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Apr 2016

Creating personas that work: 5 tips from a marketing professional

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Shaping the future of learning

How do you create learning that works and that people want to use? Start by getting to know your audience by talking with them and using data that informs you about what they do, like, and learn. Only once you’re under their skin can you design for them. But with learning audiences in their 100s and 1000s, you’ll need to pull that knowledge into a core set of personas - the fakest, most real people you’ll ever know; and that’ll be your best friends to creating cracking designs.

Start with the end point

To create honed learning designs – start with your end point: your audience.

Creating personas of your learning target audience isn’t a new idea – but long gone are the days when these are based on pre-defined learning styles or a set of management assumptions, as we allude to in our blog post on modern day needs analysis.

We owe it to learners to get up close and personal, so we can create personalised, tailored learning experiences that fit with their needs and that they’ll want to engage with. With digital data  available on tap – we can find out what people look at, like and engage with, on what device, where from, and for how long.  But unlike the standard marketing team, L&D teams can also find out their audience’s job title and role, experience, the profile of their team, who they manage and more.  Going one better - you can actually and easily talk to your audience, and more than once, to really get to know them.

Personas: the fakest, most real people you’ll ever know

So, once you’ve done some research, why pull back to create some personas?

Personas are fictional characters that represent your target audience, and are based on a set of real characteristics and trends. They help give you something to hang your design strategy off, and keep your designs on track. Personas can easily be shared with others in your team to keep everyone on target, without having to share reams and reams of data.

Key characteristics that should be in all personas are: job title, job responsibilities, challenges, motivators and training goals, and demographics such as education/skill level, age, sex, and income.

There’s an art to create personas that work for you and your business goals. Marketing has been obsessing over personas for years, and as a digital marketer who sings the gossip of the inbound marketing philosophy and getting inside an audiences’ head, here are some top tips for creating personas with impact.

5 tips to creating personas that work

1. Take a reality check

The reality of who your learners really are is in the facts, figures and conversations. This isn’t the time to project your desires of what the perfect learner should be. Get the cold, hard facts with an excel sheet from HR and have a look at the demographics, job titles and job responsibilities of your learners. Think of a list of questions and survey your learners and their supervisors to get an idea of what the learners are interested in, how they get their information, their attitudes towards training, what their day-to-day challenges are, and what motivates them.

2. Find the golden threads that link people together


It’s easy to get lost in the details and get overwhelmed with too many different learner groups, so you’ll need to widen the holes in your proverbial colander. In the marketing world, three to five personas is the golden rule in most cases, with one persona typically rising to the forefront. The key is quality, not quantity.

3. Get Frank(enstein) about who your learners really are


Pull together the key information outlined above and stitch it all together to bring your learner personas to life: give them a name and a face, and delve into the details that define your real learners and borrow actual traits from them. By bringing them to life, you can help create empathy for personas and think of them as real people – which in a way, they are.

4. Parade those personas

You created these beautiful, wonderful A4 paper-sized people and they are meant to experience life beyond your desk. They should be shared with your team and kept at the front of your and your team’s mind throughout the whole development and design process. You need to continually bench what you are doing against your personas by asking yourself: ‘What motivation would Checkout Cathy need to engage with this till training game?’ or ‘What would Supervisor Scott think of this safety training?’

5. People change, so do personas

Accept that your personas may change into someone you don’t even recognise anymore. The pace of change of today’s world isn’t for the weak of heart. What was one day is not the next. You should constantly keep an ear to the ground and conduct research and conversations within your organisation to ensure your personas are still alive and well within your organisation. Though it takes the most time and energy to develop personas the first time around, it does get easier each time.

Once you’ve prepped your personas, you’re ready to design learning for them, and use data to track if you’re doing it right. Personas are also a great way to give shape to a campaign approach to learning. So get creating those fake, real people that’ll guide you through, today.

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Shaping the future of learning

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