Creating Persona-lized Experiences

 In New and Emerging

How do organizations that have an incredible amount of online content, ensure that the experience that they provide to you is highly personal to you and make you feel that they really care about you.

For example, how does Netflix, with tons of content in their inventory ensure that whenever any one of their 30 Million members lands onto the home screen, they find something that is of interest to them. Or, how does Amazon, with millions and millions of products to sell, ensure that they showcase to you, those products that are most likely to grab your attention. Because when they do that, they increase the probability of you buying something from them… and you continue buying from them. Organizations like Khan Academy spend a lot of energy in designing an experience that makes you feel that you are getting personal attention

And why does personalization work? How can you create a portal for thousands or millions of users, and still make it a personal experience?

The answer to this ‘why’ lies in a fundamental principle of human behavior called the “Cocktail Party Phenomenon” and it goes like this…

If we are at a cocktail party with dozens of people chatting around us, our attention will go a conversation that has something of interest to us… for example, if someone says our name, we will immediately get tuned into that conversation, and our mind will block out every other noise that is happening around us. Simply stated, it means that, “We naturally orient towards information or ideas that we are invested in.”

How is this Personalization achieved?  There are really two parts to it:

The first part has to do with modeling your users in behavioral archetypes based on research, into Personas and designing the portal so that it satisfies the needs of these personas.

It really deals with making the user feel that, “this is relevant to me”, “this will change my life in some way”, “I can share this with my family and friends”, or “this adds meaning to my life.”

And the second part is about continuously learning users’ behavior on the portal and getting insights from these, and presenting the content based on these. It deals with things such as what are they clicking on, how much time they are spending on this particular category, where are they currently located, what places are they going to – and when, and then suggesting the content based on this data.

The first part is about experience design… and second part is about machine learning, analytics and data science. As Robert Rose explained,  this process really goes through a spectrum that starts with designing for personas at a broader level and narrowing down to personalizing for individuals. As you move forward in a customer journey, you want to be more and more relevant.

Take a sales offering for example. A company has an offering that it creates for a client archetype. This could be in the form of a general deck or a blog or a brochure, or a promotional video. But when a salesperson makes a presentation during an in-person meeting with the client, he will certainly sharply personalize the pitch to that particular client. This is about starting with a persona and narrowing down to personalization.

Personas that are used in Experience Design were invented by Alan Cooper. He introduced them in his book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” during the late 90s. Then Kim Goodwin explained the process at Cooper in her phenomenal book ‘Designing for the Digital Age’ published in 2009.

Personas really work… but why? Because they encourage us relate to our users in a human way. Human beings are motivated to take actions because they have certain goals they want to achieve. Personas articulate these goals and serve as a reference point while designing the experience of a site. We are very accustomed to creating archetypes among people and this helps us in making sense of the world. For example, when a friend refers another person to us as a loony or a geek, we can predict his behavior to some extent.

Personas mitigate the disadvantage of meeting the real users all the time. They are proxy users who are always available to us for taking design decisions and getting these decisions validated. They use storytelling to engage our brains to see if the design works or not. Each Persona serves as a surrogate user for thousands of real users. They serve to help us with technical decisions and business decisions. Designers then take this Persona and map out the journey of it to find out opportunities to improve her experience.

In this video, I have tried to explain the process of creating Personas with a real example where you can clearly see how our research helped us to create a Persona which helped us take decisions in the context of experience design.

Persona really bring all the stakeholders on the same page so everyone knows for whom are we designing … and how are we solving their problems.

Of course, doing these in a real project can get much more elaborate and involved, but I hope you are able to the see the importance and value of Personas in creating personalized experiences….

Or shall we say Persona-lized experiences….?

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