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How Personas Fail: Updating Personas for Targeted Success

Personas are a valuable tool in user experience design as they help to understand and connect with the target audience. However, using the same personas for years may impact usability and result in failure to deliver a user-centric product. In this article, we will explore why personas fail, the importance of updating them regularly, and best practices for keeping them relevant.

How Personas Fail

Despite their potential, personas can fail due to various factors. According to Nielsen Norman in their article Personas Are Living Documents: Design Them to Evolve, there are five of the most common reasons why personas tend to fail:

  1. Created but Not Used

    Scepticism and dismissal of personas as a wasted effort hindering future success.
  2. No Buy-In from Leadership

    Difficulty justifying research on a familiar user base, leading to misalignment in decision-making.
  3. Created in Isolation

    Perceived as mere artefacts rather than valuable tools, resulting in underutilization.
  4. Don’t Know How to Use Them
    Personas become static, collecting dust, with minimal impact on projects.
  5. Fundamental Flaw
    Misalignment between the goal of personas and the scope of work, diminishing their usefulness.

Why We Should Update Personas

The only constant in the business landscape is change. As customer behaviours, preferences, and market trends are constantly changing, it’s important to regularly update customer personas to ensure they remain accurate and relevant. This will help businesses stay agile and adjust their strategies to meet the ever-changing expectations of their customers.

“What if we refuse to update them?”

Neglecting to update your buyer personas is like sailing in uncharted waters without a compass. Outdated assumptions can lead to misaligned offerings, resulting in ineffective marketing campaigns, product misfits, and a decline in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

When We Should Update Personas

The key indicators for determining when to refresh your personas include:

  • Business and Technology Changes
    The first signal for persona updates lies in assessing shifts in your products and the competitive landscape. If there have been significant transformations in your offerings or those of your competitors, it’s a sign that users’ objectives and activities may have also changed, which could require a persona update.
  • Changes in User Base

    Large-scale transformations in your business or customer demographics are obvious triggers for persona updates. However, detecting subtle or gradual changes can be more challenging. You can utilize broad demographic data, analytics, user testing, and support-centre insights to uncover shifts in user behaviour and needs.
How frequently should personas updated? Source: Nielsen Norman Group

Best Practices for Updating Personas

To ensure that your personas are always up-to-date and relevant, here are some best practices that you can follow:

  • Scheduled Assessments and Regular Updates
    Establish a routine for assessing persona relevance and schedule regular updates to keep them aligned with evolving user behaviours, industry trends, and business goals.
  • Cross-functional Collaboration

    Involve stakeholders from various departments in the persona update process to gain diverse perspectives and ensure a comprehensive understanding of user needs.
  • Real-time Data Integration
    Utilize real-time data sources like analytics tools, customer feedback, and market research to gather up-to-date information on user behaviours and preferences for continuous persona accuracy.
  • Business and Competitive Analysis

    Regularly analyze changes in your business and the competitive landscape. Significant shifts, such as pivots or advancements by competitors, should prompt reevaluation and updates to personas.
  • Iterative Refinement Overhaul

    Adopt an iterative approach to persona updates, focusing on regular refinements and tweaks based on incremental changes and ongoing insights. This ensures smoother transitions and reduces confusion within the team.

Always Keep an Eye

The ultimate aim of these persona updates is to harmonize your understanding of users with their evolving expectations and the changing landscape of your industry. By diligently revisiting and refining your personas, you not only adapt to current user realities but also set the stage for achieving targeted business success. It’s a strategic investment in staying attuned to your audience, aligning your strategies with their needs, and ultimately ensuring that your business remains agile and responsive in a dynamic marketplace.

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Monica Halim
UX Copywriter, Webfeeling

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