/   Business

The Trouble with User Personas

Leah Hacker   |   May 22, 2019   •  

If you haven’t caught up on last week’s podcast, Customer-Centric Arms Race, you should. We talk to Jason Hreha, Head of Product, Behavioral Sciences at Walmart on the connected consumer, human behavior, and the changing landscape of retail. 


When I was really young, we would shop on Saturdays. My grandmother, my aunts, my mom, and I would go out for breakfast and then spend the rest of the day shopping and running errands. I remember those days being some of my favorite days. My grandmother had a rule — I could put anything I wanted in the shopping cart. Anything at all. No limit. But when it came time to check out, I had to choose the one thing I wanted the most. She figured by letting me put it in the cart, I could take my time and think about it. I could compare to my other options as we strolled through the stores. 

We are a long way from Saturday shopping trips with Grandma, but I still think of Grandma’s rule when I am shopping. Instead of putting things in my shopping cart, I visit the website over and over again until I know exactly what I want before walking into the store, I carry my phone with me while shopping and use it to quickly compare, search, and buy, and I pick which retailer I want to buy from— based on what I want, not what’s available to me within driving distance.   

Having this level of availability and information at our fingertips has revolutionized how we interact with and purchase from the brands that serve us. As Jason remarks in the podcast, “the switching cost is lower” — and he’s right. It’s just as easy to stop purchasing or switch brands or stores as it is to start purchasing from a new brand or store. Instead of selecting to purchase something only out of the choices available to us in our carts or in our local stores, we now have choices worldwide. 

Moreover, consumers are focused on experiences — the full end to end experience of engaging with brands, retailers, and services. Connectivity has enabled consumers to move through their day with a streamlined ease, minimizing many pain-points that once were ubiquitous. It is this same expectation of streamlined interactions consumers expect across all of their experiences in retail. 

In an effort to create experiences that meet the needs of today’s consumers, organizations generally understand the importance of defining the consumer and understanding their expectations. In an effort to really understand the user and make sure it’s adequately communicated across an organization’s operational teams, it’s common to develop a user persona prior to launching a new product or service. User personas usually look a lot like this: 

Meet Fitness Fiona

Fiona is in her late 20s to early 30s and leads an active life in an urban city. As a business professional, she may work in finance, consulting, or technology and is college educated. Fiona does not have children but may be in a relationship or even married. She frequents the gym, yoga classes, spin classes, and even goes for a run outside. She works long hours developing her career but prioritizes self-care and health. With expendable income, making between 100K-120K, she enjoys lifestyle brands, prioritizes convenience and comfort over price, and values experience over product. You can find Fiona shopping at Lululemon, West Elm, or at the local wine bar or coffee shop.    

The problem with this user persona is that it creates a really surface, really narrow picture of the target consumer. Chances are, Fiona, if she really exists, is a multi-faceted person with specific needs and motivations for engaging with your brand. In fact, this description of her may look great in a brand brief, but tells you nothing about why she purchases her brand, shops at your store, or even why she stops purchasing or switches to competitors. 

As humans, we like to think of ourselves as exceptions to the rules. But the truth is, the way we behave, interact, respond, and initiate is guided by principles that have been with us from the very beginning. As creators of products, experiences, and brands that serve people, it’s important that we understand the individuals we create for and those age-old behavioral principles at play. 

Leveraging foundational principles that are rooted in evolutionary psychology, behavioral psychology, and personality psychology can help us understand our users better — on a deeper, human level — influencing every touchpoint of your consumer experience….even your user persona.

It’s Worth Doing Right podcast is curated and produced by Accomplice.  To learn more about Accomplice, check us out here.

Mad props to Jason Hreha for joining us on this episode of IWDR. To learn more about Jason and his work in behavioral psychology, check out his blog: The Behavioral Scientist  


Accomplice specializes in creating consumer experiences for today’s brands – from digital to physical spaces. Visit our website to learn more about the Accomplice team.

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