If you are developing a website or a marketing campaign targeting a diverse group of constituents, consider creating personas to help you keep your whole audience in mind as you work.
What is a persona?
A persona is a composite person based on what you know about a segment of your audience in the aggregate, and on your experience with individual members of that segment. The advantage of personas over demographic data is that they combine the representative and the particular to provide a manageable number of distinct, memorable individuals for you to keep in mind when developing marketing materials for your target audience. IU Communications generally creates four to seven personas for projects.
We use a template adapted from work shared by design agency Mad*Pow.
Components of a persona
The first component of a persona is a profile that includes name, age, hometown, and one or two distinguishing features like “returning student.”
A background section covers areas such as academic interests, family context, or financial situation. The background is written in a narrative format.
The final part is a series of bulleted lists covering what the persona needs and wants from the website or organization, the persona’s feelings when approaching the website/organization, and the persona’s expectations for their interactions with the website/organization.
Here’s an example: a persona developed for the IUPUI transfer portal.
Typically, the content specialist for the project works out profiles with the client’s team, then writes the personas based on research either shared by the client or conducted by IU Communications, in addition to interviews with subject matter experts and representatives of the audience we are trying to reach.
Try collaborating when working on personas
Recently, we’ve tried a more collaborative approach to creating personas. In workshops conducted with staff from the Office of Transfer Student Services and Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), small groups generated details for one of seven persona profiles that IU Communications developed with transfer and admissions leadership.
The workshops were successful, revelatory, and a lot of fun. Participants applied their broad and deep knowledge of prospective students to the task, including references to competitor schools, financial aid options, and SAT scores. They brought their personas to life by giving them quirks, style, anxieties, even pets.
We left the workshop energized, with a few armloads of flip-chart sheets to turn into the finished personas.
Writing personas the old way works well, and we will continue to do that. But in many cases, we’ll opt for the workshop. The greatest advantage is that the exercise efficiently leverages the knowledge of the entire group in a single meeting, builds consensus, and avoids placing the onus of creating the personas exclusively on the client team (who in many cases aren’t writers) or on our team (who have to consolidate information gathered from multiple subject matter expert interviews).
With or without IU Communications, give personas a try!