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Recently we discussed personalization and how brands can and should leverage personalized communication with clients to best help meet their needs and problem-solve together. [LINK TO PERSONALIZATION ARTICLE]

But for starters, how do online retailers and other businesses know what their customers want? After all, there’s no face to face meeting, no opportunity to ask a shopper what they’re looking for, if something is the right size, etc. Shopping online is contactless and can be void of the human touch and interactions of in-person retail experiences. To compensate, businesses can turn to data and analytics to better understand and serve their customers. Data is a critical part of knowing one’s clients. Customer needs, however, can change, and past wants are not always the same as future desires. So, how does a business deal with these unknowns? Enter User Personas!

What are User Personas?

User Personas are not actual people but presented as such. Usually, each persona encapsulates a segment of a business’s clientele. Information is derived from data. Personas are made up of an amalgamation of actual and probable traits of customers. User Personas help put a human dimension into data and numbers, but most importantly, creating personas will help businesses to understand users’ needs, behaviors, and even their end goals. This information can then help structure a business and its marketing.

Each persona usually has an information sheet that talks about their personality traits, preferences, likes and dislikes, and other information that might be relevant to their relationship with your business.

When is a good time to create personas?

Once you’ve gathered data and have enough information to surmise what the problem your clients are trying to solve by visiting your online store, this is a good moment to develop your User Personas. Your User Personas will help guide you to decide how your business can best address customers’ goals and needs.

What information should a persona include?

Each persona might include:

  • Name. The name could be straightforward such as “Jimmy” or it could include behavioral tendencies, such as “Luxury-loving Nancy”.
  • Image. It’s always nice to have an illustration or photo to accompany the persona.
  • Demographics. Age, income, gender, etc, are usually helpful to an overall persona.
  • Backstory. Each persona should have a little backstory or information about him or her that enables a business to understand why he/she makes the choices they do.
  • Traits. This includes behavioral patterns, such as inquisitive, short attention span, cautious spender, and so forth. They could also be physical traits when relevant to the business. These could include, petit, tall, hard of hearing, etc.
  • Motivations. This is an important category that helps a business understand how a customer makes decisions: what motivates them? For example, Sally considers herself a trend-setter and is motivated by this self-image. If she sees a celebrity with one of your products, she will likely be more motivated to buy it.

Other categories are certainly available, these are just a few to give an idea of what a well-rounded and detailed persona information sheet might contain. Personas must be data-driven but also do require creativity to add depth, however, it’s important to emphasize that User Personas must be based on data facts.

How Are Personas Used?

As a business is making decisions (hopefully based on customer interests) or wants to know how a decision might affect customers, they can refer back to personas. Personas have consolidated the information from the data and make referencing data far easier than the pure data itself.

The personas also return the human element to the decision-making process and to the data itself. This can make it easier to solve dilemmas such as pricing, design choice, useability and so forth. It’s a simple question to ask: Can “Jill” afford this item? Will “Jimmy” respond to this design? Will “Tommy” be able to use this product? Rather than returning to spreadsheets of data to see if a certain segment of a demographic can afford a product and so forth, referencing personas is easier and certainly expedites decision making.

A Real-Life Example: Save the Bay

Citizen Best is a branding agency based in San Francisco that was hired to build a new website for a public interest group called Save the Bay. According to Craig Hansen who worked as a designer on the project, the team created not only User Personas, but User Persona trees that showed relationships between individuals and how they might each use the bay differently. The way they used the bay would also shape the way that they used the website. The tree started off with a successful entrepreneur who rarely had time to use the bay himself, but wanted to support it financially. For him, the website was more a reference for his charitable contributions. His partner, however, used the bay daily with their children. He would want to use the website to check on activities around the bay to do with the children. The couple employed a housekeeper who lived further away from the city, but who wanted to improve the part of the bay closest to her. She could use the website to see how things were done by Save the Bay to help organize her community to clean up the nearby water.

Each of these User Personas was valuable to the team working to create the Save the Bay website enabling them to design a website that was useful and meaningful to each different user.


User Personas’ true value lies in their ability to bring data and facts to life and expedite and ease decision-making processes for businesses. They are also a great resource for personalization and customizing an experience with a brand. When deciding what products to recommend, or how to structure a website, personas are a great point of reference toward personalizing and connecting with actual users.

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