunteer work. And I can tell you at least these two things: 1) Many people around you, (probably more than you know), are fighting battles you know nothing about. And 2) People live significantly different lives than each other, even though there are of course many obvious commonalities.
One thing especially interesting about emergency services personnel is that when we come into people’s lives, (specifically in this case, their homes), it’s usually not planned. No one straightened up the place because we’re coming by. So when we get there, what we see is how folks are actually living. Now, obviously, I / we are not spending a lot of time poking around. This isn’t an ethnography exercise. Something is on fire, or someone is sick or injured. The initial scene size up is along the lines of “what’s going on,” and “what are the risks to me and my team here.” Thankfully, most often 911 calls are generally not like television and most things are just everyday minor things we can deal with quickly. And when we do, of course you can’t help but see where you are. And what I’ve seen is that any perspectives I have about how me and my family happen to live are just one of a great many. Now this is no great surprise of course. We all kind of just get that, right? But it’s one thing to understand or have a general sense of this theoretically or empathetically, and quite another to actually have the experience. This has helped drive home for me, as a product manager / marketer, that it’s in my best interests, (and my company’s best interests), for me to seek out how I can truly get to know my customer; not just make assumptions about them.
By the way, one small enhancement to something I just said. I’d said, “this isn’t an ethnography exercise,” but sometimes it actually is. Besides being “mandatory reporters” for certain types of potential abuse, there’s a lot more emphasis these days on Social Determinants of Health, (SDOH). And I can tell you as a product person who’s helped define, design, build or manage HealthTech products, having this real world experience has been useful.
So the point isn’t that you should go do community emergency services volunteer work; though maybe that would be good… it’s just to re-emphasize in rather strong terms how little it is you might know for sure about your customer; what they need, how to talk to them, and so on.
Discovery with the Real Endpoint Stakeholders
When doing product discovery, it’s important to do it with the true end user stakeholders. While that may seem like an obvious statement, it’s not always so easy. It can be especially challenging to get all the way to end users when your stakeholders might not be the actual buyers. Examples of this include a lot of B2B2C situations, and certainly both healthcare and government projects. As well, for various Enterprise products, it may be senior management or procurement that are the buyers and main contacts for your company, vs. actual users. You may need to do some convincing to get some customers to let you get deep into their businesses and direct access to their customers or stakeholders. This might have practical roadblocks. For example, if your product or service is healthcare related: In a hospital setting, you may need special permission to talk to doctors, nurses, others and so on, much less actual patients. (And you may need special HIPAA training and non-disclosure agreements to do so.) That’s just one of about a million examples you can likely come up with for yourself; or have experienced yourself. And yet, if at all possible, you need to get to these endpoints. If you can’t, chances just obviously increase that you’re going to miss things that could be useful for your efforts.
I’ll tell you one last story. My discovery team was working on a project with a company that had a component involving physical dispatching. Besides the project stakeholders at the company, my team included business analysts and technical architects. Lots of experience. Lots of smarts. We were looking at workflows, analytics, etc. etc. But then we actually got to some of the dispatch personnel. At their workstations, there were a whole lot of sticky tabs around their screens. Uh oh. OK, here we go. “Hi. That’s a lot of sticky tabs! What are they all for?” Answers ranged from keyboard shortcuts to little formulas to… whatever. “Oh, that’s great. Thanks for letting me know. Do you use any other tools or items to get your job done that aren’t really provided by the company?” Answer: “Oh yes, a lot of us have installed this or that piece of software, I use this other browser tab to… etc. etc. etc.” And then, there were some other personal issues regarding interaction between the dispatchers and both customers and delivery personnel. These were important relationships, which some kinds of efficiency automations might have utterly destroyed. If we hadn’t dug deep to get to real users doing real things, our best case outcome might have been something only incrementally better. But possibly could make things worse long term, and in hard to understand ways. Yet another lesson.