Data-Driven Persona Development: Three Case Studies

At their heart, personas are customer or user ARCHETYPES. The best personas are developed in such a way that anyone in a company can read the persona and immediately understand who the customer is, what they care about, and how they behave, particularly in relation to their brand. Ideally, when employees of the business meet a customer or user in-person, on the phone, or digitally, they are able to identify those with the same archetype in fairly short order based on their understanding of the persona. Personas must be simple, easy to understand, and while they describe only one customer or user, they must represent a recognizable group of customers or users. They are used for both B2C and B2B applications. The clarity provided by personas belies what it takes to develop actionable personas. ACTIONABLE PERSONAS ARE DATA-DRIVEN.

Not only are personas used in marketing but they are often used by other functional areas throughout an organization such as innovation (new product/service development) and customer service. They are used for activities such as new product / service development, training, sales and marketing, customer experience mapping and customer acquisition and retention.



To bring data-driven persona development to life, three recent case studies from Q2 Insights are shared below. The first case study describes development of a persona in the absence of a budget to conduct new primary research to drive persona development. The next two are a little different in that both were based on qualitative/ethnographic and quantitative research but they had different objectives. The second case study describes the development of a single persona designed to describe the target audience for a new app. The third case study describes persona development based on market segmentation.


The VP Retail at the national headquarters of a multinational company challenged us to come up with customer personas. The VP Retail wanted to display the company’s personas in the halls of the national headquarters so that every employee would be reminded on a daily basis of their core customer groups. For each core customer group he wanted a persona that included a name, a larger than life photo, and descriptors. The company is very data rich but for this project only limited funds were available. The attitude of the VP Retail was that the data required to develop the personas was already available at the company.

Fortunately, the company had recently undertaken a series of innovation workshops with key stakeholders within the company, had recently conducted seminal ethnographic research with a variety of customers, and had brand and advertising tracking data. As this work had been conducted by different vendors, we CONVENED A WORKSHOP that included key company stakeholders, three different research companies, members of the Marketing and Communications Departments and representatives from the Advertising Agency of record. With a common purpose, egos were checked at the door of the daylong workshop. The Q2 Insights facilitator led the team through a series of creative problem solving exercises to develop personas:

  • Clear articulation of the workshop objective
  • Brief presentation of relevant workshop and research intelligence and insights
  • Ideation around the variables that might be employed in developing personas (e.g., demographic, psychographic, geographic, goal-oriented, behavioral and attitudinal variables)
  • Development of an “intuitive” segmentation of the customer base grounded by the relevant workshop and research findings
  • Persona outline development based on the “intuitive” segments (six segments were identified)
  • Identification of the most valuable segments to the organization

Once the personas were outlined it was the task of the Communications Department and the Advertising Agency of record to use their creative flair to develop five PERSONA INFOGRAPHICS representing the five segments that emerged during our “intuitive segmentation” workshop using photos and descriptors.

While this was not the ideal approach to persona development, the personas were well received throughout the company and the VP Retail was very pleased with the results.


Q2 Insights was tasked with identifying and describing the target audience for a mobile app that is scheduled to launch in 2017. For this project, budget was available to conduct primary research to inform persona development. We agreed with our multinational client that we would conduct qualitative research to uncover the key attributes of the target audience, quantitative research to further refine these attributes, multivariate statistical modeling to clearly identify and quantify the importance of the key attributes, and persona development. For persona development we combined the skills of a well-versed writer and a talented graphic designer who specializes in infographic development.

The single persona infographic for the new mobile app was well-received throughout the multinational organization and as a result, we have been asked to present the research and persona to key partners such as international financial institutions.


Working with a well-funded restaurant group with ambitions to expand east from their roots on the West Coast, we were challenged to segment their customer base, identify the most important segments for the brand, and ultimately, develop persona infographics to share with employees throughout the organization. Given the corporate investment at stake, we engaged in a rigorous program of research to understand stakeholder opinions and customer tendencies. Beginning with stakeholder interviews, we moved to qualitative ethnographies with restaurant guests and potential guests in-restaurant, then to a comprehensive segmentation survey to quantify variables and attributes, and ultimately to multivariate statistical modeling to identify the restaurant customer segments. Using both art and science, we developed three potential segmentation solutions for the brand. Segmentation solutions are groupings of customer segments. After agreeing on the most intuitive segmentation solution, we then used usage and business rules to identify the most important segments. Once we agreed on the segment, our writer and graphic designer developed five persona infographics to share throughout the organization.

These guest personas are now being used by the marketing department to better craft relevant marketing messaging and will be used throughout the organization, including during staff training.



There are numerous of uses for personas; however, if they are not grounded in intelligence and insights about customers they are unlikely to be of much value to anyone. Simply asking someone in the company or at the Advertising Agency of record to “shoot from the hip” and come up with customer personas could be a very costly mistake. Useful personas are readily understood and simple in nature and there is definitely both an art and science to their development.

There are a number of ways to develop personas. Regardless of where you are on the budget spectrum, our experience is that data driven persona development will yield the best results.



KIRSTY NUNEZ is President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights, Inc., a research and innovation consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans. She can be reached at (760) 230-2950 ext. 1 or

This entry was posted in Game Changing Research Methodologies and Concepts and tagged on November 11, 2016 by Q2 Insights