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How should product managers define user personas?

Product managers must make informed decisions about who their customers are, what they need, and how their product provides a solution. Personas are fictional characters that help product managers make these decisions and guide how the team will build features that customers love.

There are two main types of customer personas — buyers and users. Buyer personas represent the ideal profile of a potential buyer, providing insights about the people who decide to purchase your product or service. User personas represent the people who directly use your product, bringing them to life in a memorable way that everyone can understand. The buyer and user may be the same person — but they will have different priorities based on their user persona and their buyer persona.

What is the purpose of user personas?

The main purpose of a user persona is to create empathy for customers. Understanding and relating to what matters to your customers is an essential part of product management. This requires ongoing research about target user segments so you can build an informed roadmap.

Personas are an effective way to capture and share this research. You can distill the most important attributes of people who use your product — such as their goals, challenges, likes, and dislikes. This information shapes your product strategy and keeps the entire product team stay focused on creating an outstanding customer experience.

Here are the key benefits of defining user personas:

  • Explain the “why” behind product decisions
  • Focus on the needs of the most important user groups
  • Prioritize features that solve actual user problems
  • Implement new functionality in line with how customers will actually use it

It is important to note that there are many types of user personas. For example, if you have a technology product, you might need one persona for the customers who use your product every day and another one for the people who administer your product.

How to create user personas

This guide describes the steps to create user personas and includes a template for capturing the details.

1. Understand who will use your product

Personas must be as truthful as possible, so it is important to spend time learning as much as possible about your target users. What is their role? How long have they been in their industry? What are their likes and dislikes? This information helps you envision a typical user and view your product from their perspective.

The specific details you need to capture will vary based on your industry, market, and type of product. Here are the different types of information that can be useful to gather:

  • Personal background: Age, education, and location
  • Professional background: Job title, income level, skills, responsibilities, and experience
  • Psychographic information: Goals, challenges, likes, and dislikes

You can use qualitative and quantitative data to inform your research — such as directly interviewing users, reading support tickets, talking to teams who interact with users, and analyzing product usage.

2. Group your typical users

You will most likely need to create multiple personas to represent different groups of users. Once you have gathered sufficient data, look for distinct characteristics and behavior patterns. Let’s use an example company called Fredwin Cycling to define a set of user personas. Fredwin Cycling is a social fitness application that connects athletes and promotes friendly competition. Key groups of users might include professional cyclists, casual riders, cycling vendors, and event managers.

Each group of user personas has a unique set of goals, needs, and wants. Understanding the differences between these groups is essential to guiding how new product features are prioritized, designed, and developed.

3. Build out a user persona template

Now you are ready to build out your personas. Give each one a name and select an image to represent and make your persona memorable. Then, write up an overview that distills the essential elements of their background and preferences.

Below is an example of a persona we created using the persona template in Aha! for the Fredwin Cycling company example. The persona is called “Paul: Pro Racer” and describes characteristics of professional cyclists that are relevant to how they interact with a fitness application.

Aha! user persona template

A key benefit of using software like Aha! is that you can easily collaborate on personas and link them to your work. This keeps everyone focused on who the functionality is for. If not, you can still create a persona using the free template below:

User Persona TemplateExcel Download

4. Share user personas with the team

Once created, share your personas with key members in your organization. Whatever format you choose, it is important to make your personas easily accessible to the entire team. Associating personas with your goals, initiatives, releases, and features will keep your customers top of mind and present in everything you do.

Well-crafted personas are a great way to communicate research about your target customers. These are useful reminders of the ultimate purpose of your product — to serve the needs of real people. When you know exactly who your users are and what they want to achieve with your product, you can deliver solutions that truly delight them.

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