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Empathizing with your customer in a piece of paper: How to make effective personas?

A persona is a simple tool that helps innovation teams describe potential target customers at a “human” level. It pushes teams to “step in the shoes” of their customers and to better understand their needs and behavior. Hence, an increasing number of our clients use them to stimulate a customer-centric approach to ideation and innovation.

What is it?

The persona is a description of a customer segment that helps you visualize key characteristics of such customers in a self-contained one-pager. A persona looks as follows:

How to make a persona?

In order to design effective personas, you need to start from observing or talking with customers (what we call “field observations”). For instance, you can start by talking with a few customers, or with colleagues or personal contacts who know customers well (e.g., sales people; front-line employees; etc).

Next, you need to translate such “field observations” into organized customer stories. For example, you can organize the insights gathered from your talks in interview transcripts and systematically capture your insights and observations into a list of “customer insights”.

Armed with such “customer insights”, you are then ready to build your “persona”, simply by recording all meaningful insights about the customer being described in the eight “boxes” of the persona template.

To better understand the personas tool, please check the video below where we describe how to fill in each of these boxes:

This video is property of MTI².

1. Persona picture/sketch: Start by including a picture or “sketch” of the archetypical customer you are describing. This is important to make the persona focused and practical. Visualizing a typical customer also helps you empathize with the customer, which is key to trigger a customer-centric mindset.

2. Persona description: In the next box, you should include a clear and short description of that customer archetype to complement the visual depiction above. This should be brief but critical information about such customer archetype. In B2C contexts that may include demographics, function, typical behaviors, traits, income, etc. In B2B contexts that may include actual names (of decision-makers, or companies) as well as precise descriptions of the type of company (sector, location, size, and any other valuable information).

3. Quotes: You can use the last box in the leftmost column to include a quote or quotes from the customer archetype you are describing. Such quotes help make the customer needs “come to life”. The quote should help explaining either a major pain point (e.g., “I wish I did not have to do X every day, it costs me so much emotional energy and time…”), or benefit sought (e.g., “For several years now that I am searching for a faster/better way to do X …”) by this archetypical customer.

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4. My Typical Day: Going to the second column, you can then start explaining the typical day of the archetypical customer. This requires you to summarize, in a few words, what these customers typically go through in a standard day. Describing a typical day (“At 8 AM, I typically do X… At 10 AM, I do Y…”) forces you to start unraveling the customer experience in a more precise manner. Visualizing a typical day brings you to a new layer of understanding the needs of the customers you want to target and offer a valuable solution to improve their typical day.

5. The Experience I Want: The discussion in the previous boxes should also naturally be followed with a description of the “ideal customer experience”. This description should also be written as “through the eyes of the customer”. To fill in this box, ask yourself questions such as “What would the customer want to achieve?” and “What would be their optimal product or service?”.

6. Context: This middle column is complete with the context box at the bottom. In the context box you can include any other information that helps understand the situation in which the customer is operating. This includes any contextual details of their industry, company, personal situation, etc. In other words, any context factors that you deem important and that were not yet covered in previous boxes can be described here.

7. My Frustrations: In the third column, we turn to a synthesis of the customer insights into “needs” or “pain points” (here) and “benefits sought” (in the next box). Here, in the “my frustrations” box, the idea is to summarize the key pain points. It is important to prioritize (i.e., include, say, the three most important frustrations the customer has) and to describe those pain points using actionable wording (for example, “X is annoying” is less actionable than “X is slow” or “X is too inaccurate”). This box helps you connect the persona tool to other tools, such as the idea napkins tool, for example.

8. My Goals: The last box is then the customer goals, or in other words, the benefits sought. Also here it’s important to prioritize and use actionable wording. What do customers ultimately want to achieve. This also connects to “gains” from the empathy maps.

Why do it?

But, what are the benefits of personas for an innovation team. The figure below summarizes four key benefits we have observed over and over with innovation teams with whom we work.

To Conclude

It is very important to understand and try to empathize with your potential customers at a practical and “human” level. Personas force you to drill down at this personal level, thereby helping you achieve these goals.

We described here a pretty general persona template that we use to in early-stage ideation workshops and processes. Depending on the context of each specific company, in an actual ideation and innovation trajectory, we customize tools like the personas and combine them with many other tools and frameworks to allow us to maximize impact.

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