ITR8 Life
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Getting to know your customers… target groups vs. personas.

For anyone developing a product or service, it is crucial to have an understanding of your customers’ needs, wants and behaviour. It is the key to creating products that make a difference.

So how to get up close and personal? There are several approaches you could take, depending on your time/budget restrictions. From broad target groups to well-researched personas, here are a few methods to consider, as defined by ITR8 Senior Product Manager Jan Eric Kühne.

Target groups

Target groups describe a selection of people with more or less similar characteristics.

Target groups describe people with similar traits.

For example, “female, upper middle class, 35–45 years old.”

Supporting information is often added using labels such as ‘opinion leaders’, to indicate the group’s role in society.

Usually a target group can be described with just a few bullet points. These details provide a rough understanding of what your users look like, however they are still very vague.

Quantitative data

Target groups are based on quantitative data, usually a mixture from primary market research and customer contact, as well as data from secondary research or a competitor analysis.

Target groups define current and/or future users. Depending on the complexity of a product, there may be one to five different target groups, which are mainly used in marketing and market research.

These definitions add only limited value to product development, as they are often too broad in their definitions.


Personas always describe a fictional user, along with their needs and goals in a certain context. To make this fictional character tangible it is supplemented by a short story.

Personas always describe a fictional user.

The concept of personas was established by an software developer, Alan Cooper. He wanted to have a better grasp on the users for whom he was developing his software. Today they are mostly used in usability/UX, and have recently started to be used in marketing as ‘buyer personas’.

The value of personas is that you can put yourself in their shoes in the different stages of product development, to see usability and functionality from their perspective. At ITR8, we like to pin our personas next to our storyboards so we are constantly referring back to them.

Two examples of personas.

Qualitative data

Even though they are fictional, personas are based on qualitative research within the target group of the product. The data is gathered by interviewing real users and/or observing them in their natural environment.

These findings are summarised and analysed until distinguishable characteristics for individual personas arise. For example, one segment of the target group might be afraid of technology, while the other segment could be tech experts.

In most cases, two to three personas are created, though there may in fact be more personas for any one product. For more complex products, it may make sense to create multiple sets of personas for different contexts of use. Using Medium as an example, it could make sense to create sets of personas for Medium readers, writers and technical/support staff.

In addition, distinction between the personas is not based on external features, such as socio-economic class, but rather by meaningful characteristics such as personal likes, dislikes or habits.

Proto personas

Proto personas are similar to personas, however are developed using a quicker research process. Often due to budget or time restrictions, it can be hard to get qualitative insights from direct user contact.

Proto personas use a quicker research process.

Therefore, proto personas are developed from qualitative interviews with representatives of user groups within the company. It is best to choose the people that have the closest contact to the users, who can assess and describe them best.

For example, an employee in customer service or sales can describe user behaviour with enough detail to provide valuable data. In these cases it is also beneficial to supplement interview insights with quantitative data from market research.

Still not sure which method to use?

While there are no hard and fast rules around which method is best, here’s how we would break it down if you want to get closer your users…

Need in-depth user understanding? Use personas.

Running short on time/money? Go for proto personas.

Is the product already developed? Target groups are fine.

At ITR8, we use personas when developing products, as we feel it is the most accurate way of representing users and their mindset. Want help with your user research? We have a team of experts… get in touch.

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Case studies, lean methods and startup stories from Berlin product agency ITR8.

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