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To Drive Product Intimacy, Ditch Proto-Personas and Do the Research

Victoria Nova
Author Victoria Nova
Published On Aug 28, 2020


Mobile apps sometimes flop, way too soon after launch. New feature development sometimes goes sideways, turning users away from a mobile app they once loved. Such snafus happen for a number of reasons—but a common (and preventable) one is an over-reliance on assumptions about an app’s end users, instead of making use of primary research.

So let’s talk about the difference between research-based personas and assumption-based “proto-personas,” and how investing in the former will help you both mitigate risk and deliver a satisfying and intimate customer experience through your mobile app.



Why Research-Based Personas Matter

From conceptualizing a new native mobile app to performance marketing to product roadmapping, every element of mobile product lifecycle management depends on a deep understanding of the product’s end users. The best way to achieve such understanding is by developing research-based personas.

Using a simple example, let’s say that you’re managing the mobile app for a grocery store. Who might your end users be? Working from assumptions, you might unveil a user experience that you think appeals to working moms, with language that emphasizes “families” and a layout that surfaces products on sale. But what if students from the nearby college—who aren’t shopping for their families—make up a greater percentage of your users than you thought? Or what if the women using your app actually prefer to see higher-end organic items than discounted ones?

Delivering an intimate, satisfying user experience that engages, informs and activates the customers who use your mobile app requires you to uncover and deliver on those customers’ unmet needs. Proper persona research is the key to seeing what’s below the surface and tapping into what your users are really looking for from an experience.

Are Proto-Personas Still Valuable?

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It can be tempting to use proto-personas for mobile product design. Compared with the time and budget required to do qualitative research, it takes little time and costs virtually nothing to develop an end-user profile based on assumptions.

For budget-conscious brands that like to move fast, slowing down and spending money to develop true personas can feel like a waste. But failing to do so actually increases the likelihood that budgets will be wasted and sales lost. When a new feature flops or a marketing campaign fizzles because they don’t resonate with end users, it’s back to square one—with a lot of time and money out the window.

That all being said, proto-personas are not entirely without value. Brainstorming a couple of possible end-user profiles with your team is a good starting point for your persona research efforts. If you know that working moms shop at your grocery store, then you know you should recruit working moms to participate in your interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Developing Personas With Heady




Persona research can involve both quantitative and qualitative studies, and tactics from 1-on-1 interviews and surveys to focus groups and user observation. The best course of action for you and your brand will depend on the project you’re planning and the insights you need.

At Heady, we partner with clients to execute hands-on persona research, and we advise that they update their personas at least every couple of years. Because for satisfying, more intimate mobile experiences to last, they must be constantly improving. They must adapt not just to new coding languages and operating systems, but also to new users and to evolutions in existing customers’ tastes.

By doing regular persona research, every aspect of your mobile product lifecycle management will be informed by reliable data about what your actual customers actually want and need.

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Interested in research based persona development?

We can walk you through our process and case studies.


Interested in research based persona development?

We can walk you through our process and case studies.


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