• Developing Accurate Personas: Part 1

Developing Accurate Personas: Part 1

Posted by Paul Manz | Rare Thinking |

When it comes to persona development, many firms tend to take a loose approach. At best, they interview a few dozen customers to identify commonalities that allow the agency to group each one into “persona buckets”. At worst, they write down what they think they know about a customer base and roll with it.

This approach, even at its best, gives an inaccurate and coarse view of a market. Why? Because it's based solely on qualitative research without the balanced perspective a quantitative study provides. In order to paint an accurate picture of a customer base, you need both quantitative and qualitative research to work together.

Before I get into that, let’s be clear on their differences. To quote SnapSurveys;

Qualitative Research is primarily exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. ”

Quantitative Research is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into useable statistics. “

You may be asking how that affects the final product. Let me make a quick analogy using photography.

If I take an image created with the four color process used in printing and remove the cyan, magenta and yellow, you’re left with a black and white photograph. It’s useful - you get the idea of what I want you to see and can make assumptions based on the photograph.


The image above clearly depicts a cat riding a horse. The cat is brandishing something (a can of spray paint?) and the horse looks excited to head out on an adventure. Think of this as the result of a quantitative study.

Now, if we look at the image with the cyan, magenta, and yellow (but no black), we see a different picture. We can see that the cat is “packing heat” and is actually riding a fire-breathing unicorn. This can be compared to qualitative research - it’s full of emotion. However, we can see it’s still not completely accurate.


When all of the colors are brought together below, we can see we’re actually dealing with a unicorn-riding, feline badass who’s packing a gold plated pistol. With the black channel detail included, we can see the look in this cat’s eyes is not aggressive but focused and confident.


What does this mean? 

As marketer’s, we‘re tasked with helping companies build relationships through the use of different personas. It’s relatively easy to put together some in-depth interviews (IDI’s) or field a focus group. We may ask questions and, with a relatively small sample size, pull key insights out of it. However, this may not reveal degrees to which sentiments are felt. You may receive flawed data from an overbearing personality in the focus group, for example, or from a person who is afraid of retribution for being completely honest in an interview.

On the flip side, it’s not terribly difficult to take a black and white approach through the use of a spreadsheet that quantifies different aspects of persona sentiments. The numbers are critical though. For example, if we hear that most of the people in a focus group go on LinkedIn frequently, a presence on that platform might make sense. However, if we ask each person to quantify how often they visit LinkedIn and see it’s every six months, a LinkedIn presence might be wasteful. The downside here, of course, is that this quantitative data lacks the nuances of human experience.

To put it succinctly, quantitative research gives us the the black and white views that allow us to make wise business decisions while qualitative research brings us the color behind the human experience.

You need both in order to be able to make sound business decisions, as well as confidently and accurately plan your marketing efforts.

Are you using any quantitative data in your persona development exercises or are you relying purely on qualitative? Does one work better than the other? Tell us what you think.