A persona is the human representation of a specific segment of your market in regards to your product or service. A persona is not a shortcut to good market research. It is simply its embodiment.
You create a persona by putting a human face to all the socio-economic, attitudinal and behavioural data you collect on a specific market segment.
Why would you bother making the effort to put a human face to your data and not simply use it as is? The answer lies in the fact that as humans we “get” other humans much more easily than we understand a bunch of data.

Marketing persona
If I give you a sheet of paper with 50 different facts that I collected on a market segment of nurses in a given area vs the picture you see above, you will instantly know the following about your segment:

  • They are nurses
  • Most are women
  • Are in their 20’s or 30’s
  • Are of Caucasian origins
  • They feel overworked

You will have understood this without reading any of the data. If I also give you a little snippet of text that tells you her name, a bit of her background and what her typical day is like, you will start to feel like you know this person. This will enable you to infer information about who she is and, just as importantly, who she isn’t. Information such as: she most likely has a cooperative style of problem solving. It will also tell you she’s not a student male gamer that is willing to take a few hours to learn how to play a new game. This type of information may be difficult to communicate with a written report to 20 programmers working on developing a nursing application or a product team designing a piece of medical equipment. It is much simpler to introduce them to the persona and tell them they are working to make her day simpler. Having a picture of the persona next to their work station also reminds them constantly who they are working for.
Personas are a very useful tool in the design thinking approach. They allow many people, with different backgrounds to have market information that is similar but won’t inhibit their own ideas on how to satisfy the customer’s need.
Most products or services will address the needs of more than one market segment. Personas can also help to remind the product team that trying to satisfy too many people at once often results in no one being fully satisfied. It can also assist to predict if, and understand why, certain secondary segments will have issues with the product. Using personas can lead to a better focus of your product design.
Personas must, of course, be created with rigorously collected data that has been interpreted correctly in regards to your product/service. Otherwise you are answering the needs of the wrong segment. Not only is creating personas with bad data useless it can lead to much wasted time and resources.
The main reason an organisation shouldn’t use personas in their marketing is that they aren’t equipped to do so. If you don’t have the resources to get accurate data, both secondary (already published) and primary (your own market surveys), and you don’t have someone to interpret the data appropriately, then stick to using the data you do have the best you can. Creating personas in imperfect conditions will falsely lead you to believe you have sufficient data to clearly understand your market and may thwart your efforts to go out and get more and better data.
Personas may not be necessary for your organisation. If only a handful of people need to understand your market segments and they are good at interpreting market data, personas become an unnecessary luxury.
Despite the persona being a useful tool to understand a market segment quickly, communicate market information to a large number of collaborators, generate inferred data and focus your product/service design, some organisations may not be ready to use it or may simply not need it.
Like any other marketing project, it should only be undertaken if it has an overall positive return for your company.