Personas are a great tool for any business, the process for developing them help you to identify your customers, their needs and wants, how they do things and why, and you can delight them by meeting unmet needs and resolving their pain points… when done properly. If your personas are purely based on generational segmentation, however, you’re wasting your time. The evolving digital landscape and ability to reach individuals means that categorising consumers based simply on the year they were born is a waste of time and, frankly, a bit insulting.
Names, not meaning
The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, GI Generation, Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials, Xennials, Generation Z, Generation Next – these are just a handful of the names created for those born in a specific period of time. Using this single piece of information, the generation label assigns a set of characteristics, life experiences, needs, goals, and challenges for people born in that time range, regardless of where they were born, their culture, their geographic location, family situation, socio-economic demographic, and every other point of differentiation among the same group of people.
The reality is that even if you look two people born in the same city, in the same year, who have the same educational background, and who are in a similar socio-economic bracket, their behaviours and needs can vary widely. Imagine the people you know who are 30, or 45 – and consider the differences between people born in that 15-year bracket. More important is the fact that your personas should be based on your customers – existing or target – not on general information about a portion of the population. Generational personas may assume that a baby boomer won’t feel comfortable doing things online and would prefer to talk to customer service on the phone, or all millennials prefer Snapchat to Facebook and don’t want to talk to anyone. When in reality, these behavioural traits and needs will only apply to a section of the group – and across every other generational group.
Research and analysis
Personas are only as good and as useful as the research and analysis behind them, they should be a single fictional person made up from the synthesis of customer data, interviews, and analysis. You should create an appropriate number of personas based on the depth and breadth of your audience. The worst thing you can do is create a persona based on generalisation, assumption or intuition.
Raw data needs to be analysed and synthesized with your qualitative research. Individuals are idiosyncratic, they have needs that another person in the same demographic won’t have, and behaviours that are the complete opposite of others in that demographic. You’ll only learn about these needs and behaviours through thorough research.
The power of the persona
Well-researched and detailed personas form the foundation of any user-centred design process or project, they should be where you start and everything should be aligned to the needs and goals you’ve identified in your research. The power of the persona, however, goes far beyond UCD. They are an excellent tool for achieving business alignment and consistency – so that content teams know who they’re creating for, product teams know what their customers need and how they need it, customer service staff can tailor their language and tone to better suit the person on the other end of the phone, and marketing and sales teams know how to interact with their customers in the way their customers want them to.
It’s not always possible, of course, to invest the time and capabilities in the research and activities required to create personas properly, and if this is the case you’re better off not doing them at all. Personas based on assumption and generation generalisations are close to completely useless, and are something completely different than a fictional representation of a portion of your audience – they become a guess and someone who may or may not be your customer, and what they may or may not want, need, and do.