Take Your Customer Personas From Broad to Narrow

16 Oct 2019 by Scott Middleton

You know you need personas. You know how to put them together, you know how to interview. But, the problem is your product has such a broad base of customers that there is no immediately obvious way to create a short list of 5 target personas, let alone one to focus on to start with.

This problem always comes up if you’re working on products for banks, multifaceted retail brands, Government services and, really most large, established organisations. 

Take a discount, national supermarket like Aldi for example. On the surface Aldi’s personas are everyone. On the other hand, Aldi’s personas are very individual doctors, plumbers, nurses, executives, kids, grandparents, people that like to save, people that like special items, people living in the suburbs, people living in the city, the list goes on. 

So, how do you solve this dilemma? 

Most of the knowledge available will instruct you to develop a small number of personas yet at the same time create personas that paint a focused, detailed picture. So if you follow this advice you’re stuck with a dilemma. You either create hundreds of personas that are specific or you create personas that are too broad. Neither of these get you a set of personas you can make good decisions with.

There is an assumption made that you’re doing interviews, looking at analytics and performing other activities to get real, first-hand data about your customers.

A brute force approach would be to start by mapping out the hundreds of personas as well as the broad personas, then trying to combine some and eliminate others. This is a viable approach and in many ways a necessary approach to attempt to see if it’s possible to work your way through to a result. For example, you might find after going through 10-20 of the specific personas that common themes emerge that you can transform into a single persona.  

A jobs-to-be-done approach would be to focus on the jobs that your customers want to accomplish. By working through a handful of your personas you may find that they are all looking to accomplish the same job. Then you can build personas around the different decision criteria or requirements people bring to the job. Ultimately, you may end up defining your product by the Job-to-be-Done with the personas as a secondary thought.

A decisions-based or events-based approach would be to look at the decisions or events that are common to your customer personas. 

A prioritisation approach would mean rank ordering, eliminating then focusing on . Ideally you would either create or find a framework to apply to the way you are going to prioritise your personas. For example, you might prioritise based on a combination of the personas pain multiplied by the size of that market segment. You plumber’s pain costs $100 per week and there are 4,000 plumbers (Plumbers = $100 * 4,000 = $400,000) so this persona is a higher priority than a nurse’s pain is $10 per week and there are 8,000 nurses (Nurses = $10*8,000 = $80,000).

Just remember that my use of Nurse and Plumber as personas aren’t meant to be the best examples of personas themselves but really to help describe an approach. 

With a distribution channel approach to thinking about your personas you would start with the ways that a customer finds or accesses your product. Examples of distribution channels are search engines (SEO), a Facebook group, at the point-of-sale in a retailer and through a reseller. In some instances the distribution channel is the defining attribute of a persona that you can build secondary attributes or segments on top of. 

There is also an attitude approach to uncovering a small number of personas. On the surface the attitude approach might not seem useful but, with behavioural targeting and the ability to connect with people’s interests this is a very legitimate way to view your personas.

In reality, if you’re dealing with a broad customer base, then you’re probably going to end up coming at your personas from multiple angles of approach. You’ll head down a path then realise it can’t get you any further so you will need to change approach.

Hopefully this gives you a little bit more structure or some alternate lenses to keep moving with.

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