Measuring Personas for Success

  |  August 5, 2005   |  Comments

Evaluating personas' effectiveness boils down to two things.

Just six months ago, personas were little more than an industry buzzword. At the recent AD:TECH conference, I surveyed the room a colleague was speaking in and was pleasantly surprised to find 30 percent of the audience claimed to use personas in site design.

Now that persona use is more widespread, the questions are different. No longer do people ask if they should use personas. Instead, they ask if their personas are effective.

How do you know if a persona is good or bad?

Evaluating effectiveness boils down to two things:

  • How well does your Web team empathize with your personas?

  • Can your personas be used to create persuasive scenarios that can be measured and optimized?

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy

Write Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt in their upcoming "The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design":

You walk down the street and you see gorgeous people, nondescript people, and everything in between. Which are good people? Are the gorgeous ones good and the nondescript ones bad? Who knows? To know, you'd have to ask people who are close to each individual. You'd have to watch how they behave.

The same is true of personas. Is a gorgeous persona -- one with lots of pretty posters, tons of details, gobs of included data -- a good persona? Is a persona that's not much more than a name sitting on top of a bunch of assumptions a bad persona? The only way to find out is by observing how they're used. What makes a persona "good" or "bad" isn't the way it was created, the way it looks, or the richness of its details. What makes a persona good -- what makes a persona a persona and not an interesting segmentation experiment -- is a persona must live in your team's minds.

Empathy isn't a touchy-feely, cry-with-those-who-cry type of action. In business, particularly selling, empathy is the identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives. Personas should evoke clear, focused customer empathy in the team, otherwise they're little more than a thin voice whispering in a loud room.

A persona should have a strong character diamond and be more than a average caricature of your demographic research. There are certainly some things you can include in a persona description that will sharpen its identity, reveal its motivations, and humanize it.

Techniques we've seen used successfully:

  • Use a quote from a persona stating her attitude or view of the product or service:

    • "I want a state-of-the-art home theater system. Bottom line: what's the best DVD player I can get?"

    • "I've been looking for a DVD player, and everyone keeps trying to sell me things I don't care about. Just give me the facts. I want to see how each player works, so I won't have to pay a penny extra for something I don't need."

  • Take a snapshot. What does this persona do on a daily basis?

Information to help your team relate to your personas:

  • What's the persona's life mantra?

  • What are her hot buttons in this product category and others? For her life? Her work?

  • How does she define value?

  • What are her pet peeves and turn-ons?

  • What kind of car does she drive? Why?

  • What are her hobbies, pastimes, and favorite TV shows?

More from "The Persona Lifecycle":

The classic mistake people make with personas is to assume that the personas are "done" once the details are written and the posters are printed -- because personas can't be good or bad until after they are created. If company A has an ad-hoc persona named Bob that they created in 15 minutes, but everyone on the team knows and can describe Bob, and thinks about Bob when making decisions, then Bob is a much better persona than the expensive persona Gail who hangs ignored on another company's wall in all her color-printed, data-driven, expensive glory.

Don't get us wrong -- we're all for creating personas from data. But if you're trying to figure out if your persona is good or bad, walk through the halls of your company asking folks to describe who they are trying to help with the work they are doing. If they immediately start talking about your personas, congratulations!

Don't Forget Your Business Goals

Empathy is the critical first step. Only after can you begin to uncover how your personas experience your company, products, and Web site.

When you know and understand personas, you can begin to discover why your customers do what they do:

  • What's this persona's unspoken question regarding this product?

  • What does she expect from this product?

  • What's her experience with your company? Will it fall short of her expectations? Of your competitors?

  • What information will this persona need to be persuaded to take action?

  • Does she prefer to collect information slowly and methodically? Does she take a personal approach? Or does she want a bottom-line summary?

  • Why is she motivated to take this action?

  • What actions do you want this persona to take, and how will you persuade her to take them?

Now you can begin to plan persuasive scenarios that will entice people to participate in the conversions that are critical to your business success.

Though your personas evoking empathy in your team is critical, empathy remains somewhat subjective. What isn't subjective is personas' real-world effect on your conversion and key performance indicators (KPIs). These are things that can be measured, tracked, and optimized.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies August 8-11 in San Jose, CA.

ClickZ Live San Francisco This Year's Premier Digital Marketing Event is #CZLSF
ClickZ Live San Francisco (Aug 11-14) brings together the industry's leading practitioners and marketing strategists to deliver 4 days of educational sessions and training workshops. From Data-Driven Marketing to Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email, this year's comprehensive agenda will help you maximize your marketing efforts and ROI. Register today!


Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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