How 6 Letters Created a Shared Vision of Our End User

(originally posted on the 50onRed blog)

Bob and Max. In a span of three short weeks, these two names have become commonplace around our office, even though nobody named Bob or Max works here. So, who are these mysterious enigmas? Bob and Max are the personas we defined to identify our primary customers across internal teams so we can better cater to their needs. (Note: Bob and Max are completely fictitious names.)

“So, who are these mysterious enigmas?”

What are personas?

Quite simply, personas embody the characteristics of your primary end user. A persona applies to a group of users with common behaviors, needs, and goals. A good persona represents someone who uses your product often and would be an advocate for your product in their circles. Each persona should be differentiated by distinct goals and needs.

Here at 50onRed, we have an established user base. Because most team members had only a vague sense of our customer, it was hard to answer the question, “Who is our platform built for?”. The end user was difficult to pinpoint, and, by developing personas, we solved this issue. Having an agreed upon set of personas helps expose the core customers, which keeps the entire team on the same page in cases where we’re, say, analyzing usage data or planning product enhancements.

How do I find personas in my user base?

For an existing product, the first personas you identify should be a large and influential proportion of your user base. The personas that we chose account for a large majority of user volume and user revenue. We didn’t account for all use cases, but this is an iterative process.

We’ll use the 50onRed Traffic Platform as a case study. The core of user studies that shaped our personas were interviews. There’s no better way to do first-person research than reaching out and talking directly to your end users. It’s important to interview a variety of users. To get an accurate idea of who our users are, we spoke with users who were spending a lot on our platform, users who were spending a little, and even Account Managers and internal administrators who work closely with our users and know the product well.

But don’t just settle for interviews as your sole source of information. In our case, stepping into the shoes of our user and taking our product for a test run allowed us to gain invaluable insight into the mind of our user. Scouring industry forums for common questions our users were asking gave us a sense of the problems the overall population of our end user encounters, at a scale that talking to just a handful of users can’t achieve quite as well.

We were also able to take advantage of a plethora of data to identify usage trends and commonalities in our users’ behavior. If you have a new product or company, you may not have this luxury. For a new product, talk to who you think your end users will be, and closely examine your competitors’ products. Look for feedback from their users in blog posts or online reviews. It’s all about knowing your customers and establishing that unique product/market fit.

There are many creative ways to learn more about your users. Think outside the box!

How are we using our personas?

In the words of Peter Drucker, who has been described as the founder of modern management, “The aim . . . is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” This is our end goal, and personas are just the first stepping stone toward that.

Three weeks ago, we cemented the use of Bob and Max. While these aren’t representative of a single end user, they give the entire team a common image of the customer we’re building our product for. And that shared vision is an important part of a company.

Nowadays, you can hear ridiculous sounding phrases like, “I’d say that’s a Bob, alright.” or “He’s a Max exhibiting Bob-like behaviors.” Bob and Max are taking over our everyday conversations. And that’s a huge step.

“He’s a Max exhibiting Bob-like behaviors.”

Some fantastic resources…

As I learned more about discovering personas, I stumbled upon two great resources:

The best advice I got from these resources is attaching a face to a persona. It seems like a trivial task, but being able to visualize what characteristics fit which faces allows team members to more easily recall those characteristics. Who’s going to remember a name without a face?

Besides, we like to hang our work on the walls at 50onRed, so adding fun faces to the persona descriptions we put up was a must. It’s all part of the process!