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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Website Personas: A Practitioner’s Guide – Persona Maintenance (Post 6 of 7)

Consider, for a moment, how your own attitudes or behaviors may have changed over the past several years.

How do you regard travel to Europe or the Eastern Mediterranean these days?

Would you still consider Greece a feasible holiday destination?

What are your views on the environment or global warming?

How do you view nuclear power after Fukashima?

Have your views on investment strategy changed?

Have your views of politicians gotten better or worse?

Do you see the world differently as a result of discoveries in quantum physics?

Have any of these attitudinal changes led you to modify your behavior or even to adopt new behaviors? Do you spend your money the same way you used to? Do you dress the same way? Has your diet changed? Do you exercise differently? Do you read different types of books? Do you spend less time in the sun? Do you buy the products Tiger Woods endorses? Do you buy political memoirs these days? Do you still use a financial advisor? Do you invest in bonds or gold or real estate or art?

The point, of course, is that our opinions, our attitudes, our operating beliefs change as the world around us changes. Our personas should be no different. Just as we as individuals constantly change our beliefs and our behaviors, so should our personas. If they fail to reflect the current reality they are supposed to personify, they limit their value. They might even become counter-productive if they lead to invalid or erroneous decisions.

It is therefore advisable to build a maintenance routine into the persona development process. This should take several threads.

The most obvious is to run some sort of visitor intercept survey continuously. Build dashboards that allow you to monitor metrics and demographics longitudinally so that you can see immediately if patterns or trends are changing. This is your primary tool for pulse-taking and change detection. It can be supplemented by all the other data sources we mentioned in the research phase, but the survey is the touchstone.

Most data visualization software these days allows the data to be compressed or expanded for comparative use, so year-to-year, quarter-to-quarter, month-to-month changes can be readily identified and monitored. Are the changes incidental or systemic? Time tells. When change is systemic, it is time to examine and perhaps refine the personas. Perhaps a new persona has emerged? Perhaps one persona no longer exists?

These questions arise naturally out of systematic review of the data, but the personas should be reviewed once a year and will almost certainly need systemic revision every two years.

These are not hard and fast rules, however, because the context dictates the pace of change and the need for revision. In our experience, for example, personas in the travel industry tend to change less frequently. Travel patterns (behaviors) change with political and economic developments but travel needs and modes (business, vacation, honeymoon, romantic getaway, adventure, family, etc.) and the types of people undertaking them tend to remain consistent.

Home security might be another example of an industry with comparatively stable personas. These personas certainly change from region to region or country to country. Domestic security services are very different in neighborhoods in Johannesburg, South Africa, for example, from what they are in Bozeman, Montana or in hi-rise apartment buildings in Shanghai, China. But if you have a set of diverse, regionally representative, contextually attuned, international personas they should need no more than occasional tweaking over time.

Personas developed for the financial, technology, medical, or retail sectors, on the other hand, can change radically — in the blink of an iPhone. The advent of smart mobile devices and their enabling technologies have led to new behaviors, new expectations, and an entirely new range of experiences. Where, three years ago, for example, was the consumer persona we now know as the retail show-roomer? Where was the doctor who rarely sees a patient in person? Where was the retail bank customer who hasn’t set foot in a branch for two years? And if you are familiar with the financial services industry, you’ll know that the psychographic profile of the self-directed investor of five years ago looked nothing like that of his or her counterpart today.

These are not just new or different behaviors. They are, in marketing terms, new types of customers. The way these new types consumed products and services made an immediate impact on the brands that generate revenue from them, and those brands had to scramble to adapt their delivery systems to their new customers’ needs.

As we have observed brands adapting to these changes, we have seen that clients who have persona maintenance programs in place have been able to respond faster and with greater confidence to recent changes than those who, for whatever reason, have not paid adequate attention to maintenance.

Good, effective personas yield a massive ROI. Maintenance simply makes sound financial sense. After all, if your personas’ mental models are no longer current, how do you know their predictions are accurate? And that, surely, is the whole point of having them.

– Roger Beynon, CSO, Usability Sciences

Interested in talking with us about Personas? Contact us over at getdirection.com

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