Are Your Personas Failing? Here are some ideas why.

by | Aug 13, 2021 | Brand Experience, Customer Experience, User Experience

A great deal has been written and documented about personas. When done correctly, personas present you with a better understanding of who your customer or audience is and what their needs are. In this way, you can design your marketing message, product, user-interface and customer experience more efficiently to better serve these essential stakeholders and reap the benefits of customer loyalty and return on investment. But designing personas has its challenges and, when not executed on correctly, personas often fail.

A Flawed Idea

While there are those that argue in favour of personas, some feel the whole concept is flawed. Here are some reasons why:

  • Fictional: Personas are imagined, generalised representations of your actual customers. They are therefore fictional and based on massive assumptions. As such they can be difficult to relate to and cannot be verified. 
  • Limited: Although building your personas may involve research into certain characteristics of your customers, some people believe that such research is usually based on a limited sample size. This means that it only reflects a small portion of your target audience, users or buyers.
  • Time-bound: Research you conduct for designing your personas is based on a particular point in time. Consumer behaviour is constantly changing. Therefore, your information can become outdated.

Where The Faults Really Lie

In contrast to these notions, when done correctly, personas are very powerful tools. We’ll tell you about this is our forthcoming article, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at why so many companies get it so wrong.

Forgetting the customer journey

For products with a longer purchasing journey such as the purchase of homes or vehicles, it’s crucial to connect appropriately with your customer along each point of the journey. This means that even though you have your persona in mind, remember that they are dynamic and will still have different requirements along the different touch points of their journey with your company.

For instance, consider the home purchase of a young couple. While they may be in the market for a new home, they are probably not going to sign on the dotted line on the first day of viewing potential options. It’s likely to be a longer journey. So instead of bombarding them with purchasing pressure, why not explain the benefits of the area in which they’re looking to buy, or advising what they should be looking for in a home at this young stage of their lives. That way, when it comes to making their decision, they will remember the salesperson who gave them valuable information that truly helped them make a decision they could be confident of.

That is how you build trust and a long-term relationship. And when that couple is looking to upsize or sell their home, guess who they will turn to first?

“Facts” that don’t fit reality

If your personas become a collection of random facts about people who don’t really exist, you haven’t thought through the process critically questioning whether the information and the persona itself for that matter is in fact useful and relevant.

Your product can’t simultaneously appeal to young, middle-aged, and older individuals anywhere in the world who have suddenly all developed a desire for exactly your offering! Without being backed by the appropriate research, and constantly refined to match the on-the-ground reality, developing customer personas is little more than busy-work.

Consider the context

When designing your personas, remember to also consider the context of your real customers. You cannot merely transfer personas designed for one location to another.

In the early 1990s, Kellogg’s, a successful American breakfast cereal company decided to expand into India, a developing market. The move was initially a total failure. The brand neglected to fully understand the rich culturally diversified population they chose to engage, blindly copying its product and message across all its markets assuming that success in one would translate to success in all.

India was characterized by eating habits and tastes vastly different to the developed markets of the US and UK. Indians enjoyed hot and spicy food.  Eating a cold, sweet cornflakes breakfast was reported to have left Indian people feeling hungry and also alienated them from their cultural traditions. The idea to change Indian breakfast eating habits made no sense to the Indian consumer who traditionally enjoy boiled milk rather than chilled milk.

Failing to customise their product according to the needs of the Indian consumer resulted in a disconnect between the customer and the product.

The successful relaunch of Kellogg’s into India from 1996 was accompanied by more suitable flavours and product names. Kellogg’s learnt that to operate across national borders means understanding and appreciating cultural differences. You have to know, appreciate and respect your customer with their attached personas and enveloped in their archetypes, including cultural traditions.

Demographics must be more than skin deep

One of the reasons behind building personas is to instill empathy which will guide a better message or product design. But demographic data we may use when building our personas can reflect our own biases and result in resistance rather than empathy. Furthermore, demographic information that isn’t relevant to your product will only serve to prejudice others in your company who read or use your persona.

Therefore, you should only include demographics if you know for a fact that they represent some portion of actual users or buyers. Otherwise, you should rather focus more on feelings and behaviours. And how these are demographically and culturally effected.

With their initial entry into India, Kellogg’s never considered the buying behaviours of the population and initially missed out on a large portion of the market by making their product available only in high end stores. A massively missed opportunity, in a market of over a billion people!

Gender stereotyping

Another demographic that can have a reductive effect is the inclusion of gender into your personas. Be careful not to allow your demographic inclusions to offend the very people you are trying to attract.

The problem with gender is two-fold.

Firstly, allowing for only male and/or female implies that you overlook anything in between thus excluding groups of people from the process. Gender lines are far more blurred than labels allow.

The second issue is that these two genders, while they may expose a whole lot of meaning, reinforce preconceived and often out-dated ideas. In 2019, Woolworths launched a Valentine’s Day campaign that they thought would display light -hearted humour around gender stereotypes. Needless to say, they were slated on social media for both using what was perceived as negative stereotyping in an attempt to show romance and secondly for promoting a binary gender world. Woolies pulled the campaign

Personas And Your Brand

To achieve accurate brand positioning, you need to align the customer needs with the promise offered by your brand. This requires deep, and up-to-date insight into the needs and preferences of the potential consumer that extend beyond demographics and the limited, fictional ideas that often become the multitude of irrelevant options in a company’s personas library.

Do you want to understand and satisfy your customers beyond their expectations? Interact RDT has the expertise and methodologies to understand the heart of your brand and the needs of your customers. Contact us today.


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