The Perfect Persona - Are Your Personas Fit For Purpose?

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Dr Dave Chaffey talks customer personas. How effective are yours? Find out more about what Dave recommends.

I've been a big fan of using customer personas to help make marketing more customer-centric for a long time. In fact, since around 2003, when I was introduced to them on a consulting / training project by Matt Dooley, a customer experience manager in the HSBC Global E-business team.

Since then, personas have become much more widely used by companies of all sizes and types. But also widely abused! From examples I've seen, it seems smaller companies or their agencies often don't have the time to research or define them in the detail needed for them to be useful, when applied to inform new website designs or content strategies.

I've also been asked, on projects to help "operationalize" personas, in other words to make them actionable in the real world, to improve web designs and communications. So, in this post, I share some of the practical ways to make personas more useful. In this companion article, I define personas with B2B and B2C examples.

To start considering what makes an effective persona, here's a great persona mnemonic created by User Focus that summarises the attributes of a good persona well.

  • Primary researchbased on contextual interviews with real people
  • Empathy - relate to a real person using name, photograph and empathy
  • Realisticcan people who deal with users day-to-day relate to the persona?
  • Singular - is each persona unique, having little in common with other personas?
  • Objectives - does the persona include persona goals in their buying process, life or career?
  • Number - is the number of personas small enough for the design team to remember the name of each one, but sufficient to be representative?
  • Applicabledoes the persona have the detail needed to take design decisions?

Of these, I think the first, third and final features are the most important.

A 10-point checklist of persona practices

Based on my experience of reviewing personas in many different types of business, here are my recommendations of common components of personas you should consider, depending on the budget you have available to research and define them.

I've used these to create this recommended layout for a persona and examples available in the customer persona guide:

Model persona layout

Let's run through them. We will use this HubSpot primary persona as an example:










Note that this will work fine as a summary persona. However, it isn't sufficiently detailed to inform website design and content creation.

1. name

It’s usual to give personas a name to refer to them as shorthand within a team. Obvious, but I've seen some without, which will harm adoption.

Example: "Mary"

2. label

It helps to give a label summarising the characteristics too.

Example: "Marketing Mary"

3. Label Demographic Characteristics

For example, age, gender, social group.

Example: "42, married, 2 kids of high school age"

4. Goals or Motivations

These can be in the context of reasons for using a service, or more general life goals.

Tip: Use narratives to describe the context. Narratives and quotes can help bring personas to life, as the more detailed examples in our persona guide show.

5. Challenges, Barriers or Pain Points

A summary of the need for a product or service. Which factors will drive purchase?

Note: These key messages will be used to influence the purchase decision based on understanding motivations, pain points and countering objections.

6. Buying Decision behaviours

Different personality types may affect the speed of decision-making, or the type of information used to take the decision.

Example: The next sections shows four decision behaviours that are useful to consider for decision making.

7. Information needs

Related to buyer behaviour, the information used to take decisions. This can be summarised on a content-mental model map.

8. Platform usage

For example, use of device type or social network, usually in the context of purchase.

Example: "Uses a desktop computer at work, rarely uses a smartphone for work decisions, instead uses it mainly for email"

9. Customer Journey Maps

Often considered a separate technique, but for me an essential part of the persona to make them operational so they can be applied to improve content and site design. There are more examples shown in our persona guide.

Example: This customer journey example, also from HubSpot shows how by defining three simple stages you can consider the search keywords, content types and tools your audience may be looking for.

10. Perceptions

Perceptions of need for product, service or competitors which can be plotted on a perceptual map.


That's it, a lot of insight to include potentially! I hope you find this checklist useful and that it gives you some food for thought as to how you can improve your personas.

If you'd like to learn more from Dr Dave himself, or find out more about the services we offer, get in touch today.

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