How to Develop Personas & Why They’re Important

Branding, Marketing

Read Time: 7 Min

People are the ones determining whether or not your product (or service or campaign) is successful. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense for you to start with them when embarking on your product launch or awareness campaign? That’s what we’re going to talk about today, people (in the form of personas) and why they’re important.

But first, let’s back up.

What even is a persona?

A persona is a characterization of a user that represents the needs of a larger group. They’re fictional, yet not…if that makes sense. When you create a persona, you’re creating a story that explains the behaviors, goals, and motivations of just one group of real people, who will be interacting with your business, service, or product. Personas evolve as a result of extensive target audience research, which we’ll explain in a second.

But, why are personas important?

Good question. Simply put, you can’t create an exceptional campaign, brand, or product without thinking about the people who are going to use the product or who will be influenced or affected by the campaign. Like we said before, they’re the ones determining whether or not you are successful — so ask yourselves, why are you running this campaign or attempting a brand re-fresh? Who is it for? And how will their opinions influence you? A successful campaign will take into account the expectations, concerns, and motivations of its target audience.

Besides helping determine the approach to your campaign/product/brand, what are personas good for?

  1. Audience. Personas are used to help determine the target audience that should be reached depending on the product/service.
  2. Empathy. Creating personas allows for your agency and the team behind your campaign to come at it from a different perspective. You can live in the shoes of the personas and really understand how that person will react or be affected.
  3. Specificity. Personas help you and your team avoid generalization and bulk. Specific people will interact with your product/brand, so keep them in mind and be mindful of their specific needs. No need to focus your efforts on those who won’t be interested or affected.
  4. Efficiency. Understanding key user data will help reduce the time and resources needed to develop the product.
  5. Substance. Personas can help demonstrate that your campaign, brand, or product will likely be a success, therefore you’ll receive more shareholder buy-in and leadership approval.
  6. Testing. You’ll have a solid foundation for testing your product/service. For example, does it meet the needs of your persona?

Okay, but you came here to learn how to develop personas, so let’s get into it.

How to develop a persona.

In order to help support this explanation, let’s use our recent work with CSU Pueblo as an example of persona development and execution. CSU came to us looking to refresh the school’s brand identity. It was up to us to drill into the essence of CSU Pueblo and its students while creating a new visual brand centered on cohesion, consistency, and ease of use.

The first thing we did? Dove into the demographics and psychographics of the students themselves.

CSU Pueblo Personas

1. Collect information about your users.

Personas should always always always be backed by data or research. With CSU Pueblo, we spent time researching the socioeconomic levels of the populations within Pueblo and the surrounding area. Since our topics were education and tuition we had access to an enormous amount of government data. We were also able to sort through the school’s student data — all this being quantitative.

Sometimes it helps to go directly to the source. This can mean sending out a survey to the general public or gathering qualitative data like running focus groups, holding meetings, or in the case of CSU Pueblo, interviewing as many students as possible.

This first step is essential in ensuring that you’re reflecting real users, you aren’t guessing, and that you’re gathering data that is directly related to your topic (ex. University Re-Brand = Interview Students).

2. Explore and analyze your findings.

At this point, you should have all of your information gathered. It’s up to you and your team to run through the data and start digesting it. Look for patterns in behavior, look for the ‘why’ and the motivation, etc. Go over the most interesting nuggets of information and pull it all into a document that is concise and easy for your team to read.

After our research stage for CSU Pueblo, we were able to identify what students and faculty were looking for in their school’s brand.

Sometimes it works to break out into individual or smaller groups to come up with various personas. Everyone on your team has a unique perspective, and especially in the case of CSU Pueblo where a student body of nearly 4,000 needed to be represented, it’s never a bad idea to put multiple brains on the project.

After looking through your data, you should walk out of the room with 3-4 unique personas. We say 3-4 because, well, less is best. If you target everyone, you’ll reach no one, so pick the personas that your team prioritizes.

3. Come up with categories & design the layout.

How are you going to organize your findings? Personas are typically broken down into categories, some basics being: description, a quote, a stats section (age, ethnicity, gender), hesitations, motivators, and goals. As you dive deeper into your persona research, you may find that other specific categories arise, for example expressing a student’s confidence in wanting to attend CSU Pueblo.

Once you’ve figured out your categories, you should create a design template that will remain consistent with each persona. Typically these templates are just one page, visually laying out the persona information in a way that is easy to digest and interesting to look at.

4. Make them human — write your personas. 

Now that your data is collected and a design layout with categories is created, it’s time to fully develop your four personas and make them human. The best way to start is by giving them a name. Giving them a fictional name humanizes them and makes them more relatable, however, it is also beneficial to give them a name that is more descriptive of who they are. Let’s use a few of CSU Pueblo’s personas as an example. Below are both the human names of the personas and their descriptive names:

  • Michaela Frossman — Prospective Grad Student
  • Maria Cortez — Prospective Traditional Student
  • Sophie & Carlos Garcia — Parents of Prospective Student
    * Here you can see that sometimes personas can be multiple people, like a couple, rather than just one person.
  • David Mannis — Online Student

You should know exactly who that person is by their descriptive name — something distinct and unique, but sometimes it’s also okay to have fun with it. You may want to include a stock image to help visualize who the person is and further humanize your persona.

Next, spend time populating the categories you defined in the last step. Remember, all the information should be based on the data you gathered in the first step.

5. Finally, incorporate the personas into your processes.

As you execute your campaign or launch your product, ensure that your marketing, sales, creative, and development teams all understand the role of the personas — you’ll do better work when they are taken into account. Your teams will be equipped with a much better understanding of your target audience, and therefore your campaign will be more user-focused, your product or service will improve, and you’ll see more value in your work.

Wavy line graphic


There you have it — personas, an important first step when embarking on a campaign, re-brand, or product launch. Personas don’t become irrelevant after execution, in fact, in the case of CSU Pueblo, the persons translated into tools that school faculty now use to help understand different students’ motivations and obstacles. Deeply researched and thoughtful personas equal a well-executed campaign that puts people at the forefront.

Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about how we use personas in all of our work.

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