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My team has created 4 personas to represent our clients. We have presented them to groups of people who routinely have a lot of customer contact, and we've gotten lots of good feedback. It's common to hear comments like "I've talked to all 4 of these types of people this week," so it seems that they resonate well.

However, when we present the same personas to senior leadership, the first (and often only) question we get asked is, "what percentage of our clients are each persona?" When asked why, it's always because they want to prioritize one persona over the rest. We don't have secondary personas (all 4 are primary), so our desire would be that all 4 are prioritized equally.

When we created them, we went through tons of data, but there wasn't usually a direct correlation between trait X and persona Y. Two personas might do the same thing but for different reasons. We've even tried directly quizzing people to quantify the persona makeup and all it's shown is that most people are a combination of 2-3 of the personas. There might be one that's dominant, but there are also situations where they may assume the role of a completely different persona. We even have evidence that customers can shift from one persona to another over the course of their interaction with our company.

What other answers can we give to this question? Or are there better ways to deflect having to answer it? Unfortunately, when we answer that we don't know the precise ratios or that we are still working on it, but it's complicated, these people appear to shutdown and lose interest in the rest of the presentation. They (understandably) want a tool to help them make decisions, but saying we need to consider the impact to each persona isn't giving them that.

  • Based on your description, looks like you're treating concurrent sets of variables as different personas. Is it possible to merge them? – Devin Oct 23 '17 at 14:51
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    @Devin It was a bit of an oversimplification on my part. The personas are based on a mix of all kinds of different data, and are personifications of the different clusters we found during affinity mapping. They represent various extremes to emphasize their differences. – Nathan Rabe Oct 23 '17 at 16:23
  • ah, got it :) then I'd need more info – Devin Oct 23 '17 at 17:21
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    It sounds like they're looking for marketing segments, or whatever they call them. That's not personas. – Ken Mohnkern Oct 23 '17 at 17:40
  • @Devin Imagine a 2x2 grid. The top and bottom personas have differences, so do the left and right ones. Sometimes all 4 are different. That's probably the best way I can describe it without being able to go into more detail. – Nathan Rabe Oct 24 '17 at 15:41
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Your leadership is technically in the right. You cannot have more than one primary persona. It sounds like you have split your personas too readily. If you find that two personas seem to vary only slightly in motivation, but not behaviour, you may choose to eliminate one of the redundant personas or tweak the characteristics of your personas to make them more distinct. If that's not the case, you'll have to designate some personas as secondary or even supplementary.

The book About Face sums it up quite nicely:

Each persona must vary from all others in at least one significant behavior. By making sure that your persona set is complete and that each persona is meaningfully distinct, you ensure that your personas sufficiently represent the diversity of behaviors.

You'll need a proper set of personas in order to design. But you'll also need to choose which users to prioritise. You'll need to meet the needs of the most important users, without compromising the ability to meet the needs of secondary users.

Primary personas represent the primary target for the design of an interface. There can be only one primary persona per interface for a product, but it is possible for some products (especially enterprise products) to have multiple distinct interfaces, each targeted at a distinct primary persona.

A primary persona will not be satisfied by a design targeted at any other persona in the set. However, if the primary persona is the target, all other personas will not, at least, be dissatisfied.

Choosing the primary persona is a process of elimination: You need to compare goals of each persona against the goals of the others. If you cannot find a primary persona, it means that either your product needs multiple interfaces, or your product is trying to accomplish too much. Your scope might be too broad.

  • very nice and well explained answer – Devin Oct 23 '17 at 14:39
  • This answer is accurate, but it also doesn't really help my situation, either. Even if we picked a primary persona, the people we report to would still demand to know how much of our audience that persona represents. It's like an ingrained behavior. Anytime there is some kind of segmenting of our users, they want it quantified so it can be prioritized. Personas don't work that way, but we can't get them to shift their thinking to get them on board. – Nathan Rabe Oct 24 '17 at 15:35
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I think you are all misunderstanding the concept of personas.

Asking what percentage of our users these x personas represent is like asking who is the most average person in a group - as you may have read, there is no such person... there is only the average on each dimension (height, IQ, sexual activity, vomiting per year).

Just the fact you do some research, then analyse and synthesise your data doesn't mean the output maps to reality. After all, personas are fictional.

Personas are meant to move users from the very abstract (a remote thought) to something less abstract (some visual representation with a face, a life story and some traits), so in the UX process there is some subconscious priming (and conscious anchors) around key user attributes.

Persona are intentionally composite archetypes and not something that is statistically rigour.

  • I certainly understand what personas are meant for, but our VPs don't. My question is how to get them to understand that because right now, when we try to explain that they are composites and meant to increase empathy, they refuse to let the conversation move forward until they know what percent of our audience is persona #3. – Nathan Rabe Oct 24 '17 at 15:26
  • Obviously, if such is the case, just tell them 25%. – Izhaki Oct 24 '17 at 16:50
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Applauding the first two answers.

Trying to give 4 things equal priority is the same as saying none of them are priority. Which your leadership knows is not at all a reflection of reality.

Personas can be a useful tool as long as they're just a means to an end, not the end itself.

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