5 Steps to Great User Personas for More Agile Marketing

The other night at DC Marketing Tech Talks, we talked about Agile Marketing and Product Ownership.  Admittedly, it was an edgy topic – for even fairly technically inclined marketers.  Now nearly 10 years old, Agile is now the established framework for product development. Designed to keep a laser-focus on customers (a.k.a. user personas) at its most basic level, Agile means:

  • Flexible response to change rather than making and following rigid, detailed plans
  • Rapid, small, and well-defined actions replacing long projects
  • Tight, cross-functional collaboration supplanting hierarchy and silos
  • Valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Striving for continual improvement over time

Data-driven user personasIn recent years, Agile has changed a product manager’s job quite a bit.  It’s also now changing marketing, as some of the “marketing plan” mentality gives way to a “data-driven sprint” one.

During the discussion, although hardly a new idea, it became clear that great marketing and great product development share the same foundation.  Both IT and marketing agree that high quality user stories, detailed user personas and thorough understanding of the customer journey are critical to success.

A DC Marketing Tech Talk panelist specifically said companies needed primary market research.  However, in my experience, it is way too slow and prescriptive. Creating reliable user personas is best done by doing a traditional market segmentation project.  It means collecting survey data, large samples, and K-means clustering that segments the market based on values and beliefs.  So how can this possibly be compatible with Agile development and marketing?

How Can You do Market Research and Be Agile?

Let’s take a look at the typical business that follows Agile- a SaaS app.  There’s usually no shortage of user behavior data, marketing automation data, or user stories.  Why not pull of these valuable sources together?

Great user personas steps

List of steps for great user personas – for SaaS marketers

Instead of segmenting on values first, a SaaS app can start by segmenting based on app usage.  Using app usage data, we can create percentile groups.  Let’s call these percentile groups broad user personas.  There’s going to be a top 5% who use the majority of the service.  There will be next a 15% that uses the app a lot, but it highly different ways, but use lots of the features and functions.  The following 20% – they might use it still less, but tend to stick to a more limited set of certain features. The bottom 60% – this broad user persona group probably don’t use your app nearly as much as you’d like them to rely on it.

Each broad user persona, is certain to be composed of sub-segments.  By merging usage data with marketing automation data you can get a picture of the buyer journey.  By merging in user stories, and doing the content analysis, you can find trends in customer needs.  From time to time, flesh out this picture with customer interviews to understand customer values and beliefs.  Analyze these four data sources over time.  Together, they’ll give a clear picture of your customers – of where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going.

Remember that User Personas Research is.. on Users

Keep in mind that this isn’t market research.  It’s customer research, as it does not look at the whole market need.  Only a time-tested a values and beliefs-based market segmentation model can do that.   Until your SaaS app grows large enough for this luxury, usage-based user personas are your best bet.