If you don’t have any data about your customers, or if you want to create a new business model and need a proof of concept, then a user-centered design approach can help that is commonly used in software development but also more and more in marketing: personas

Personas are fictional characters planned to represent different user types that might use a product, service or brand. In marketing however, personas should not be used without market segmentations and research data. And even then, behavioral models are better in my opinion to address a marketing audience, instead of personas. Why? Simply because they help to build a minimum viable product but this concept can not be applied to modern branding and marketing. There is no such thing as a minimum viable brand. Brands are what people think and make out of brands. That topic is worth another post and will be covered.

Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations users have in order to help make decisions about a service, product or interaction space such as features, interactions, and visual design.

Typically a persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users or from observations. They are captured in 1–2-page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and the environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for the design.

I was working on a project for Burton Snowboards, the market leader in snowboarding gear and apparel, some time ago. The company was – and still is – struggling with the digital transformation of their products and brand. We were conducting interviews with snowboarders around the globe to describe their behaviors, needs, pains and motivations. This would help us to then explore the digital space in which Burton could move into.

Here’s an example of one of the personas I created. Please meet Aaron:

Persona Aaron

The profile photo is a stock image so I don’t know if that guy is really called Aaron. However, after conducting several interviews it became clear that there are groups of people with the same motives, needs and tensions related to snowboarding. Our goal was to explore these motivations and match them against digital technology and social value. I developed a limbic map for this cohort and together with some purchase data we were able to use Aaron as a user persona for developing a digital service that would eventually influence Burton’s product strategy.

With this persona we gave the interview data a face and context so that it was easier to create user stories. Also, our functional specifications could be guided by how well they met the needs of this persona and this helped to prioritize our backlog. We were able to develop a great presentation and were ready to estimate build time, scope and costs.

Unfortunately Burton did not see the value in digitalizing their business to the extent we suggested at that time and to be honest the service we had in mind was quite overwhelming and would have required a huge company transformation along the way.

Also, they wouldn’t believe that our findings were based on solid data even though we interviewed dozens of boarders. Also they questioned the process of creating personas which is a valid point as some organizations find the creation of hypothetical users with real names, stories and personalities unserious and whimsical. It is a general criticism about personas but if there is no data you can use – than personas is a great way to start and add the data later on to prove or disprove the insights.

However, they really liked the idea and suggested developing the service together with some of their signed athletes. Unfortunately they never followed up. So if you know someone at Burton who would like to chat about this service, say hello and pass my contact details.