How are Personas Used in Real Organizations?

What are Personas and Why Use Them?

Personas are fictional characters or ‘profiles’ that portray a certain type of customer or user.

The development of a persona should go beyond just providing background information on the organization’s ideal customers. The persona profile should also include other features, such as current behaviors the persona exihibits as well as goals and expectations. A detailed persona can help identify the right target audience, but more importantly, it forces the consideration of the user in the design and implementation of a product.

According to the Salesforce UX team, the best way to create accurate and meaningful personas is to perform quantitative and qualitative research. Qualitative research includes tools such as focus groups and interviews. While qualitative data can produce unique perspectives, it is not measurable, and cannot be generalized. That is why quantitative data should also be used for persona creation.

Essentially, personas humanize or simplify the data, so that it is easier to understand the different types of target audiences of a product and to also reference to the audience when examining which features work and which features can be improved upon. Marketing may seem like the biggest benefactor of personas, but organizations utilize personas in other areas, too, such as interaction and industrial design, among other persona use cases. It’s important to know who the target audience is but delivering something that fits the persona’s needs is necessary for creating value with personas.

Using Personas for Marketing

Personas are consistently used in marketing and advertising because customers are at the core of the marketing and advertising industries. Advertisers know who their target audience is, so personas can add a face to a specific market segment. Multiple personas can be used for multiple market segments to further refine information on the overall target market.

There is not a one-size-fits-all template for personas, but according to Jodi Harris at the Content Marketing Institute, the following aspects should be considered when creating a persona:

  • Personas embody the Ideal Customer: Background information such as name, age, gender should be included along with other important attributes and details that are relevant to the business.
  • Persona Profiles Should Include Goals and Challenges: Understanding the goals and challenges of one’s ideal customer will help shape an understanding of the motives and reasons behind customers’ decision-making.
  • Personas Should Describe the Customers’ Relationship with the Business: Having an understanding of how the consumer interacts with the business can also lead to a more complete persona. Having information on the questions and criteria that people consider will help logistical decisions such as promotions.
  • Persona Benefits Relate to Communication: The communication method between the organization and the customer base should accurately reflect the target audience that is trying to be reached.
  • Putting the Persona in Use: Once a persona is developed, one should consider real-world scenarios that involve questions and concerns the customer has followed by their possible solutions.

Real Examples of Persona Use

It would be impossible for a business to create a single persona that described their entire customer base. Personas, therefore, describe groups of users, so while a small business may have only one persona, a larger business may have many more.

For example, consider the “SephoraClaus” promotion  that was discussed in this Forbes article. It focuses on the use of personas during the holidays to increase the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. In this particular case, Sephora had asked its followers to tweet directly at it using the hash tag #sephoraclaus along with one item from their holiday wish list, up to $150.This kind of persona was used to help target the biggest fans during the time of year that people are spending the most. A prize was given away daily, so people would tweet directly at Sephora on a daily basis for a chance to win the prize.

This helped with Sephora’s brand because of the influx of people communicating about the brand and drawing positive attention to other people or markets that may not have been as familiar with it. On the customer side, the daily tweets are essentially a blinking ‘hint’ sign to significant others, friends, spouses, etc that this is the gift that you need to get. While in reality only a small number of people received free gifts, the promotion was intended to draw the attention of Sephora’s biggest customers, which resulted in larger brand recognition for Sephora, but also an opportunity for the customer to receive a gift from their wish list. Personas only make sense when the customer is at the forefront because organizations want to nurture their relationship with the customer.

While most companies use personas to boost their profits during Black Friday, there are, however, other companies such as Patagonia and REI that use personas to encourage people not to shop on Black Friday. In 2016, Patagonia pledged to donate 100% of its Black Friday profits to environmental groups. REI does not process orders on Black Friday, and instead supports a visit outdoors instead of a shopping mall. These decisions were based on what these companies are for and against. In the Patagonia example, they warn of excess, but still donate what they receive to environmental groups that share their message. Likewise with REI, they show they are against Black Friday by deciding to not process orders, which will discourage shoppers from going there, but they also promoted a core component of their business. By doing this, these organizations are showing their customers a certain set of beliefs and principles that builds a loyal customer base.

This persona for Patagonia and REI most likely described a loyal customer for that particular organization. In the example above, REI understands Black Friday is the biggest shopping event of the year. While it is against excess materialism, it uses the event as a marketing opportunity that 1) benefits the consumers that represent this particular persona and 2) to highlight a core belief of that organization.

According to Forbes, the purpose of the persona for REI was to appeal to its core base of customers. The article notes that in an ideal situation, brands like REI could target a large audience, but given the situation (i.e. the holiday shopping season) it ends up becoming more difficult to market to a wide audience compared to other times of the year. The article highlights how personas in REI’s case can help guide the company during a particular time of the year.

Use of Personas in User-Centered Design

Personas play a major role in marketing because consumers are at the forefront of that industry. The use of personas are not just limited to marketing, but can be extended to interaction design as well. Interaction design, as the name suggests – focuses on the interaction between a product (digital or physical) and the user.

According to – personas are used as a tool in interaction design to add a sense of realism through the consideration of the user. By considering the user, the product whether it be a website or service – ends up being more functional. The Interaction Design Foundation outlines real world examples of good and bad design, and how thinking about the user in the process leads to a better experience. For instance, the Interaction Design Foundation article on personas and design outlines how webpage navigation can be improved when the user is at the core of the design process.

A comparison between a webpage on and one from IDF’s website details how making a destination link can make navigation more clear. In the example above, IDF’s webpage has ‘View Course’ below images while the Lazoroffice webpage has pictures, but no indicator that if you click the image you will be taken to another webpage. Thinking about usability for the user leads to adding characteristics to websites, such as the clear labeling of the destination links as outlined above.

The same article on design with personas also details how adding friction to user actions can be good – in the case of Apple, but also bad – in the case of iFly 50’s webpage has a feature where if you click and hold a button for a few seconds, you will be able to view additional photos of a travel destination. If the user had been considered in the design, then simply being able to click the button instead of holding to view additional photos would have lead to a better experience for the user.

Apple on the other hand, incorporates a good use of friction by making scrolling more difficult at the end of webpages. In the case of Apple, the user was at the focus of the design and ultimately improves usability. If personas are considered in interaction design – a key characteristic of the design should favor functionality over aesthetics (but both if possible). At the end of the day, users do favor functionality, so that should be kept in mind during the design.

Consider the comparison between Bolden’s homepage and Cultivated Wit’s homepage. Bolden’s homepage has a graphic displayed that is difficult to read, and only becomes readable once the user moves the mouse to the corner of the page. Once this is done, a design of “Creators of Great Websites” is revealed, and while this is a clever design – but it is also a bad design in the sense that it is not clear or user-friendly. Contrast that with Cultivated Wilt’s homepage, and there will be a clear difference between a homepage that used a persona in the design and one that did not. When the user moves the mouse over an image of an owl – it winks back. This results in a clever design without sacrificing functionality and overall usability of the website.

The last example of persona use discusses the proper use of animations. The comparison once again highlights how a design that incorporates personas enhances the user experience. In the case of Stripe Checkout’s animation, it regularly provides update as a means to not having the user wait or feel like there is a delay. The goal of the animation is to make the experience feel faster for the user. This animation is successful because of a persona in the overall design.

Users want to feel like everything is running smoothly, so having an animation that provides that assurance enhances the experience. On the flipside of this, is the example of the Paypal receipt on Dribbble. The reason that the animation likely did not involve a persona is because the animation focuses on design rather than functionality. In the case of a receipt, the IDF article illustrating the importance of persona use in design notes that it takes 3.5 seconds to see the details of the transaction. The animation sacrifices functionality for appearance, when that should not be the main focus of this particular design.

The use of personas in interaction design is not just limited to websites. The IDF article on persona use in design discusses information overload in the case of parking signs. In one case, a parking sign was overloaded with information, which made it difficult to discern the information. The ‘good example’ was a parking sign developed by Nikki Sylianteng. Instead of using text, it incorporated visuals that conveyed a very clear message of when parking was available. This last example highlights how personas can be beneficial in interaction design.

By focusing on the needs of the user and considering the challenges they may face (i.e. drivers want to just have a clear yes/no displayed instead of multiple text), better products can be designed. A persona is a part of user-centered designs, which means that something like a website that incorporates this will focus on features of the persona. There are also small differences in the characteristics of a user persona compared to a consumer persona, but the same general principles remain the same in that the consumer/user are always at the forefront.

Conclusion on Persona Use Cases

Personas can be used in many domains, including marketing, design and product development. Their use is more capped by the imagination of designers and marketers than the actual persona profiles. While special care needs to be paid to accuracy of persona profiles in terms of whether they truly capture the needs and wants of the customers, the use of personas provides several tangible benefits for companies and other organizations, as illustrated in this article.

More articles on persona use cases

Want more information? See …

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., Jung, S.G., and Guan, K. (2021). Data-Driven Personas. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics,1 Carroll, J. (Ed). Morgan-Claypool: San Rafael, CA., 4:1, i-317.

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., and Jung, S.G. (2020) Data-Driven Personas for Enhanced User Understanding: Combining Empathy with Rationality for Better Insights to AnalyticsData and Information Management. 4(1), 1-17.

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