Personas and Marketing effectiveness

Written By: Subir

Personas are powerful but only when they get used.

Most marketers, product managers, and founders I talk to understand the value of personas.

But in the same breath, they admit to not knowing how to use them for their intended purpose.

The question I get most often:

“I know personas are helpful, but how do I get my team to use them?”

It’s uncommon in design meetings to see someone bring a persona up, and get everyone to focus. What’s common is the desire, strategies, and tactics to attract specific consumer segments.

One challenge is over-engineered personas. Ones that have too much detail, making quick recall onerous.

I recommend using a simple user persona template – one that is easy to create, update and print. I walk through the template in the video.

What two reasons prevent personas from being used?

1. Personas get ignored in favor of segments.

This is because we all think and talk “segments” so that’s what we use in our conversations.

The challenge with this approach is that in real life we relate to individuals not crowds aka segments.

Think about any social interaction you have in real life. You can engage in conversations with very small groups of people. Once you get to a certain size, 5 or more, side conversations develop spontaneously.

The same is true in marketing.

Millennials as a segment is one that most everyone covets. But you can’t relate to marketing segments. So you end up relating to a specific millennial you know personally or professionally.

2. There are too many personas.

In this scenario, there has been a concerted effort to create personas. Except, there are too many and they all have too much info.

too many personas

These personas sit tucked away in cold storage – unseen and forgotten.

How do you make user personas effective in your marketing?

It starts with being selective with your personas. In quantity and detail.

What you leave out – in the number of personas and in detail – is as or more important than what you put in.

Here is my experience with the number of personas and their effectiveness. This is based on my consulting experience over the past 15 or so years.

Marketing Effectiveness vs Personas


A single persona is too limiting

So while one persona is easy to use, it might lead to a case of tunnel vision and fail to account for errors. Worse, it might be designed for an ideal or desired user that’s very different from the current user.

Two personas provide a better balance.

First, they account for most of the use cases.

And two personas bring a yin-yang perspective to conversations.

You can compare and contrast the experience across two different types of users which is easy to do. Solo and in group settings.

Take a digital textbook reseller with two personas.

The first, a college freshman who is a frequent buyer, needs guidance and is open to suggestions.

The second, a sophomore or senior who understands the choices beyond buying and looks for ways to be an efficient learner.

With these two personas, you can now ensure your messaging covers both scenarios, not only one.

This is critical because you need repeat buyers to achieve profitability.

Three personas work when the overlap is minimal

As you add more personas, it is harder and slower to compare and contrast. Now you have to remember each persona’s goals, challenges and desired features. And this is best done when the overlap is minimal.

Four or more consumer personas are not effective

The same is true for personas. With too many personas, the choices can be overwhelming.

  • Which persona(s) does the home page focus on?
  • How do you remember each persona’s detail in your design and strategy meetings?
  • Whose pain points are the most important to tackle in your marketing copy?
  • Will you offer a distinct experience for each persona in your engagement channels?

Summary: 3 Steps to make your personas effective

Here are the steps I follow to make personas effective in my consulting engagements.

  1. Focus on up to 2 personas at the start
  2. Use a simple persona template to fill and share
  3. Bring printed copies to meetings and distribute at the start
  4. Respond to questions with “If you’re ‘persona A’ then…” to get people thinking from their persona’s perspective
  5. Then expand to a third persona if required, after a few weeks.

This is my Couch to 5K strategy for getting personas used.

Would love to hear what you have tried and what the results were.

I help teams attract and retain customers

by sharing blueprints of successful and sucky digital experiences
Picture of Hi. I'm a San Francisco based UX Pro.

Hi. I'm a San Francisco based UX Pro.

I founded UX for All to help you avoid the heartache that comes with creating product and marketing experiences. By simplifying both process and UIs.

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