I am many

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How to create a per­sona for idea deve­lo­p­ment — tips and tricks

Janine is 24 years old, lives with her mother and is trai­ning to be an indus­trial clerk. We know a lot more about Janine, how she thinks, feels, what she is inte­res­ted in, what upsets her, what her plans are. Janine does not exist. Janine is a persona.

Change of scene: The work­shop has now las­ted two days. 12 edi­tors are working on deve­lo­ping a new pro­po­sal for Janine. All the edi­tors are cal­led Janine. Not only the women, but also the men. Well, not really, but they all address each other as Janine all the time. What’s going on?

Per­so­nas are popu­lar in mar­ke­ting, and rightly so. They are very hel­pful when it comes to deve­lo­ping offers, pro­ducts or com­mu­ni­ca­tion for spe­ci­fic tar­get groups. It’s much easier to come up with ideas for real peo­ple (or what feels like them) than for an abs­tract tar­get group.

Yet per­so­nas no lon­ger have much in com­mon with what the term ori­gi­nally meant. Even in anci­ent times, the per­sona was the actor’s mask, the face shown to the out­side world. This under­stan­ding is also in the con­cept of the per­sona accor­ding to C.G. Jung. For him it was “what one appears to be”. In mar­ke­ting and crea­tive deve­lo­p­ment, on the other hand, one builds com­plete per­so­na­li­ties. They must appear alive, authen­tic, cre­di­ble, mul­ti­face­ted, give deep insights into their inner sel­ves, reveal their dreams and fears, their “gains and pains”, as if they were the best of friends.

In the pro­cess, the per­sona con­den­ses all the qua­li­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive data that could be glea­ned from rese­arch on the tar­get group. It is a fic­tional per­son, but not a freely crea­ted one. It embo­dies a spe­ci­fic cus­to­mer seg­ment. This also results in the chall­enge of crea­ting per­so­nas. This pro­cess takes place in a fun­da­men­tal ten­sion. A good per­sona is the best pos­si­ble media­tion bet­ween the poles of this tension:

The per­sona is a per­son
On the one hand, the per­sona should look like a real per­son: A uni­que per­son who does not exist a second time, with very indi­vi­dual quirks. Only then does it appear alive, authen­tic and “real”. In return, the per­sona is given very spe­ci­fic cha­rac­te­ristics, inte­rests, acti­vi­ties, expe­ri­en­ces, a social envi­ron­ment, and so on.

The per­sona is a tar­get group
On the other hand, the per­sona should typify the rele­vant cha­rac­te­ristics of the tar­get group, i.e. be typi­cal of an entire cus­to­mer group. The­r­e­fore, despite all the con­cre­tiza­tion and cla­ri­fi­ca­tion, it must not be too rest­ric­tive in the deve­lo­p­ment of ideas. “But Janine eats a ver­gan diet” — Yes, but that does­n’t apply to ever­yone in the tar­get group. Her per­so­na­lity should accom­mo­date as many facets as pos­si­ble of the tar­get group she represents. 

One trick to solve this can be to deve­lop two very dif­fe­rent per­so­nas for the same tar­get group or type. In the above work­shop, that’s why there was Alex in addi­tion to Janine. The same type at the core, but quite dif­fe­rent in his spe­ci­fic acti­vi­ties and preferences.

Tips and tricks
It is not an easy task to mediate well in this ten­sion. One hundred per­cent will not — and can­not — suc­ceed. Here are a few basic tips from our experience:

  1. Empi­ri­cism
    Always ori­en­tate on the empi­ri­cal basis, ide­ally quan­ti­ta­tive and qua­li­ta­tive data are used — but wit­hout qua­li­ta­tive-psy­cho­lo­gi­cal insights it is usually not pos­si­ble, then the per­sona remains too superficial.
  2. Details
    Make the per­sona “juicy”: Enrich with very con­crete details from their life. It is not enough that you know her name, that she has two child­ren and a dog and likes to buy shoes. You need a deep look into her soul. Never for­get the empi­ri­cal basis (tip 1).
  3. Cohe­rence
    A cre­di­ble per­sona makes an over­all coher­ent impres­sion. It is a “gestalt.” Their appearance, beha­vior, social envi­ron­ment, bio­gra­phy, atti­tu­des, and even their con­flicts and con­tra­dic­tions add up to a whole.
  4. Com­pact
    Don’t get too ela­bo­rate. After all, you want to be able to work with it later. Rule of thumb: one page, or one poster.
  5. Real per­son as a basis
    It may be hel­pful to use a real per­son, e.g. from in-depth inter­views, as a basis in order to have a coher­ent, cre­di­ble foun­da­tion. This can then be sup­ple­men­ted and enri­ched with cha­rac­te­ristics from other interviews.
  6. Pic­tures
    You want to get a pic­ture of the per­sona, so use one. You can find enough free por­trait pho­tos in image databases.
  7. Weak pic­tures
    Important when choo­sing a por­trait: Not too spe­ci­fic, bet­ter a “weak” image, i.e. one that can be laid out. So no per­son with a mohawk. That alre­ady sets too much on a cer­tain asso­cia­tion space. Unless the tar­get group are punks.
  8. Col­lage
    In addi­tion, pho­tos or illus­tra­ti­ons from the persona’s envi­ron­ment can be put tog­e­ther on a large col­lage and prin­ted out as a pos­ter and hung up in the work­shop room.
  9. Rather more
    Rather deve­lop two or three per­so­nas, and do not “squeeze” too many cha­rac­te­ristics into one.
  10. Sto­rytel­ling
    If you have deve­lo­ped a pos­ter for the per­sona, for exam­ple: Have an addi­tio­nal nar­ra­tive text ready. You can give this to the par­ti­ci­pants in advance as a home­work assign­ment so that they can alre­ady get an ima­gi­na­tive feel for it — or you can read the text aloud as a mode­ra­tor in bites during the course of the work­shop to give the idea deve­lo­p­ment new material.

And lastly: If ever­yone con­sis­t­ently adopts the name of the per­sona and all address each other as Janine, for exam­ple, you will no lon­ger lose sight of the per­sona and thus the rele­vant tar­get group so quickly during idea deve­lo­p­ment. The ori­gi­nal con­cept of the per­sona as a mask then makes sense again.

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