User Personas – more important than ever

user-personaSeveral years ago whilst working at one of the world’s largest design companies the idea of ‘customer centricity’ was not merely an important notion or guideline – it was one of the core founding principles of almost everything we did. Indeed, Design Thinking has the ‘customer’ as one of its three underpinning pillars.

To help us understand and relate to our customers we created customer personas.

One example of one type of Persona from a Wikipedia page:

(User Experience) Personas are defined as fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.

Understanding customers ensures that we’re able to create relevant and appropriate experiences. This is true with product and service design of course but increasingly the opportunities we have to apply this to communication design are huge.

Creating personas in product design cycles whilst incredibly useful is not straightforward. There are challenges that we always face in securing the data that will inform our personas. When identifying patterns of behaviour and the aspirations and desires of customers, we often have to rely on small sample sets and, most significantly perhaps, rely on people being objective with their answers when sat in focus groups for example. Whilst product designers will engage in a lot of observation (I’ve heard it called ‘watching humans in the wild’!) they also have to rely on people telling them what they like and want – a research area littered with problems.

Organisations now have opportunities to create highly informed (comms) personas.

By highly informed, I mean data-driven of course.

Data is nothing new – Amazon have been doing their recommendations for years and 10 years ago I was doing email A/B testing – looking to understand some basic consumer preferences.

But there have been some significant changes over the last few years that have brought data to the fore.


  • Mobile, internet usage in general and the e-enabling of services and communications means there is now data defining many more of us and there’s a lot lot more of it.
  • Social Media
  • Ultra sophisticated adtech and media platforms integration
  • The ability to store, crunch and access data can be done by entry-level hardware.
  • Almost as soon as the above became true, cloud services now mean the most sophisticated platforms and software are at our fingertips with minimal investment.
  • The ability to choose and publish bespoke and curated content instantly.
  • Marketers and advertisers have finally come to the realisation we’re moving from a brand centred advertising model to a customer-centred personalised and customized experience informed and delivered by digital.


The above makes for some powerful opportunities that marketers cannot ignore.

We can now get customer-centric – know and communicate with people in ways that simply were not possible only a few years ago. The personas that we can create now are dynamic and ever evolving and they differ in a number of ways from personas that product designers might have used say ten years ago.


  1. We don’t need to ask anymore: Areas of interest, desires, aspirations and specific behaviours can be inferred directly from actions (clicking, liking, searching and watching etc). We don’t now need to rely as much on older, more traditional research tools like real-world observation, interviewing or focus groups.
  2. Dynamic and Evolving: Ten years ago, product designers would typically have created personas that would have then remained static for the duration of the design cycle. Today, our digitally informed personas can and should be dynamic and evolving with every subsequent digital interaction. Every single open or not open of an EDM or like on Facebook must further inform and refine what we know about that customer.
  3. Potential Granularity: Product designers may have created 6/8 personas as part of their process. Today, although not necessarily articulated as such, a simple comms strategy over a year with a few dynamically created emails, some dynamic and personalised web content and a few up/cross sell initiatives could mean we’re running hundreds of different brand experience journeys – each effectively driven by a ‘sub-persona’.
  4. Automation: Rather than having to build the personas today we are able to create the framework and the rules to allow the personas to build themselves. This is a subtle but distinct difference. And it means being able to do the simple stuff very easily and puts complex and sophisticated highly customised and personalised communication channels at our disposal.
  5. The Product: I alluded to the old static personas of years ago and, of course, in the product design world of TV’s and the like, products were essentially static too. If we think of our product now as our brand communications, our product can be as dynamic as the personas that inform it. A few clicks and searches over the next week inform my persona-type changes. I should reasonably expect that to mean a different email and landing page next week. Dynamic persona – dynamic product.

As these opportunities to know customers better and better become increasingly available it will be incumbent on all organisations to understand who they are talking with and, to varying degrees, look to personalise communications based on who they are talking to and when.





Why having everything on Spotify sucks

collectionsThe other day I was hiking with a very good friend of mine. An industrial designer by training and someone who’s fascinated by new technology and its implications, I was keen to understand what he now used to listen to music – another passion of his.

His answer was brusque and bordering on defensive – CDs. And he still buys them. I told him that I hadn’t bought a CD for years and was right into Spotify. “I can understand that”, he said, “but I’m still doing the CD thing.”

Why would anyone still be buying CDs? The same could be said for DVDs in some segments of society and perhaps even books?

There are a number of subtle reasons why some are not embracing the likes of Spotify and Netflix:

Curation: Let’s get that one out of the way to start with. It’s a word I know a lot of people don’t like but it still makes sense. I had a girlfriend years ago whose brother had a huge record collection in a separate room of the house. He was the coolest guy on the planet as far as I was concerned. He’d built that up over the years, perhaps even stolen a few of the records and certainly gone without other things in his life. And there it was – a physical manifestation – a collection defined, earned and realized by him.

I probably have access to all of that music via my Spotify account, right? Millions of others do too. I earned that right with a small monthly subscription. There’s nothing of me in it – no stories, no effort, no sacrifice and nothing defining me in my vast collection.


Ceremony: When I lived with a friend back in the UK we used to listen to music in the evening – listen to vinyl records. And, like many others, we used to cue music up. This was done by someone sitting on the floor next to the line of albums that were stacked on their ends on the floor and going through them one by one until we collectively identified another track on we wanted to listen to. This album was then lifted up and left poking above the rest as we continued looking for the next track.

What was going on with activity? Well it was a shared experience – a specific ceremony around choosing and listening to music. Although not quite the same with CDs, something similar exists and you can point your dinner guest over to the CD rack, for example, and ask them to choose some music to put on.

Readers-007Status: Closely related to the above but perhaps more specifically about books is the idea of our displaying our tastes – something that was (and still is) manifested in our reading books in public typically on public transport. I know several people who happily admit that they miss this aspect of the behavior when holding up a faceless and ‘coverless’ kindle or phone.


In ‘digitizing’ services and media distribution we’d do well to not lose track of some of the emotional drivers and peripheral activities that give and have given so much meaning and to people.

Doing digital must not simply be about efficiency of distribution and availability and giving everything to everyone.

It must also be about struggle, about self and about it somehow being a manifestation of ourselves for others to see. There’s something too easy about having access to everything on Spotify – the effort to build something – the struggle – is missing.

Thank you for pressing “send’!

Today I applied for a job online. After hitting the submit button I got the following email from the company:

Thank you for pressing “send’! We just wanted to confirm that we have received your application.

We know there are a lot of awesome companies out there, but we think we are pretty special and we are glad you do too. You put time and effort into applying, so our recruiting team will make sure we give your application the attention it deserves.

If you have questions, please check out our FAQ:

Someone will be in touch if your qualifications match our needs for the xxxx, Singapore role. If you are not selected for this position, keep an eye on our jobs page – we are growing rapidly, and adding openings all the time.

Meanwhile, here are some links so you can check us out and learn more about the company, if you haven’t already:

I thought it was an extremely simple but very powerful thing. Just an auto-responder right? Yeah, but with a few well-chosen words a simple process was turned into a nice experience.

It reminded me of another simple experience I had in the gym a couple of years ago. The gym I used to go to was not even close to my last permanent workplace but the staff were delightful and being greeted by smiles is always a great start to my session.

After my workout the manager spoke with me.  “Hi, Carl”, he said, “how are you doing? And great to see you back after your trip – New York wasn’t it?”

“Actually, it was California and Nevada, but thanks for asking, and how do you know my name?” I replied.

“I always make a point of looking at the names of those who visit the gym” he said, “and I like to find out a bit about them.”

His name is Ernest and he is man who, for me, stands out because of the simple steps he took to interact with me – one of his customers.  He took a few seconds to find out my name and a quick bit of information about me so that he could address me directly and engage briefly in some relevant and timely conversation.

And as all the brands I interact with struggle with emerging technologies and their implications and what to do with me as a Facebook fan or a Twitter follower, here’s a little reminder from one of your customers: some simple and basic things like knowing a little about your customer and making them feel just that little bit important by engaging in some relevant and timely dialogue goes a long way towards building affinity and getting me to love you a little bit more.

The online space provides more and more of these possibilities every day for brands to interact with their customers. And whilst potentially being swallowed up with technology driven innovation we shouldn’t forget that it is theses little emotional triggers that can often be the simplest and cheapest reason why I might choose one brand or another or one gym over another.

Or why, after this morning, I might now feel even more like I’d like to work for you.

And before you think, ‘what’s he talking about? – What’s one insignificant albeit nice email got to do with things? Think about this: I showed my COO the email I’d received after my application and he guessed the company straight away with his first guess – how’s that for branding? – Someone recognising the awesomeness in the way you speak with people. You’d have some of that, right?

Anyone else care for a guess?

For more reading on how important it can be to make people smile in an email see what Derek Sivers has to say on it:


Brave brave people

I love watching cycling.  I’ll happily sit in front of Eurosport for an evening watch a stage from the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta or one of the smaller stage races or one of the classics.


Sometimes I find it very hard to keep my eye on the guys towards the end of stage that comes to a sprint.  20/30 guys rubbing shoulders sprinting for the line at 70/80 km/h is both spectacular and frightening.

I was reminded last night just how frightening it is when Wouter Weylandt of the Leopard-Trek died on a high-speed descent on Stage 3 of the Giro D’Italia.

Very brave guys pushing themselves to the absolute limit day after day.  I salute you.


Another one about our pals at Stockbridge Consultants

I received this via email as the guy said he couldn't add directly to this blog:

Nin hao Carl.

Im sending from Beijing. Thanks for some warnings reg. so called StockbridgeConsultants (short: SC).

First step:             Telefon. A lady (name unclear), and on a very, very bad voice-quality line, rang me up at the office. She asked if she could send me info materials from SC. She allready got our comp. address, and asked if the address would be right.

Second step:    A week later I got a 5pages carton-covered brochuere (in red&grey colors), via express-post, for joining these elite club, and an attached client account agreement. Inside a name card from a Ms. Ashley Tyler Director.

Even they have had the exact address of our company (from where??), and reconfirmed, the address on the RAF-waybill showed a name of a company from Macao in the company field. Instead of street/address in the bill, there was the name of our company. Quite serious for a elite club. As shipper stated SC from Korea/Seoul, ASEM Tower, 159-1.

Third step:             I got a phone call yesterday from a guy who said his name is Mark from SC in Korea, and he would like to introduce me to a super chance to boost my money. Well, even I told him Im not interested at all, this guy talked and talked so eloquently about the chance for a share in an tremendous, upcoming investment-chance in Sportchannel from KIF Cenetics, or as the case may be. The whole nine yards of cold calls.

I didnt really listened, but I told him again and again and that Im not interested in any investments, in SC, or in sport-buiss-whatever, or in telefon brokerage, or any investments with companies I dont know, with guys I dont know, a.s.o.. But the kept on talking and talking, and he really tried to give me bad feeling to hang up.

Next steps:             Other phone calls, from colleagues from SC. I call it phone terror now. If, and I say if SC would be a reputable, reliable company, I guess they would have stoped trying to breaking my nervous system. But they are really stiff-necked.

And after what Ive read in your blog (I couldnt reply directly, caused by errors on page), Im quite shure that SC (I guess former Cambridge whatever) is a nest of humbuggers. Former contacts, with absolutely congruent procedure, broke up, after I told the guy straightforward that I dont trust him at all. He found sincere thankful words for my behaviour, and stealing his time, a.s.o.. But, however, the phone terror stoped. And, Im positive about the fact, that I saved my good money. 

Blood Donation – Refused

I just went to donate blood at work.  But, I was refused as a donor because I lived in the UK for 3 consecutive months between 1980 and 1996 (actually I lived there the whole time).  Apparently they (the Singapore health Authority or whatever it is) are worried about Mad Cow Disease.  Now, I am no medical expert but this continuing ban seems a little excessive… I've had my blood tested about 5 times since I have lived here.

I blame Thatcher.

An email to Simon Mayo and Mark Kemode’s Film Review show on BBC Radio 5

Simon mayo mark kermode

I just emailed this to their show

Dear Bill and Ben

Thought you may be interested in a story I
have just read about MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) along
with a handful of former Hollywood Executives and their plans to 'Save
(Film) Story telling'….

Although I haven't heard Mark use his infamous phrase for a few
weeks now, I'm sure that the "Death of Narrative Cinema" and all that
that entails is never far from his mind!

This is a quote from the article:
"I even saw a plasma screen above a urinal," said Peter Guber,
the longtime film producer and former chairman of Sony Pictures
Entertainment who contends that traditional narrative — the kind with
unexpected twists and satisfying conclusions — has been drowned out by
noise and visual clutter.

Full article can be found here:

Cheers Guys!!!

Carl (from Singapore)

My Relationship with Ricky Gervais


I have been a fan of Ricky's for a long time now.  I can even remember him on 'The Eleven o'clock show' on Channel 4 a long time ago – probably before most people had heard of him or started admiring him.

Then of course came 'The Office' and all the other great stuff that's come from this comic genius. 

I have been living in Singapore for over five years now and it wouldn't be unfair to say that, from my perspective, it's a cultural void to a large extent when it come to edgy, satirical or intelligent comedy.  There still seems to be a penchant for visual gags here where someone entering a room with a pair of stupid glasses on and a wig is still considered funny.  I say 'still' because I remember a time when that 'Benny Hill' approach to humor was popular in England when I was growing up.

I mention this because this void had led me to almost reach a point of craving humor of Ricky's type and then his podcasts and audiobooks came along.  They first started appearing a few years ago and  suddenly my walks home from work were delightfully enhanced and I found myself almost skipping to the train with a permanent grin on my face.  It would not be unusual for me to burst out laughing on the train either and, believe me, that's not something that's encouraged here!

It was, I suppose, at this time that I began to form a kind of relationship with Ricky.  It was no more than him making me laugh I suppose but it was the fact that it was a solitary experience for me (iPod and headphones you see) – not sharing my laughter with anyone:  Just Ricky, Steve (Merchant) and Karl (Pilkington) and me.

Recently I have taken to reading Ricky's Blog. I suppose it has a lot to do with Ricky's writing style and his incredibly open approach to blogging that that has further cemented my relationship with him.  I've read so many blogs – professional blogs, blogs of friends, mySpace stuff etc but never have I felt so openly invited into the life, feelings, musings and, above all, wonderful comic energy and ebullience as I feel when I read his blog.  It feels like the connectivity that the internet offers coupled with the whole notion of blogging all wrapped up with the genius and complete lack of pretence of this man has somehow opened up a new communication channel for me that feels really fresh,vibrant and, at the same time,incredibly intimate and almost naiive and child-like in its appeal.