User personas are often used to help guide product development and the marketing to support our business. They can be a valuable tool to any new product if used properly. A recent test published by Which Test Won, showed how user personas can also be used inappropriately and damage user acquisition. Use them wrong and user personas can kill conversion.

Confusing User Personas

User personas are great at defining who your building your product for, but during customer acquisition it can be a liability. Tests have shown that identifying a user type with a product confuses users who don’t identify with the description. Perhaps the profiles were not matched with actual audience demographics. The term is cognitive dissonance, in every day speech – doubt.

Behavioral economics theorist and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, describes, doubt as “an awareness of one’s ability to think incompatible thoughts about the same thing” (Kahneman, 2003). In his paper entitled Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics, Kahneman describes two modes of thought: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional. System 2, on the other hand, is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

Distraction from Converting

When a user reaches your site, these two systems may be activated. While gathering information, or orienting themselves with a product, System 2 – the reasoning stage – occurs. When making a choice, especially with side-by-side comparisons, System 1, the intuitive system rules. These systems work together during decision-making.

If there’s too much information or the information is off target, however, it can cause doubt. This feeling of doubt can prompt the reactivation of System 2, the reasoning process, causing reevaluation and second-guessing. This confusion creates doubt which impedes action. Since our businesses live and die on our ability to convert visitors into users, this doubt can be crushing.

Personas need to reflect the audience, their situation, and their values and ultimately inform your product and marketing. If visitors can’t relate to the information presented, they likely leave the site, rather than convert.

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