What is a persona in software development?

A persona, first introduced by Alan Cooper, defines an archetypical user of a system, an example of the kind of person who would interact with it. The idea is that if you want to design effective software, then it needs to be designed for a specific person.

The purpose of creating personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference. They should be based on qualitative and some quantitative user research and web analytics, your personas are only as good as the research behind them, so knowing them well, will mean your software will be a success. 

Building customer personas will help teams to address the following questions:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What are the common behavioural patterns?
  • What are their shared pain points (professional and personal)?
  • What are their universal goals/objectives?
  • What general demographic and psychographic information may influence their decisions?
  • What drives them to make purchasing decisions?
  • Is the customer the buyer/decision-maker?

Why are personas important in software development?

Here are a few reasons why knowing your customer persona is so important.

Customer Personas help identify customer-specific needs and wants:

  • Knowing your customer persona ensures that Product Managers, Designers, Developers (and anyone else involved in your software development build) are delivering solutions that address the real user challenges.

Personas provide a face” to the user story:

  • This helps the team have a shared understanding of who their customers are and creates buy-in and empathy.

Targeted/Segmented marketing communications:

  • Understanding your customer’s needs, challenges and behavioural influencers, allows you to better understand the content that will appeal to them the most, by segmenting your customer groups by persona type and tailoring your marketing communications to each specific group.

When it comes to identifying your customer persona there are a number of discovery questions you need to address:

Location: where do they live?
Age: what is the average age/age range of this persona?
Gender: what does your persona identify as?
Relationship Status: Single/Married/Children?
Interests: what are the general interests of people in this persona?
Language: what is their primary language?
Favourite Websites: where do people in this persona go to learn new information?
Education: what level of education do they have?
Job Title: what is/are typical job titles for people in this persona?
Responsibilities: what does a typical workday look like for people in this persona?
Frustrations: biggest challenges for people in this persona?
Motivations: what motivates people in this persona to be successful?
Personal/Professional Goals: what do they wish to achieve?

Once you have the above clarified you can start to build and define your customer personas – as a business, you will have a rough idea of your customer personas through knowledge that has been accumulated over time and based on feedback provided by your customers including support requests, customer service conversations and market research.

The importance of this knowledge should not be underestimated, it is a great starting point before taking a deeper delve into your personas by looking at your analytics. It could be that you have a number of persona types as a customer – for example, you could have an ‘end consumer’ – someone buying for themselves and a ‘wholesale’ customer – wholesale buyers purchasing on behalf of businesses that will stock the product in their own stores.

Now it is time to build on these personas to humanise them and get a better understanding of their holistic relationship with your product. 

After establishing at least a few customer personas, its time to flesh them out with qualitative and quantitative data, which can be found by looking at:

  • Google Analytics Audience Reports
  • Industry/Market Reports
  • Social Media Listening Tools 
  • Facebook Insights
  • Customer Surveys & Polls
  • Customer Interviews/Support & Feature Requests (note: you should have a streamlined way of capturing and sharing this information with your team)
  • In-Product Analytics. 

The information you gather from the above information should help to answer some of your discovery questions you will also need to find commonality between datasets.

This means the personas you have broadly defined are part of a funnel – once you have found commonality between datasets make sure you feed this information down the funeral of the customer persona it relates to (this could be a completely new persona that you never even knew you had!). After you have finally completed this exercise you should have a well-defined idea of who your customers are and how to best serve them, communicate with them and build solutions for them. It is important that once your customer personas have been developed they should be shared with the whole team for reference.  

Do you have a project in mind?