Sometimes in life there are basic principles we understand and utilize daily, but forget (or refuse) to carry into the business world. Why is this? We interact with people in our personal lives…we interact with people in our professional lives. We aim to please, achieve goals, and create unique, fulfilling interactions in both, right?

Case in point:

User Personas. The idea behind this concept is to create representations of your key audience types, based on research, in order to focus on their major needs to ensure they have a satisfying, ongoing, and hopefully profitable, experience with your company.

How is this like real life? And is there a real life counterpart? There is.  It’s called party planning.

What You Can Learn from Party Planning

Let’s say your best friend’s birthday is rolling around and you want to throw a big bash. Maybe your idea is to host an elegant evening dinner where you serve filet mignon paired with your favorite wine, or an 80s theme night so you have an excuse to wear “that outfit” again. Then you talk to your friend and realize the guest list includes children, their elderly grandparents, and a handful of vegetarian friends. That fiesta just took a turn.

We can still have fun and drink (less!) but now we must reconsider the time and place. We must provide beverages for all ages (hello juice boxes), create a “kids” table, and make sure we have options for our non-meat loving guests. Do we HAVE to change things to accommodate our guest list? No. Will your guests appreciate (and likely want to come again because of) the inclusive efforts you made? Yes. Those vegetarian buddies will comment on the awesome cheese dip, the moms will thank you for having something for their kids, and Grandma and Grandpa will count their lucky stars to be able to stay for the whole party and still get home in time for “Matlock.”

Party planning works when you accommodate the needs of the guests. In marketing, User Personas work in much the same way. Are they absolutely necessary? No. But do they create the possibility for an improved experience? Yes. Improved experiences lead to better relationships. And better relationships make way for clear communication, needs being met, and profitable end goals.

So What Exactly is a User Persona?


User personas are representations of the major user groups that utilize your website, buy your products, or solicit your services. They reflect the primary needs and expectations of the most significant user groups to your company. When it comes to digital marketing, user personas help reveal how individuals will most likely use your site and allow you to determine what functionality is required to achieve that. They are based on user research, so the more accurate the information the more relevant it will be. It is generally suggested to create 3-5 personas, each considering the following elements:

  • Persona Group (i.e. web manager or commercial consumer)
  • Fictional name
  • Job titles and major responsibilities (if your company is B2B)
  • Demographics such as age, education, ethnicity, and family status
  • The goals and tasks they are trying to complete using the site
  • Their physical, social, and technological environment
  • A quote that sums up what matters most to the persona as it relates to your site
  • Casual pictures representing that user group

There’s that party hosting analogy again. Knowing your guests at large is important. Who is coming? What are their age ranges? Married? Kids? What do they do for work? Music preferences? Interests? Every hostess will tell you knowing your audience is the beginning to a memorable event.

How Do User Personas Benefit You?

User Personas give you a focused look into your main audiences. They allow you to see their goals, challenges, needs, and behaviors – and to anticipate how they may react. This is key when you are designing or strategizing with your team. Imagine you are brainstorming on a new layout or functionality; if you have key figures to base your designs or decisions on, it eliminates the risk of “designing for the designer.” Don’t waste time creating features the persona would never need or use, and or fall into the trap of making numerous changes every time a client suggests it because of poor planning on your part.

Some might argue that User Personas limit your audience. How could you base design decisions on five core “people” when you service so many?

“Widening your target doesn’t improve your aim.”Alan Cooper
According to Eeva Ilama of UX Booth, Alan Cooper put it best when he said, “Widening your target doesn’t improve your aim.” In other words, broadening your product to appeal to the masses isn’t really fully satisfying to anyone. Cooper went on to say that, “When you design for your primary persona, you end up delighting your primary persona and satisfying your secondary persona(s). If you design for everyone, you delight no one. That is the recipe for a mediocre product.”

Wouldn’t it be better to have your most important dinner guests rave about your attention to detail and the amazing time they had than to have all the attendees say it was an OK party? Plus we all know that when a few key people like something, others follow. That’s just life.

How Do You Make User Personas Work for You?

User Personas are only going to benefit you if you use them consistently. This means taking time to incorporate them into the decision making in your company. Successful businesses strategically utilize personas as the norm. For instance, in a brainstorming meeting you would reference Persona A, let’s call her Jillian. You consider her background, look at her profile, and suggest designs relevant to her. Rather than use go-to ideas or strategies that worked in the past, you focus on marketing to Jillian right now.

Look at your guest list. If one-third of them are vegetarians, serving your Top Chef-inspired, never-fail Grade A beef recipe ain’t winning them over! You must always keep your users (or guests) in mind. React to their needs, not your preferences.

Likewise, you must be current with your Personas. If you want them to work for you, make sure they are dynamic and evolving. The Jillian of five years ago may have loved the functionality of your site, but times have changed. Her job requirements grew, technology has advanced, and her needs have evolved. Make sure your data is relevant and up to date when creating Personas. I’m not saying alter them all the time, but consider trend fluctuations in your clientele and make note of substantial changes.

No matter how great the your first party was, you wouldn’t serve the same food and or do the exact same thing at the next one, would are you?

User Personas are practical, relevant, and can improve user experiences. A happy user will return, tell others, and could be a profitable conduit in future projects. And isn’t that our goal in marketing, anyway? Retainer clients…new clients…money making clients. So channel your inner party planner and get to hosting.