On tasks and value of personas

Hi all!

Here are three axioms about personas:

  1. The value of personas is difficult to prove.
  2. The value of personas is likely to depend on the specific task.
  3. The value of personas can be direct or indirect.

By the first one, I mean that personas is an analytics approach. How do you prove that analytics work? We all seem to think so, but how to prove it?

Also, you can see personas as user or customer understanding technique. Again, how do you prove that customer understanding is valuable? We would like to think it is — it almost certainly is! — but proving that is difficult.

Secondly, there are different tasks. Consider marketing, you have at least:

  • segmenting
  • targeting
  • positioning
  • copywriting
  • analytics
  • optimization
  • channel selection
  • budget allocation
  • pricing

Are personas useful in all of them? Maybe not. They might be useful in many of them, though, although in different quantities. In segmenting, personas seem very relevant and useful. Also in copywriting. But are they useful in budget allocation across marketing channels? Maybe less so.

Thirdly, my argument is that personas can bring direct value to decision-makers using them and also indirect value to the customers using the products designed using personas, as well as the organization obtaining better results because of better results from better products designed using personas. So, there is a “chain of value” going from the immediate circumstance of using the personas in design, marketing, development, etc., to the users of products and ultimately to the company making the products.

Again, proving this chain of value is extremely difficult, partly because personas are *one* factor at play, among many many others. Personas’ contribution can be positive but it is not necessarily decisive. Any number of factors, ranging from designers’ individual talent to timing (luck), competition, and macro-economics can affect user behavior and product adoption. So, teasing out the effect of personas in this process remains extremely challenging. Nonetheless, research attempting that goal is valuable.