User Personas – The Ultimate Guide

Florence Meunier CV

This guide was written by Florence Meunier.
She is an expert on Lean Office, Management and Strategy and you can
follow her on the website

What is a “Persona”? Why using it?

Personas (or user personas) are hypothetical archetypes or fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers or users.

A persona is your mental model of how a member of a group of people might think, feel, or behave.

Let’s take an example: Buyer personas

They help you to understand your customers (and prospective customers) better, and make it easier for you to tailor content to the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different groups.

The strongest buyer personas are based on market research as well as on insights you gather from your actual customer base (through surveys, interviews, etc.). Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10 or 20.

Why using personas?

  1. Personas allow you to keep full focus on your users or customers in the design process.
  2. Personas help you to 1) make hidden assumptions and biases bout your customers, and 2) make users explicit.
  3. Personas make it easier for your brain to process data about customers.

Why does it work?

Personas work so well because they package a powerful representation of aspects of the world in a format that works well with the human mind. By personifying data you open it up to all the machinery in your brain that was developed for social interaction.


Personas can start to seem just a little too “real” or are abused easily by people to voice their own opinions as if they were the persona’s, especially when you first construct your personas!


Your persona is a mental model, not reality.
Keep going back to validate your model with real data.


Persona Shoes

How to use “Personas”?

User Personas can be used for many different things, and as such, many different types or flavors of personas have evolved. However, here are 4 most well-known types of personas and how to use them.

Design Personas

Design personas are used to support product design and service design. They represent users of that product or service and are grouped together by e.g. the problems they experience, the needs they have, their preferences, and their goals.

They describe the needs of potential users and help developers focus on finding out what solutions benefit users the most.

Used mainly in Service Design, UX Design, Interface Design

Buyer (Marketing and Sales) Personas

Buyer personas are used to figure out what types of marketing strategies, channels, and styles should be used to reach potential customers. Different groups of customers might share certain buying preferences, social relations, modes of consumption, and buying power.

Used mainly in Marketing, Branding, Sales.

Validation Personas

Validation personas are used to support the early stages of the design process for a new product or service. They help map out assumptions you may have about what the product should be, and confront these assumptions with reality. Where traditional design personas are used to figure out design problems in user experience or interface design, personas used for validation are more high level and deal with how people experience a problem.

Used mainly in early-stage product or service design, start-ups.

Storytelling Personas

Storytelling personas are used to map out how an audience will respond to a story, presentation, or pitch. What do they know, think, and feel before they have experienced the story? What would you like them to know, think, and feel afterward?

Using storytelling personas can help you to figure out how to reach different groups in your target audience that have different perspectives and needs.

Used mainly in presentation design, talks, pitches, etc.


User Personas for Marketing and Sales

Use buyer personas to define your audiences and guide business strategies.

At least 80% of all marketers will within the next couple of years!

When marketing or selling a product,
you need to be able to influence your prospective customers to buy something.

It is very important to understand the reasons that would help them to make that decision.

The best ways to market and sell are based on an intimate understanding of what your customer really needs, and then fulfilling that need.

Personas can be used to do just that.

A good persona for marketing or sales should be able to highlight those reasons that motivate customers to buy:

  1. How does your solution solve their problem? What do they find important?
  2. Assuming they accept your product as a potential solution, how will they assess the quality of the solution? Does it do the job better than the competition?
  3. How trustworthy are you? Depending on the type of customer, they will check your references, review and credentials
  4. Do they like your product /company? Is your brand appealing to them?

Creating buyer personas is the process of conducting one-on-one interviews with customers to get a handle on their mindsets, understand their purchasing decisions, and build three-dimensional profiles of real buyers.

It is about asking customers about their decisions, listening to what they say —and then systematically analyzing their answers.

What then?

Make use of buyer personas once they have been generated.

Focus on the goal of creating buyer personas with a clear plan that guarantees a useful outcome.

Using buyer persona leads to sales and marketing activities that measurably impact business goals.


Customer Journey

User Personas for Design

The original concept of personas was developed in the 90a to help understand the behavior of users when they would interact with increasingly complex computer systems.

Later, the usage expanded into the domain of what we now call “service design”.

Personas are an ideal tool when designing complex interactive systems, or service processes.

They help you design from a user-perspective and help you focus on what is important to your user or customer.

The customer journey is one of the main tools in service design.

To get more out of it, it can easily be combined with personas.

When combining the customer journey map with personas, it becomes possible to compare the way different personas will respond to different stages in the customer journey.

In that way, you can identify pain points in the journey as they relate to specific personas, and find ways to improve their experience.

Using a persona can help you to remind yourself that the user is more than someone who uses the service: they have a life outside of their interaction with your system.

They have goals they are trying to achieve, and your system is just one of the options they have of doing that.

Understanding what else is going on in the user’s life can give you vital clues defining a better service, and prevent tunnel vision.




User Personas for Validation

When creating a start-up or a new product, it is vital to get a good understanding of the problem first. You’ll most likely start out with many risky assumptions that need validation.

3 ways in which defining personas can help you to design experiments for customer validation.

  1. Personas can help you identify risky assumption you have about how customers will behave
  2. Personas can help you define better experiments and better questions to ask
  3. Personas can help you define your hypothesis more clearly and identify channels to run experiments on.

What to do when using personas for validation?

Start by defining your experiment as you normally would. Pick the riskiest assumption and define a hypothesis you want to test.

Then use personas to come up with possible responses your target audience may have to your assumption.

What would be their perspective?

How would they give their feedback?

As an example, when you come up with interview questions or questionnaires, and even when you measure button clicks or other analytics to validate your hypothesis, asking the right questions, with the right copy and look and feel is important.

Use your personas to find out how you test subjects are best approached.

  1. What other media are they used to?
  2. In what context will they interact with your experiment?
  3. What is their preferred use of language?
  4. What kind of design are they used to?
  5. What are the current trends?

You can find out a lot by analyzing the channels and media they already use.

Using this approach will give you a clearer signal telling you your hypothesis is validated or invalidated.



User Personas for Storytelling

As a strategic leader, storytelling brings you a significant plus in supporting your diverse leadership efforts (see our video “Using storytelling as a strategic leader”).

Now, using storytelling personas takes you to the next level in communicating effectively during a pitch, presentation, talk, …

Engaging your audience

The first thing to be aware of is your audience.

Your pitch is successful when you know what is important to your audience, and what points to make.

The audience doesn’t need to tune themselves to you – you need to tune your message to them.

What do you want your audience to feel, think, and believe once your story is finished?

Why a storytelling persona?

Knowing the “before” state is key.

If you know how members of the audience feel going into the story, it becomes easier to orchestrate the plot points that will change their minds.

A persona can help you to map this out.

To make effective personas for storytelling, you need 2 things:
Know who is your audience and understand what they think, know and feel.

Combining these 2 aspects will help you find ways to influence their state of mind with your story.

  1. Know your audience 

    You need to learn everything you can about who is in the audience.If you’re speaking for a large group, that may be more difficult, but if you are pitching to 3 investors, then it should be easier.Figure out what kind of person they are:

  • What do they find important?
  • Interesting?
  • What kind of job do they have?
  • How do they prefer to digest new information?
  • Is the group homogenous? Or not?
  • What do they agree on? Or disagree on?

Knowing your audience will help you define the style of your presentation if it should be factual, sober, energetic, full of special effects.

  1. What do they know, think, and feel?

The other thing to do, is to find out what they know, think, and feel about your topic specifically.


Because you want to find out what specific points audience members need to get their “aha moment”.

What do they already know?

Are there subgroups that know more? Or less?

Why do they care about your subject

Knowing this will allow you to focus on the points to make.

Creating personas for storytelling can take some effort, but getting that pitch or presentation right can definitely be worth it!

Buyer Persona

10 steps to organizing your (Buyer) personas data

Buyer personas are created through research, questionnaires, and interviews of your target audience.

That includes a mix of customers, prospects, and those outside of your contact database who might align with your target audience.

Here are 10 steps that can help you with organizing your personas data:

  1. Indicate the background: Job? Career path? Family? (e.g. Sales Director, working in the same company for 10 years, married, 3 children)
  2. Demographics: Male or female? Age? Income? Location? (e.g. Male, 52 years old, income €120k, urban)
  3. Identifiers: Demeanour? Communication preferences? (e.g. Restless, phone, WhatsApp)
  4. Goals: Primary goal? Secondary goal? (e.g. Keep sales team happy, reaching quota)
  5. Challenges: Primary challenge? Secondary challenge? (e.g. time management, acceptance of new Sales ERP)
  6. What can we do … to help our persona achieve his goals… overcome his challenges? (e.g. make it easy for sales to track their sales, rolling out online training)
  7. Real quotes about goals, challenges, etc.: “It’s always been done this way”, “we’re already so complicated to do business with”…)
  8. Common objections: Why wouldn’t they buy your service/product? (e.g. I’m worried I’ll lose sales transitioning to the new ERP, training is a waste of time”)
  9. Marketing messaging: How should you describe your solution to your persona (e.g. Integrated Sales Database Management)
  10. Elevator speech: Sell your persona on your solution! (e.g. we give you an intuitive database that integrates with your existing software and platforms, and lifetime training to help new employees to get up to speed quickly).

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to give a name to your persona!

If you want to know more on “Personas”,
I strongly suggest contacting Florence to know when
the Persona Workshop will be organized.