Stay Out of the Danger Zone: Using Personas for Content Development

Personas are tools used by user experience (UX) professionals in order to understand how to design, write, and develop interactive applications for people. UX professionals include usability experts, human factor designers, information architects, content strategists, and user interface designers, among others.

As content creators, there's a lot we can learn from the persona tool. Personas breathe real life into your audience so you don't fall into the trap of depersonalizing your customers by thinking of them as users rather than considering them as real flesh-and-blood people. Personas help all content creators focus on the customer, making their needs, worries, and responsibilities foremost, rather than our own.

A persona is a full profile of your customer-everything you could possibly want to know about him or her. Imagine creating this profile and posting it on the wall of your conference room, and telling everyone to direct their marketing efforts at her. Your job is to get her to buy or use your product. You need to know who she is in order to be effective at communicating with her.

Marketers also use personas because they identify target audiences and how to connect to their customers. When a digital strategy team discovers how customers consume content, use interactive applications, and engage with the digital world, they enrich their understanding of the audience they need to reach.

To begin, you must define your audience. We need to know who they are so that we can speak to their interests and in their language.

Content is all about having a conversation. We don't want to come across as narcissists-only focused on our own needs and what we want to say. Nobody likes someone who is always talking about himself or herself. If the other person is always talking, how can there be any listening and exchange of information?

In speaking to your audience, you need to be clear that your content is there to provide them with the information they need and want. The more we know about them, the more effective our content will be. That's why persona creation is critical to the process.

You must be able to answer these four very critical questions if you want to create fantastic content for your brand:

Who is our audience?

What do they care about?

Where do they spend their time?

How do we get them the information they need?

Of course, there is never just one persona-after all, we are trying to reach a world full of people of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, interests, and so on. Particularly in a massive global organization, the challenge of creating personas may feel overwhelming. However, it can, should, and must be done.

Personas do more than identify and define your audience. Personas help create alignment among your content creation team. If everyone knows that your audience consists of Avery, Spencer, and Grayson (the modern-day versions of the famous Tom, Dick, and Harry), then they will be able to better plan for content and edit each other's work.

Without personas, companies often tend to forget who is consuming the content on the other end. This leads them into what I call the "Danger Zone," which causes their customers to zone out because the content is either way too vanilla or lacks any competitive differentiation on the web.

Creating personas means gathering everyone on your team together to discuss and sort through the people you are trying to reach. Use research and analytics to define your audiences. Remember, you need to create a persona for every target audience you have. By doing this, your team will have a working group of characters that your team can consistently point back to and ask, "Will this content appeal to him or her?"

I would recommend using a mix of types of personas, depending on the type of organization for which you manage content. Each organization needs to pick the right type of personas so they use them in a way that shapes an artful conversation. Your job is to create content that intrigues, delights, inspires, and encourages your audience to do something. If you don't know who they are, you can't possibly do any of the above.