Creating Personas from Data
At Qatar Computing Research Institute, our persona team has developed a system for automatic persona generation (APG). The demo of this persona system is available online, and we have also posted about the various benefits of data-driven personas.
As a part of our persona research, we are interested in the information needs of persona end users. This means that professionals working in different domains want to have specific information in persona profiles. For example, journalists want to know what type of news topics the persona consumes, while online marketers want to know what products the personas is likely to buy.
Although our approach of automatic persona generation is based on automation and various computational techniques of persona development, we have reviewed a lot of blog posts and research articles relating to interviewing users or customers in order to create persona profiles.
This brief post shares some of the key insights we’ve found.
End Users’ Information Needs Define Persona Content
Personas are fictive people profiles based on real data about the underlying audience, user or customer base. The purpose of personas is to make the users behavior more easily understandable than when analyzing numbers and graphs (i.e., “faceless” target group information).
In general, when creating personas, there is a need for two types of information:
- Information needs of persona users: this means what information people inside our organization want to know
- Actual user information: this means what information we can know about the users or customers
Persona Information Needs Questionnaire
For the former, we have developed a Persona Information Needs Questionnaire. This simple questionnaire intends to clarify what information decision makers want in the persona profiles. It contains eight questions that are targeted to end users of personas:
- What are your general job objectives?
- What kind of customer- or user-related decisions you make?
- What kind of customer or user information do you need?
- What analytics information are you currently using?
- What kind of customer- or user-related questions are currently not answered using the available data?
- How would you use personas in your own work?
- What information you find useful in a persona profile?
- (OPTIONAL: What information is missing from the shown persona profile?)
The purpose of these questions is to discover the persona user’s professional persona information needs. Knowing these needs is useful for creation of data-driven personas, e.g., automatic persona generation, but also extends to qualitative persona creation.
Interview Questions for Users or Customers that the Personas Represent
In the following, we summarize some questions that are intended for the actual users or customers of an organization creating the persona profiles.
First, “Nisha” (2013) writes about the differences of customer profiling and persona creation, and presents the following questions:
“Questions for B2B marketers to delve into while creating buyer personas include:
- Buyer experience and reporting officer of the prospect
- Professional background of the prospect
- Kind of organization
- Organizations’ segment focus
- History of purchases
- Change in role in past few years
- Market forces influencing buyers
- Most urgent problems
- What funded initiatives does the buyer have
- What are the motivations that drive the buyer
- What the buyer’s needs?
- What is the budget?
- Who are involved in the decision-making?
- Attitude of the company towards the product/service
In a similar vein, Steve Cartwright (2015) writes about persona creation:
“I know that when I am preparing buyer personas I have a whole heap of questions that I ask in fact I have a PowerPoint I go through with clients, this enables me to generate the personas that I need. However, if you start by simply asking:
- Who are they?
- What do these people do?
- Are they married, singles, living with a partner?
- What problems or concerns do they have, that your industry niche can solve?
- Where do they hang out and what do they do online?
- Are these people decision makers, influencers or referral sources?
Just those six questions are all you need to get started and to start to understand who you’re customers are and to turn your business into a customer centric one.”
Jesse Ness (2016) list various types of persona creation questions, in particular for the creation of e-commerce personas.
These are the most basic questions that you should be asking your target customers, such as:
- Are they married?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- Do they have children? How many? What ages?
- Which country/city did they grow up in?
- Education questions:
Our early school and college education help us shape as adults. People usually tend to answer these questions more honestly.
- What level of education did they complete?
- Which schools did they attend? Public or Private?
- What did they study?
- Were they popular at school?
- Which extra-curricular activities (if any) did they take part in?
- Career questions:
Questions about the working life of your prospects reveals a lot of interesting details about them.
- What industry do they work in?
- What is their current job level?
- What was their first full-time job?
- How did they end up where they are today?
- Has their career track been traditional or did they switch from another industry?
- Financial questions:
Your customers finances will tell you what they can afford and how easily they make their purchasing decisions.
- How often you buy high ticket items?
- How much are they worth?
- Are they responsible for making purchasing decision in the household?
Keep in mind that people tend to answer financial questions incorrectly, even in anonymous online surveys. Some might even construe this as an invasion of their privacy. Temper your results accordingly (usually by decreasing the stated average income).”
Ardath Ablee (2013) points out the importance of clarifying the persona’s motivations when creating a persona profile:
“… not just any kind of interview will do. The conversations must be focused on what the buyer is trying to achieve.
- What’s important to them and what’s driving the change?
- What’s impeding or speeding their need to change?
- How do they go about change?
- What do they need to know to embrace change?
- Who do they turn to for advice or information?
- What’s the value they visualize once they make a decision?
- Who do they have to sell change to in order to get it?
- What could cause the need for this change to lose priority?
In essence, personas must help us identify how we can help buyers manage and expedite change. That’s really what buying is all about.”
Conclusion of Persona Creation via Interview Questions
There is a myriad of interview questions one can ask from the users or customers when creating persona profiles. However, these questions, as well as the actual content of the persona profiles, should be based on validated information needs of the end users of personas. For the persona creation process, the questions listed here serve as useful inspiration.
Jansen, B. J., Jung, S. G., Nielsen, L., Guan, K., & Salminen, J. (2022). Strengths and Weaknesses of Three Common Approaches for the Creation of Personas: Strategies and Opportunities for Practical Employment. Pacific Asia Journal of the Association for Information Systems. 4(3), Article 1.
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 Analytics. Data and Information Management. 4(1), 1-17. https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/dim/4/1/article-p1.xml