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A closer look at Personas

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Approx. 7 minute read

What they are, why they are important, and how they are used

I’ve heard it so often and it is wrong, just plain wrong.

“Everyone is my user!”

I’m going to get it out of the way right now.

No. They are not.

When everyone is your user, no one is your user. To please everyone, you will please no one.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about who your user is.

  • NOTE – the user can be your customer, buyer, product user. They might even be someone in your company.

Your user is the person whose life is better by buying your product or service.

Do you know who this person is?

Do they join you in your decision making process?

What is the user persona?

Xtensio User Persona – Jack Rowland

A user persona is a fictional person that represents a real persons needs and desires. They are used by designers, marketing, and sales to better represent a typical buyer of your product or service.

One of my personas is Nancy.

Nancy is the administrative assistant for a small business CEO. He built his business without a marketing team and thought of the function as a cost overhead. He ends up making Nancy take care of his business’ social media, and talk to the web design agency. On top of scheduling meetings and taking care of the business, she is tasked to take care of marketing because it is important to have a website today.

Nancy is not an actual person, but she represents about 80% of the clients I had in my web design agency. The number of times I heard, “My buddy, Frank, told me I need a website to grow my business.” should’ve made me rich by itself.

Why do we use personas?

Personas are a great way to represent a group of people and talk about solving a real person’s needs.

Originally, in marketing, design, and sales circles, we talked about groups of people as target markets. There is a problem when we speak about groups of people.

Groups of people don’t have a problem to understand. They don’t have a real struggle to overcome. They may have a weighted answer to let us know what they would like as a group.

The news and stories

Aleppo - image by mil.ru
Aleppo – image by mil.ru

Looking at the news, you can see this employed, because telling the story of one person over the struggles of a larger group makes the story more personal.

Consider the story given on the nightly news about the crisis in Syria. The report of the city that has been bombed August 11, 2018 and that 53 civilians including 28 children had been killed. This is a tragic story by itself. But the stats don’t pull at the heart like they had at one time.

A story published on August 27, 2018 by Reuters about Samir Salim, a rescue worker in Syria has a different effect. It starts the first sentence of the article:

Syrian rescue worker Samir Salim found his mother’s body under their collapsed house, but there was no time for a funeral.

Driven from home, White Helmet rescuers start over in north Syria – Khalil Ashawi for Reuters

In my case, the fictitious user, Nancy, represents a real person in a group of users that have challenges, needs, and desires. By creating a person with a story, I am better able to connect with Nancy’s struggles and can make her life better. In doing this, I will have helped a real person, with a hope to also please them.

What’s the best way to define personas?

To define a persona, look first to what you know about your own users. Who are they. What types of jobs are they doing?

If you are an established business, this is easier to do. Start by identifying your current customers. Then add on types of users you would like to attract.

If you are a new business starting off, this will be a little bit of a challenge, but hopefully you considered the types of clients you imagined to be helping.

What jobs are they doing?

What ages are they?

Nancy represents a group of people that do not understand or have an interest in marketing. They are trying to do a job of growing their business and get new clients. They don’t understanding how it is done, only that this is something they need to do, because reasons.

What are the steps for creating a content marketing persona?

After identifying a list of the types of people that are our clients, we pick one and start asking questions that will make them real.

  • Name
  • Age
  • City, State
  • Married/Divorced/Single
  • Do they have kids? Pets?
  • How much do they make?
  • What kind of car do they drive?
  • Do they commute?
  • Where do they work?
  • What car do they like? Ford? Chevy? Mini? Mercedes? VW?
  • Where do they live? Condo? House? Motorhome? Rent? Own?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What are they personal habits?
  • How do they win?
  • How do they lose?

All of these questions and more can help give you a more personal insight into the person you are trying to help.

A look at Nancy

No Marketing Nancy

With Nancy, she is 37 years old and works as an executive assistant for the CEO of a company that sells hard to find repurposed test equipment.

She has created some business opportunities through online sales websites and auction houses. Nancy maintains a list of equipment for sale and has an email form that lets her know what people might need for their labs and assembly lines.

Divorced with two teenage sons that live with her full time, Nancy gets them to school and makes time for them and their sports.

Nancy lives in an with a roommate in apartment after the rent on her house increased to $2500/mo. She is making $48,000/yr and struggles with the bills, though she can now share the cost with another.

Nancy would love to save for her kids to go to college, but knows that is not really an option for her and stays on them to qualify for a scholarship.

As you can see, this simple write up gives a more personal flavor to Nancy’s needs and helps me to better understand how I can make her life better.

(Hollywood movie disclaimer – any likeness you feel is accurate to your own life, realize it is merely circumstantial as this is a sampling of quite a large number of people.)

Are there any templates available to create user personas?

Are there any templates available? Yes.

You can find a great tool at Xtensio and, in fact have some great general user personas of their own, including Clark Andrews

I use Xtensio myself for some of my clients because I can put the User Personas together with Lean Canvas business plans and other tool templates and document the process.

Why do buyer personas fail?

An organization that doesn’t buy into using personas is leaving a possible fan frustrated.

Buyer personas will fail if you aren’t careful in their use or creation.

Largely personas won’t work if they are created only to be ignored. They can end up being ignored for the same reason the 100 page business plan likely is ignored – the value isn’t seen.

  • leadership of the company doesn’t see the value
  • created without input and buy in from others
  • forced upon others in the company
  • no understanding of what a persona is, or why they are important
  • there should be a clearly defined goal for their use
    • marketing
    • ux
    • sales

Know that if the personas are failing, they don’t need to stay that way. Understand why it is failing and address it.

How to use personas in your projects

Personas can be used for a number of things, each with their own end goal.

UX Designers

UX Designers use personas to identify how a user will interact with the product.

Consider OXO. OXO is New York based manufacturer that makes kitchen utensils, office supplies and household goods. In the kitchen, they had a goal in mind – to make products that make it easy with grip issues to use. Can openers that are easy to use for the arthritic comes to mind.


Getting exposure to a demographic is what marketing does best. They do this through connecting to the audience with emotion. The conundrum comes down to how to connect emotionally when a demographic doesn’t have an emotion.

I’ve seen a group go with what goes for the CEO’s daughter. The age group was right. The gender was correct. The interests were way off. This was a website for a person into pop culture. The CEO’s daughter was a goth.


The User Persona for Sales is a close relation to the Marketing Persona. Where Marketing educates the persona about the product and the company, Sales nurtures and identifies the final journey into making a sale.

The Buyer Persona is used to help identify if the persona will be a good fit as a buyer, help the buyer answer their questions and qualify themselves. It helps to comfort the buyer into making the final purchase decision.


A persona is one of many tools that can be employed to help drive your business to scale when used and used properly.

Those who find success with personas did so because the company embraced the use. I heard one company asked what Barbara would thing about the choices. The person running the strategy meeting finally asked who Barbara was and why she wasn’t there.

I’ve also heard it rumored that Jeff Bezos of Amazon will leave an empty chair right up front so everyone is reminded about the person not in the room – the customer.

In the near future, I will publish a user persona template for you to fill out. I may even create a tool that will take you through the process of filling it out in the same guided manner I do with my clients.

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