As a marketer making a transition into user experience (UX), I had observed many interesting overlaps between the two disciplines as well as some divisive differences. While marketers and UX designers share a few tools in their toolboxes, clarifying the differences in their approaches can help resolve conflicts and reduce redundancies. After all, marketers and UX designers work towards the same goals for organizational success.
In this article, I attempt to walk you through how marketing and UX personas are used through a real-world example, so we can see the similarities and differences in detail.
During my agency days working on campaigns with big consumer brands, I have seen many marketing personas coming together from market research.
A marketing persona, or buyer persona, is a way to segment target market by common characteristics. It is used to guide media campaigns to target the right audience with the appropriate messaging.
- Demographic characteristics: such as age, gender, location, occupation , income, household information
- Psychographic characteristics, such as values, preferences, attitudes, and brand affiliations
- Media consumption habits: which media brands do they consume the most, how frequent do they consume media on what platform
- Goals & challenges: your potential buyers’ goals related to your product/service, and their struggles with the current solution
How is a marketing persona used?
Demographic information turns a rough sketch into a real portrait. It helps to align organizational vision of the target market by giving target buyers a name, age, job title, etc. It also helps to segment primary, secondary and tertiary customer cohorts to further define marketing goals. In this way, your organizational resources will not be wasted on irrelevant groups.
Take Visme, an infographic and presentation software where I worked on customer segmentation for example. Through market research, we discovered that our primary target users are content producers working for non-for-profits who use engaging visuals for awareness and engagement.
The most important detail here for a goal-oriented tool like Visme is target buyer’s role and organization type. Role and work-related goals help us investigate our target users’ pains and frustrations, so we can speak to potential customers in a way that deeply resonates with them. For the purpose of demonstration, let’s call our target persona “Amy”, who is in her mid 30s working as a communications manager for local non-government-organization (NGO) that employs less than 20 people.
Once we’ve got the demographic information, you will want to get into your target buyers’ head with psychographic characteristics. This is when we get to know our target buyer - Amy - as a real person with distinct preferences and attitudes. What are Amy’s motivations to work as a communications manager? What does she want to achieve at her role? What is success to her?
Through customer interviews, we find out that Amy is passionate about her work because of she strongly support the philanthropic vision of her organization. Through her work, Amy feels that she is doing good for the society. Her main goal as a communication manager is to raise maximum awareness among the public and stakeholders. When she does it well, her organization receives public recognition and donors support, which is critical for sustaining organizational growth.
Goals are important to understand, and so are frustrations. Pain points are what connects your product vision with your customer needs. Through interviews, we found out that Amy struggles to communicate complex ideas across to the general public in a simple, engaging way. Since her NGO is tight on marketing budget, she doesn’t have the means to hire an agency for creative content . Furthermore, Amy is so swamped with daily tasks that she doesn’t have the time to learn coding to build interactive presentations or learn graphic design to deliver amazing infographics.
Now we have a very detailed portrait of Amy as a potential buyer of Visme as below. All the information here serves a guide on how to communicate with Amy with deep understanding. This is an important first step towards achieving the “fit” where your product offering matches the need gap of your target customers. With the right messaging, your product can address concerns and overcome objections from your target buyers.
But how do we get the message to Amy? This is where media consumption habits come in handy. Through research on how Amy consumes information on what platforms, we can identify the right channels to get Amy’s attention. Since Amy frequently uses Google to search how to guides and articles, we identified content marketing as a main acquisition channels. Since Amy is also active on LinkedIn groups and design forums, we will raise product awareness through those channels too.
In short, a marketing or buyer persona is created to:
- Define marketing goals internally
- Segment target markets
- Craft value proposition messaging
- Achieve new customer buy-in
However as you can see from the output here, a marketing or buyer persona does NOT help:
- Define what the product should be
- What product features to include/prioritize
- How the product will be used over time
If marketing persona is focused on the WHO, a UX persona is more about the HOW. A UX persona, or design persona, can include all the information in buyer persona, but with additional emphasis on the task-oriented user behavior. What a UX persona wants to uncover is all the steps a target user will take to go from point A to point B. This method of research will generate additional output such as:
- Task Analysis: a step-by-step account of exactly how the user accomplishes a task
- Affinity Diagrams: an analytical tool to group similar information and reveal patterns
- Empathy Map: all kinds of sensory input a user will receive to affect his/her behaviour
- Storyboard: a cohesive narrative that describes the problem in visual format
A buyer persona paints customer segments in somewhat broad brushstrokes - it gives us a bird's eye view of target buyers as cohorts . A UX persona, however, zooms in on the micro-moments of scenarios where one particular user tries to accomplish a certain goal. Built on real research, UX personas oftentimes include real quotes from target users, and presents the finding as “a day in the life of XX” scenario.
Many UX experts have described UX persona in detail such as in Kim Goodwin’s seminal book “Designing for the Digital Age”. The common consensus on the UX persona is that it is a tool to frame a design problem so that it leads to defining a product solution.
How is a UX Persona Used?
When working with clients or large organizations, UX Personas become the go-to internal reference every time the team discuss product vision. Clients and product owners often forget that he/she is not the user. UX persona gives everyone on the product team an objective, realistic look at what the problem really is.
Alan Cooper, pioneer of user-centric software design, recounts how he uses personas as a foundation for all product designs:
“We print out copies of the cast of characters and distribute it at every meeting… Until the user is precisely defined, the programmer can always imagine that he is the user.”
Using persona as the foundation, the design team can then start using persona in all areas of design. A few ways to use personas in design include:
- Generate product requirements document. Product Requirements Document (PRD) would be the single most important document for not just design team but marketing and engineering as well. PRD describes product purpose, define functionalities, prioritizes features and set a rough release date for each feature. An example of PRD by ProductHunt can be viewed here. Using Persona to guide PRD makes sure that the product remains true to its purpose.
- Create Information architecture. Persona can be used to understand the mental model of your users, and create the site architecture according to how your user classify information and navigate content.
- Develop Style guide: Person will tell you a lot about what colors to will appeal to your target users, what fonts will be the most eligible to them, what kind of imagery will win over their hearts. Persona helps to make sure the branding and style appeals to your target users.
- Create content strategy: When I talk about content, it’s not limited to marketing content - product copies, instructional texts, help guides, e-newsletter etc. When feeling undecided about what voice and tone to use for content, consult with your Persona. Persona can also tell you what type of content your users will need. A great example for using Persona in content is Atlassian’s content styleguide.
In short, UX or Design Persona is created to:
- Define what the product is
- Frame realistic use cases
- Define how the interface behaves
- Refine product look & feel
But UX Persona cannot help with things such as:
- Develop user acquisition strategies
- Form external communication guidelines
- Create advertising assets
Despite the differences, let’s not forget that both marketing persona and UX persona ultimately aim at the same thing: user growth, sustained engagement, long term ROI.
In this age of vertical specialization, even small teams tend to work in silos. It’s a real shame for growth because there is so much marketing and UX can learn from each other. Cross-team understanding is the first step towards removing unnecessary friction and wasted energy.
I personally believe real growth comes from a holistic approach that integrates both marketing and UX into one seamless experience. The consumer journey starts from the moment when a consumer realizes his/her problem, and it doesn’t end at buying the product.
Hopefully, this article will help clarify some common misconceptions so that marketing, design and engineering team can pull their strengths together towards long-term growth.