Personas 101, part II

By |

Last week in Persona Development 101, Part I, we discussed the history of persona development, the merits of qualitative and quantitative research and the importance of the five W’s to developing accurate and effective customer personas.

This week we’re going to get our hands dirty researching the first three of the five W’s of persona development: the Who, the What, and the Where. We’ll save the When and Why for Part III of this series.

  • Who is the customer?
  • What does the customer do with our product/service?
  • Where does the customer interact with our product/service?
  • When does the customer interact with our product/service?
  • Why does the customer interact with our product/service?

The Who

Defining the personality and character of your customers will be your most difficult challenge. A person is not made up of just numbers, but thousands of other defining characteristics. One could spend days (or a lifetime) on just this one question. You don’t have time for that—so here are some practical steps to take to uncover the “who” within a reasonable amount of time:

Step One: Create a Day in the Life of Your Customer

Write a short story that follows your customer through a weekday and a weekend day. Answer questions such as:

  • What does the customer’s morning look like?
  • Do they have a routine (most of us do). What is that routine?
  • What is the next step in the customer’s day? Is there a pattern?
  • What technology are they using or not using a different points in the day?
  • Who are they interacting with at different times of day?
  • What friction points happen in the morning, at work, at home, at night?

Review the short-story. Look for patterns such as routines, feelings, values and common friction points. From your story you can develop questions that can be used for in-person interviews and online surveys.

Step Two: Qualitative Interviews

Interview current customers. Keep in mind that interviews begin to lose significance after approximately 5-7 interviews, but make sure you interview no less than three individuals if possible.

Don’t have any customers yet? Don’t fret. Look for like-minded individuals that purchase a similar product or service to yours. When all else fails, canvassing strangers who fit your proposed persona profile can help gather potential customer data.

When conducting interviews be honest and straightforward. Try not to “lead the witness”. Use open-ended questions and avoid statements such as “would you use x product if it did y”. The word “would” should not be utilized in your interview. The role of the interviewer is to listen and get the customer to elaborate on their points of view, values and experiences through story telling.

Step Three: Quantitative and Qualitative Surveys

Surveys are another excellent vehicle to gather customer data and insight. The same values for an interview apply to surveys. Be sure to ask a few open-ended questions in addition to more structured questions. Tools like Survey Monkey are excellent for developing persona development surveys. Also allow your customers the option to remain anonymous to help increase response rates.

Blind surveys tend to yield weaker response rates, so you should leverage your relationships with current customers that exist in your CRM database. This is a great opportunity to take the “pulse” of your customer database, identify weak points in your product or service and even collect testimonials. Remember the key to great persona development and customer service is listening.

Let your customers do the talking.

But be sure to not be a pest and hit your customer base with multiple surveys in a short span of time. And it never hurts to reward survey responses with discounts, special deals or access to exclusive information.

Step Four: Mind-mapping Analysis

After collecting data on your customers through in-person interviews and surveys, review your notes. Organize answers in a mind-map paying particular attention to repeated phrases, emotive statements and described action patterns. It is widely accepted that human behavior follows a series of patterns not only in action but also in digital media. Looking for patterns in your persona research unlocks potential hypotheses for testing predictable traits and attributes to persona groups.


Understanding how your product or service solves a problem for your customers is paramount to your persona and business development strategy. Data collection for these segments varies based on your product or service offering and can usually be integrated in the Why interviews and surveys.

For more extensive research user testing observation may be appropriate. For digital services you can employ customer behavior tracking software that goes beyond basic website analytics. Marketing software like HubSpot can track user behavior and attribute it to specific contacts in your CRM giving you a full picture of your users digital behavior.

What the customer does with your product or service directly correlates with the pain or friction point that your product or service alleviates for the customer.

Every purchase originates from the need to solve a problem. For example—home purchases can be motivated by a lack of space and a growing family’s need for more room. 

Professional service companies like Illumine8 help customers whose pain points may be business growth struggles or negative brand perceptions or lack of brand visibility in the market.

By taking a closer look at what the customer does with your product or service you can gain keen insight into how a customer perceives and interacts with your brand.

In addition to helping you build a robust customer persona strategy, observing customers “in the wild” can unlock product or service development opportunities and uncover areas for improvement.


Where do your customers use your product or service? This question explores the context in which your product or service is used from a geographic and technological perspective.

If you are a business service, is your customer interacting with you at the office or does your service follow them on appointments, to meetings and even possibly to the home office? Is your product or service mobile (i.e. can it go with your customers) or static?

Technology plays a major role in answering the where question. Are your customers interacting with you online during the day on a desktop or mostly through a mobile device such as a tablet or cell phone? If your product or service isn’t digital, think about the devices your customers use to gather information about your product or service.

If your product is very mobile and social, think about running a contest online that invites customers to take photos of your product in the customer’s environment. Social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest are ideal channels for brands to help crowd source data quickly and inexpensively. Hashtags are also helpful to identify brand specific customer feedback.

Are you a B2B business? LinkedIn can be an excellent resource for persona development for your business. Keep in mind that LinkedIn functions more as a “digital rolodex” and information hub than other social media channels.

Word of caution: Social data mining is only successful if your brand has a loyal and active social media following. If your company is new or hasn’t developed its social media strategy fully, online crowd sourcing may not be an option for your brand.

In Persona Development 101, Part III, which will publish next, we'll break down the remaining W's and wrap everything up.

In the meantime, if you need help with starting the persona development process, or you just need to get some new leads in the door, don't hesitate to reach out. That's what we are here for.

About The Author

Connect with Illumine8