Who are you writing for? Giving user personas a personality

When you’re deciding who to market your business to, who do you picture? Millennials, gen xers and baby boomers? Or do you create user personas that are a little (or a lot) more precise?

By being specific (and creative) with your user personas, you can avoid a stale tone of voice. And steer clear of ineffectual, vague website copy.

Here’s a brief rundown of how and why we like to shake up our user personas – creating believable people rather than stereotypes. Yep, this applies to both B2C and B2B.

Why should I give user personas a personality?

Indulged in any day time telly lately? If you have, you’ll be familiar with the introductions on game shows like The Chase:

“Hello, I’m Sally, a 25-year-old photographer from Kent!” *Cue audience applause*

Doesn’t exactly give much away.

To really get inside someone’s head, we need to know much more about them than just their name, age and job title. Yet so many user personas tell us little more than that.

Who are you, Sally? What keeps you awake at night?!

Without understanding and empathy for Sally, we’re really just guessing at how to communicate with her.

Being specific isn’t always exclusionary

Of course, there’s a fine line between being targeted and being exclusionary. There’s also a fine line between being exclusionary and exclusive – but that’s a topic for another day.

Targeting a specific audience doesn’t mean we have to create a tone of voice that makes people feel left out.

By keeping language clear and accessible, we can prevent excluding those we’re not specifically targeting.

Say I mainly wanted to sell a pair of shorts to James – a 20-something banker who loves paintball and is training to run a marathon.

I wouldn’t then market those shorts as “for millenials.”

Why not? First, I sound horribly cliché. Second, I risk putting off a bunch of other people. Not least because everyone seems to have a different definition of “a millenial.”

Importantly, I risk seriously cutting down the number of people who will use, promote, talk about, share, or recommend those shorts.

Yes, go ahead and target people born between 1980 and 2000 (is that even the right bracket – nobody knows) – just be smart about it.

Like this…

User personas: building a framework

When we’re building user personas, we ask clients to picture three to four people who would use their products or services.

For each person, we might discuss:

  • Age
  • Education level
  • Professional background
  • Level of relevant work experience
  • How they’ll find the website
  • Their needs, interest and goals on the website
  • Expectations and assumptions
  • Where else they go for information
  • When and where they’ll access the site
  • Device(s) they use
  • Motivations in life
  • Life goals
  • Website must haves

It’s about the discussion and forming a complex picture of the users, rather than giving the “right” answers.

There are often extra discussion points specific to each project too. For example, we might need to know the level of technical ability a user has. Or we may need to consider their literacy.

The aim is to discuss in detail who the users are as people, while also understanding how they’re likely to interact with the business or organisation we’re writing for.

User personas: building a personality

After we’ve gathered plenty of detail, we can start building our personas into personalities.

This clearly leaves a lot of room for creativity.

To give you an idea of what this process might look like, I’ve included an example below. This is a blogger user persona from some conference marketing I worked on previously.

Firstly, some (brief) highlights from our discussions, based on that framework above:

Age: 20-28

Education level: University and/or self taught

Professional background: Blogger with a day job

Level of work experience: Low to medium

Why are they on the site: needs, interest, goals?: Finding detailed information, how to get a ticket, prices

How will they find the site?: Social media or local press

Expectations: Quick to find information about the event and easy to understand what it’s about and how to go

Assumptions: Could incorrectly assume it’s too technical or intimidating – we need to prove it’s not

Where else will they go for information?: Social media, blogs

When and where do they access the site?: On the go via mobile or at work

Device(s) they use: Mobile, desktop, maybe tablet

General motivation: Improve skills and knowledge

What are their goals in life?: Self promotion, advancing their career

Must haves: To know when, where and how much. Buy a ticket. Sign up for updates

Alex Knott was born from this discussion. She represents one of five user personas we targeted for the conference:

Alex Knott

PR manager and part-time blogger

Alex is a local PR manager, while running a successful blog on the side. Alex’s website is on WordPress.com but she wants to have more control over what she can do with it. So she’s learning to code at codebar Brighton, with plans to move over to WordPress.org and build the site of her dreams.

Alex first heard about WordCamp on Twitter but she’s a bit unsure about coming along. She’s worried she’ll be out of her depth at a conference all about web development and also that, as a woman, she’ll be in the minority.

Although she’s just learning to code, Alex has loads of marketing experience. So she’s open minded and her interests are wide ranging. Apart from learning more about WordPress development, she also wants to expand her knowledge of content and SEO. She’s also very sociable and keen to get involved with the local WordPress community – as long as she’ll fit in. She hopes by expanding her horizons, it’ll help advance her career and improve her own blog.

User personas in practice

Anytime we wrote copy for the conference, we were sure to calm Alex’s worries and build her excitement about the event. More broadly, we were able to choose the right marketing channels to make sure she found out about the event in the first place.

User personas also give us all sorts of other clues – for example we can use them when we’re planning a content strategy, helping us figure out how users might progress through a website.

Whether you feel the need to include a photo to accompany your personas will depend on your project. I find photos to be especially useful when we’re asking an organisation to write for someone they haven’t before.

Well that was a very brief overview of how we create user personas.

Whatever your marketing project – whether that’s a website and all it’s related content, or even just a single blog post – the more you know about the personalities behind your personas, the easier you’ll find connecting with your target audience.

To discover the personalities behind your user personas, get in touch.

NZBN: 9429047543751