If you’ve ever worked in the software world you’ve come across personas. Depending on the size of your org you could have personas across product, engineering, marketing, support and other disciplines.
Yet personas have multiple inherent problems. In this post we’ll be exploring why personas are problematic, how they end up building a product with bias and losing focus. Whilst covering an alternative in the form of segmentation and micro segmentation.
Who Are We Building For?
It’s something that everyone in a software org asks. Who are we building for, what do they need? What are their requirements? How do we reach them?
Then the common solution to the problem of “who are we building for” comes down to personas. And that’s where things start to fall apart.
Product Building With Inherent Bias
Whether you think you are biased or not. Trust me you are. It’s human nature and basic psychology to bring your own views, experiences and what’s shaped you into what you build. And that isn’t necessarily bad.
But. Yep there’s a but. It is bad if your team is made up of people with the same culture, views, experiences, if you lack diversity in representing those with different backgrounds and if you haven’t been an end-user of the product you are trying to build.
Personas feed into our internal bias even if we don’t realize it. You end up with laser focused personas that talk in stereotypes, that feed into useless details that don’t help you build your product.
Personas Target No One While Targeting Everyone
The very nature of a persona makes you believe that you’re targeting a specific group but the problem with personas is that teams have become aware how highly targeted personas are useless as they’re too specific they end up creating loose personas that talk to a large segment.
For example in most personas you’ll see an occupation. This is usually used to target the feature set of the product for those in that speciality. Yet occupation can be as wide as a business owner, a developer, or a CTO.
Are all business owners the same? No. Do all use cases apply to every business owner? No.
Then it becomes a game of selling the obvious rather than a solution. Selling a good UI. A bug-free experience, stable software. None of which is a solution that is marketable. Personas begin to talk about the bare minimum requirements of a good product, not the aim.
Segmentation Over Personas
When you think of segmentation you might think of marketing. Email segmentation. Customer segmentation. How does this translate to a product?
Using segmentation at a 50,000ft level can then turn into a 50ft view at micro segmentation.
Let’s take LearnDash as an example.
Primary segment: Course creators. Now you’re probably thinking “Yeah, Jack that’s everyone”. And you’d be right. That’s our top-line main segment.
Now we look inwards towards the micro segments.
So if we break course creators down we have the following micro segments within the primary.
- Subject Matter Experts — Those who have a specialty in one subject and want to create a course.
- Corporate Trainer — Those who train their own teams internally or run corporate training for external corporations.
- Higher Ed — Universities that offer online training and courses.
- K12 — Classroom based training for junior schools, middle schools and high schools.
- Social Media / Influencers — Those who built a following on social media platforms and offer training/courses on their expertise. Tightly linked to subject matter experts.
And so on. Now you can see even just from one high level segment we ended up with specific micro segments that we can target and build for. Each of which has their own requirements and needs.
But because we aren’t talking in personas they aren’t too focused. They don’t hold bias as we aren’t talking about a person but a group of people. And most critically they make your team think about the product and identify trends and needs from a perspective that isn’t a biased persona perspective.
Segmenting Your Micro Segments
The best thing about micro segments is you can drill down further and segment your micro segments.
For example our corporate trainer micro segments we could then narrow down corporate trainers down on company size, technical expertise, and so-on. Whether you further segment your segments depends entirely on how complex your product is.
Growing Your Business With Micro Segments
Struggling for revenue? Look into micro segmentation to target customers with specific features that talk to your segment.
You may discover through micro segmentation that you need for example blended learning for those who do online courses and in person courses with a mix.
Micro segments allow you to discover the need, ideate the solution and iterate on a MVP.
If you’re building a brand new product, micro segments are the ideal way to offer targeted solutions and make sure your valuable proposition is clear without going after everyone and thinking you’ll be the next unicorn.
Planning Your Micro Segments
To help think through micro segmentation consider thinking about it like you would keyword research.
You have your head keyword which is your ideal I want to rank number 1 for this. “Online Courses”.
Then you might have your midtail keyword “Online Courses For Course Creators”.
Then you might have your longtail keywords (your micro segments) “Online Course Creation For Subject Matter Experts”.
When building your micro segments you need to be able to identify the following:
- Key pain points.
- Ideal solutions.
- Avoid minimum expected requirements (e.g, “A good UI”, no one wants a bad one. A good one isn’t a selling point).
Think through clearly what everyone wants. Then think through what does a subset of those customers want? Then what does that subset want? In the end you end up at your longtail keyword or in this case your micro segment.
Most crucial is your pain point. While most people can’t clearly articulate what they actually need, they can articulate their pain points with existing software or when trying to find software.
The pain points allow you to plan out goals and pain relievers that satisfy user demand and ultimately lead to happy customers and product success.
Micro segmentation is a way of prioritizing your features and product set without diving into the highly focused or loose user personas that come with bias and lack of understanding.
Micro segmentation can clearly be understood by your entire teams and doesn’t lead to awkward conversations around “We’re targeting John Doe with this feature”. Speaking to your micro segments is speaking to your customers.