audience segments as characters

I was recently helping a few people create audience segments for their projects. It’s so hard to get outside the normal way of thinking about people by title or role or demographic. As a way of getting past that, and additionally as a way of emphasizing that audience segments are merely a way to help you talk to a wider swath of people than you might get simply by selecting by role, I suggested thinking of each segment as a character. Like, you know, “Oh, Mike–he’s a character!” Someone who is larger than life will help you look around the edges of the role-defined world. (One of the people I was helping works in an industry where some of the workforce they are studying is referred to as “roughnecks,” which just begs for the creation of characters!) Furthermore, thinking of these segments as characters in a movie will help you slip away from generalizations and focus on a particular set of extraordinary fictional personalities.

I suggested writing character descriptions to help the audience segments come alive and clearly differentiate themselves from one another. Commonly two characters that seem different in your mind turn out sounding similar in writing. This exercise helps you either outline the differences more specifically or merge the characters into one. Look for an important difference in philosophy or behavior. Think of a few real-live people who might represent tendencies of this character. If it is difficult to decide which character a real-live person falls into, then merge the characters.

When writing character descriptions, write them in the first person. For example, “I like to make a plan, and it really makes me happy when everyone on my team follows that plan without argument.” Writing this way allows you to write what the character would really say about themselves. You want to avoid writing descriptions that would embarrass the person you are describing. Not that it will happen, but if that person ever read the description, you want her to be comfortable with what is said.

Check that the characteristics you describe apply across several roles and demographics. The “reliable” character who is sure and steady could show up as an engineer or a policeman or a bar tender. The “cutting edge” character who thinks the latest thing is always better could show up as an architect or a fashion designer or a concrete truck dispatcher.

Summary of the tips on this page.
These manufactured audience segments are just your way of reaching out beyond the “usual suspects.” Hearing stories from a wider group of people helps you look beyond the business goals that have already been stated, allowing uninfluenced external input from the people you hope to support. (Note that you can adjust these characters into personas once you have collected and analyzed all their stories.)

Sequence of using a hypothesis, recruiting, gathering data, analyzing, then creating personas.