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I've talked about The Power of Persona and how using personas can foster a more tangible understanding of a target audience's needs, desires, pet peeves and behavior. Here's more detailed information on how to create personas and apply them.....

What is a persona? Personas create "real life" scenarios that support customer dialog inside an organization, and rally teams to drive multi-channel development in a manner that results in a more cohesive customer experience.
From my last article, I got some good feedback and received a number of questions including those surrounding the application and creation of personas in the market today. So here's a follow up of sorts, with some article links and a few comments.
There are tons of great articles about the use of persona out on the web, and I highly recommend a search and read on the topic. One article you might want to check out is a presentation from Forrester Research on Personas as a Best Practice (slide show). There's also a great article from Advertising Age in June 2006 (PDF format) for your reference.
It's impossible to deny the emerging significance of personas in defining, designing and refining customer experience, product and interaction design. While many have embraced the value of persona use in interaction design (software/Web), many organizations are now thinking bigger. It's about time.
We've already talked about Best Buy, which employs a deep use of personas in customer profiling, databases, store design. I'd love to see are some updates about the evolution of Best Buy profiling. On an inside track, I've learned that Jill is no longer the woman described in the Washington Post article mentioned above -- she has morphed, and they've got new female profiles now. Whatever the case, it's obvious Best Buy is learning a lot at a time when competitors like Circuit City face some harsh business reality. Best Buy has invested in evolving its business model and they're reaping benefits in the form of growth.
Anecdotally, Best Buy's employees are also learning a lot about recognizing customers and realizing market opportunity, as well. One 20-something music department employee from a Best Buy store in Texas called his manager's attention to a key demographic being missed entirely in the store: the Mega Church attendee. Under the manager's direction, the employee conducted research and created a listing of Christian Music that he felt would boost music sales in the department.
The manager took the recommendations to corporate HQ and gained permission to test the idea in the store. Within months, music sales increased in the music department by 15%. The program rolled out to other stores across the region shortly thereafter.
On a different note, I've followed some work that Organic has done with Chrysler this year. Working with a stage design firm, Organic developed "persona rooms" designed to inspire more customer-focused development of cars (and marketing programs) to Gen X customer base. The persona rooms allow Chrysler designers to work within the customer's personal space and absorb the interests, needs, desires and personality to inspire design direction. The rooms feature personal style, taste, products and musical taste and even go so far as to feature bulletin board updates and "My Space" pages for several of the personas they have developed.
You can read more about this in the article from Advertising Age June 2006 article (PDF format).
Here's other applications for persona: I have a client who has used personas for the development of integrated campaigns and programs for several years. She is now looking at how to use personas to change the way she manages and structures teams inside her organization. As an executive marketer, she serves a diverse audience of technologists, product developers and other characters. She uses personas to help her staff understand the needs and drivers of these individuals to empower them to manage their "internal customers" more effectively.
She also counsels her team on how to rally participants around shared goals that center on customer need and experience. In her words: "It's a pain, and it takes more time. I'm still working out kinks all the time, but I gotta tell you, when you get the right team balance, the right customer focus and the the right programs to connect, the results are magic. We've only seen a hint at how this is going to pay off... and my staff recognizes the power of working this way, too."
There's no end to the companies that are using personas to develop multi-channel experiences. Consider Starbucks, which is using personas to develop annual reports (among other things).
Discover Card, which used personas to create marketing campaigns to various types of customers.
Roche Pharmaceuticals, which used personas to create multi-channel campaigns targeted to women with osteoporosis.
And Ann Taylor, which is using personas to focus targeting and retail design.
Ultimately, it's not enough just to develop a persona, or group of personas. That's the end, not the means. The goal of persona use is to develop a well-defined and easily articulated picture of the customers we serve. We must iteratively use personas to benchmark and refine our view of the customer as much as we use them to refine and shape the architecture that supports customer experience.
The lesson of it all: when we shape our organizations around a well-defined knowledge of who we serve, we in turn empower our organizations to serve those customers well.

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image of Leigh Duncan-Durst
Leigh Duncan Durst (leigh at livepath dot net) is a 20-year veteran of marketing, e-commerce, and business and the founder of Live Path (www.livepath.net).