Demand GenerationMarketing Strategy

3 Brilliant Buyer Persona Lessons from Industrial Designers

By May 12, 2014 No Comments

Personas are an important ingredient to any content marketing strategy. They represent our audience and provide a true north for anyone creating content. Personas ensure that, even in complex organizations, you have a consistent, targeted, and relevant message.

While personas are a critical element of content strategy, organizations often struggle with them.

They’re created then buried in PowerPoint. They don’t seem like a high priority. Personas get so complex and long that no one can absorb them. Or, they speak purely to a company’s value proposition and how we should sell our products.

All of these issues are commonplace when developing a persona framework, so where can we look for inspiration to get out of this persona rut? Think like an industrial designer and take a page out of “Human-Centered Design” methodologies.

What Is Human-Centered Design?

Personas ensure that—even in complex organizations—you have a consistent, targeted and relevant message

Human-centered design was largely coined by design firm IDEO, and represents a process for designing products, experiences, and communications that are targeted at needs. While human-centered design is mostly applicable to creating products and experiences that delight users, it holds many lessons for B2B marketers thinking about how they can create better personas.

Here are three key lessons to steal from industrial designers:

1. Approach Personas from the Lens of Empathy vs. Sales

Empathy is a critical component of human-centered design and an ingredient that is often missing when considering buyer-personas. Design firms like IDEO put the user at the center of every decision by getting in their shoes and researching their experiences through detailed observation.

For example, when developing solutions for healthcare, IDEO sent their designers to hospitals with cameras on their heads to be a patient for a day. Researching people through the lens of empathy vs. existing value propositions is key to creating outside-in personas that reflect the true needs and interests of buyers.

One technique for incorporating empathy into your personas is leveraging Empathy Mapping techniques. Stanford Design School teaches empathy mapping as a tool to create more actionable personas.

2. Think Visually to Create Personas with Impact

Personas are only as valuable as how frequently they are used to make decisions and guide content choices. If they’re pages of text in PowerPoint decks, they won’t be effective at guiding strategy and ensuring that your content is buyer-centric.

Design firms faced this same problem, so have become more and more visual in their approaches to communicating personas. Some design firms will create short videos, magazines, or even posters that reflect the key attributes of buyers. MailChimp leveraged this more visual approach to create its own personas and make them a part of their office, so no one can lose sight of who they are building the company for.

3. Keep It Simple and Iterate Fast

Another key aspect of human-centered design is prototyping and experimentation. When designing new products, design firms will create very simple prototypes and get them in front of customers as soon as possible. The same approach can be leveraged to create great buyer-personas.

Instead of investing a year into creating complex personas, leverage up-front research to create simplified forms of personas. Then, test and iterate to improve them quickly.

Personas cannot be developed in a corporate vacuum. Start simple, get feedback early, iterate quickly

Do they represent the concerns and interest of that customer? Human-centered design teaches us to get things in front of users as early in the process as possible. Personas cannot be developed in a corporate vacuum, so start simple, get feedback early, and iterate quickly.

Human-centered design process is simple at its core. It is about becoming buyer obsessed, and putting their needs and interests at the center of everything. As you think about developing or improving your buyer personas, take a page from industrial designers and think about how you can build them from a more empathetic lens, how you can make them more visual and omnipresent to maximize impact and how you can start simple and get them in front of buyers as quickly as possible.

Riley Gibson

About Riley Gibson

Riley is Director of Service Programs at Kapost. He began his career as a consultant at The Sterling-Rice Group, working with clients like PepsiCo and Kraft. After SRG, Riley co-founded Napkin Labs, a SaaS company that enabled brands to crowdsource rich content from targeted influencer communities. Napkin Labs customers included Nike, Whole Foods and Sony. Riley joined Kapost to merge technology with best practices to help customers succeed.