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User Persona Non Grata

Is there any bigger waste of a financial marketer’s time and money than developing user personas? I mean, really, how much money is spent on research and analysis to come up with silly little descriptions like:

“Jenny is a busy young working mom who values convenience from her banking relationship.”

I’ve seen user personas from lots of financial institutions, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you how one financial institution’s personas differ from the others.

I’d also be hard pressed to find any difference in the websites of these organizations, and–even worse–how the redesign of any one of these bank’s websites reflected their persona development efforts.

I mentioned my perspective on this to a friend who said “yeah, but I use personas when I write, because it helps me think who will be reading this.” Good point. In fact, I do the same. But neither my buddy or I spent any money to come up with our personas. It took me maybe 30 minutes to think about my blog readers’ personas.

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I recently heard a CMO explain her firm’s user personas, and I asked her how the effort might be impacting product development and service design. “We’re not there yet,” was her reply. “Of course you’re not,” I thought, “because there is no plan to use the personas to drive product or process change.”

Sometimes I wonder if some bank CMOs realize that the rest of the executive team thinks a lot of marketing dollars are spent foolishly. This isn’t the “half of advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t which half” adage. This is a “damn, every penny of marketing investment in that particular area is going down the drain” feeling.

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My take: If you really want user personas, steal another bank’s descriptions. You’re not going to come up with anything different or better. But if you’re determined to go thru the process from scratch, work with the management team to figure out how the personas are going to be used to drive product and process changes before you get started.

The question, of course, is: How do you do that?

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I came across a blog post that I thought would help answer this question. The blogger wrote:

“I’ve never been completely convinced that personas are a valuable design tool. I’m realizing now that it’s not the personas I have a problem with. It’s the manner in which they’re introduced to an organization. How do we take these documents to the next level so that they becoming meaningful, usable, and multilayered?”

But, alas, the post didn’t answer the question.

The Nielsen Norman Group is one of the leaders in the field of user experience design. They wrote:

“When based on user research, personas support user-centered design throughout a project’s lifecycle by making characteristics of key user segments more salient.”

I dare you to say that at an executive team meeting at your bank or credit union (for the record, “salient” is never a good word to use in a business discussion).

Nielsen Norman Group claims that there are benefits to user personas that extend beyond the initial design phase, specifically, using personas for:

“…segmenting analytics data to evaluate the behaviors and use of real users.”

Okay, but that would require associating real users with the defined personas. What data elements do you think you have about your site’s users that would enable you to make this association?

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Then there’s this article promising to tell us the 31 business building benefits of Buyer Personas. Highly alliterative, but mostly useless. It’s simply a list of 31 business benefits that could come from blowing your nose. No proof given that developing personas delivers the promised benefits. My favorite line in this article was:

“In my experience, 3 to 4 Buyer Personas usually account for 90%+ of a company’s sales.”

This guy has clearly never worked for a bank or credit union. Two buyer personas account for 99%+ of your sales:

  1. Losers who chose you because your branches are closest to their homes.
  2. Poor deluded souls who chose you because they thought your customer service was better than other banks and credit unions.

(Oops! Damn! I didn’t mean to give away the definitions of the only two user personas your financial institution needs.)

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Bottom line: I realize that there are benefits to using user personas to help make design decisions and tradeoffs. But, please don’t deceive yourself into thinking that there is some grander, longer-lasting benefit to this effort. Unless, of course, you successfully transition those personas into your organization’s overall customer segmentation efforts, and product design efforts (if you engage in anything that could be considered “product design”).

[Note: If you disagree with me — and I’m sure many of you do — leave a comment and tell me where I’m going wrong. Please don’t contact the publishers of this site telling them how they have to publish your rebuttal to this article. Thank you.]

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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Comments

  1. I agree. If you are spending time in product design but you won’t personally use and love said product, you should probably beg for another project to work on or for someone to get involved in product design who WILL.

    If the only people you can find who’ll love said product are make-believe, scrap it (or start polishing your resume).

    Mmmm, dog food.

  2. Ron,
    This post made me think you knew nothing about personas until I got to the very last paragraph. All snarketing aside 🙂

    The point is spot on: Personas will be useless and a waste of time and effort unless you use them by integrating them into the customer experience, product design, and acquisition strategies of the bank.

    The silly description part at the beginning of your post will not help you do this. There is nothing “silly” about a well-designed persona. Everything contained in one should be applicable to taking a strategic approach. Although, if you create them in 30 minutes in a vacuum by yourself (without any actual customer input) then persona non grata is exactly what you’ll have.

    Unfortunately for many companies, personas remain a checklist item that is truly a waste of time and effort.

  3. You are right. Personas are a waste of time and effort if they don’t get used to impact the bottom line and move the needle.

    Hey… wait… that sounds familiar. Kind of like social media. Or email marketing. Maybe online videos/ Or any other kind of marketing activity that is done because it’s the latest hot topic that all the cool kids are doing.

    I believe personas can be simplified and broken down into two things:

    What are their questions and concerns?

    What are their hopes and dreams?

    The answers to these two simple questions will serve as a guide going forward to create content and processes that impact the bottom line.

    For example, we just recently used customer personas to help a client establish a digital narrative. And these personas will continue to be used for content development and personalized lead nurturing based upon the persona type.
    Furthermore, the narratives created from the personas will be used by the sales and biz dev teams in their sales processes.

  4. Using personas is just about the same waste of time as ACTUALLY RELATING to your clients, customers, or members…. and who wants to do that!?! 😉

    Empathy is a funny thing. In my experience, if you act as if your people are losers and poor deluded souls who come to you for selfish reasons like the ones listed above, that’s exactly who you get coming through your doors.

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