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Proto-personas: Understanding target groups intuitively

Simple, reduced personas based on customer contacts are often the starting point for data-based target group work. What proto-personas are and how you can use them data-driven personas from them: A guide.

What are personas?

Products are used by different target groups. Customers who have already bought a product differ in their motivation, needs and goals, which is why they have chosen this product. Potential customers often tick differently again.

The respective representatives of these target groups in their life situation represent personas. Personas illustrate a typical target group representative who thus depicts a specific target group. You can think of it as a kind of profile that provides additional information that is important for product development.

Information that a persona contains:

  • A picture of the representing person, who thus gets a face

Demographic data

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Residence
  • Marital status
  • Occupation
  • Income


  • Interests: Hobbies and leisure activities
  • Quotes that reveal the attitude of the person
  • If already a customer: statements on the reason for the purchase decision
  • Usability: Possible problems when using the product

With the help of personas, all those involved in the project know in which lifeworld their target group moves, what challenges they face, what needs they have and what pattern they show in their user behaviour.


What are proto-personas?

Proto-personas, also called ad hoc personas or minimal viable personas (MVP), are non-empirical personas: simple, reduced profiles based on experiences with customers: Be it from sales calls, support requests, email communication or knowledge from customer relationship management, such as: Order history, socio-demographic information, salary, etc.

If no data-driven personas has been created yet, it is a good idea to start with proto-personas: First of all, this creates a uniform picture of the addressed target group(s) for all participants. Secondly, initial statements are created that can already help to determine starting points for optimising product development, customer service or customer experience.


How do you create proto-personas?

Ad hoc personas are best created in workshops with stakeholders from as many different areas as possible that optimally cover the customer journey - such as: Management, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Social Media, Business Intelligence. In preparation for the workshop, all participants have one task: to collect existing data so that they can draw on it during the workshop. This includes:

  • Analytics data: Who visits my website when with which devices / uses my app / reads, comments or likes my social posts).
  • Service data: What are frequent support requests? Which customers report most frequently to customer service?
  • Sales experiences: What are the most convincing value propositions? What are the biggest challenges in sales conversations? Who am I easiest to convince? With whom do I have the most effort or the least sense of achievement?
  • Impressions from customer contact: What are the people the stakeholders have had contact with like? What is their nature/character?

In the workshop itself, you start with a brainstorming session and collect all possible profiles from the target groups - either individually or in groups. Key questions: What is the person's name? How old is he or she? What is his or her profession? What does he or she look like? Does he or she belong to any associations? What values are important to them? Where can I reach this person?

In the second step, they cluster the personas. Experience shows that some of them are similar.

The third step is to deepen the clustered personas and prioritise them: What is my core target group? What is my marginal target group that potentially influences the purchase decision of the core target group? What is my potential target group that I am currently not addressing or not addressing enough?


Turning proto-personas into data-driven personas

The crucial next step: develop proto-personas into data-based personas. Why? Because proto-personas are based on assumptions - they should not be used as a basis for strategically important decisions, but only as a first step: to data-based personas. You create these by substantiating or correcting the theses and assumptions of the proto-persona with data on your target groups.

The best way to do this is to rely on three pillars:

  • On the internal data on your customers already prepared for the preparation of the proto-persona: Web analytics, social media usage data, order history or socio-demographic data.
  • Studies: Use representative surveys - for example on media use, purchasing behaviour, leisure activities, values, income situation and more.
  • Own market research: You collect your own data via surveys. You use the results to test assumptions and theses from the proto-persona.

Text: Regina Grein

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