Chapter 3

Persona mapping: How to map personas to drive better decisions

In this chapter, we’re covering how to manage persona mapping as part of the UX process. We’ll cover the questions you need to ask, how to organize your answers, and the benefits of persona mapping. We’ll wrap up with how you can repeatedly test and validate your personas.

Illustration showing three towers made of stacked cube blocks

Persona mapping enables you to accurately build user personas with rich data. Done right, persona mapping will be the fuel to well-rounded personas that are usable and understandable for your product team.

In chapter two, we took you through a 9-step process to building user personas; this includes everything from defining your plan, all the way through to distributing your personas with your team.

In this chapter, we’re going to build on one of the most crucial steps from chapter two: persona mapping. Here, you’ll learn the types of questions you need to ask, as well as how to map the answers you get, in a way that helps you build usable personas.

First, let’s start by clearing up what persona mapping actually is.

What is persona mapping?

Persona mapping is a logical step in your user persona build process. Persona mapping helps you collect and use your target audience research data to create more distinct personas.

Despite constantly being in debate, most UX designers consider the act of persona mapping to be from the moment you start creating your user research questions.

Therefore, this chapter will consider the process of persona mapping to start at those all-important questions that will enable you to better segment your data further down the line, and truly understand who’s using your product.

Done well, persona mapping can help product teams devise relevant marketing campaigns, and design and build better products.

How to create a persona map

Ask the right questions

You can only finish with valuable user personas when you start with a solid set of questions. Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze, runs us through his thought process when it comes to crafting questions that get results.

“Ask open-ended questions, and ensure they’re rich questions that can potentially be asked to anyone. Asking a question that anybody can answer helps guide the conversation.

Building on this, you’ll definitely need a combination of closed and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions help for segmentation upfront, whereas open-ended questions help you find persona cohorts further down the line.”

So, what sort of questions do you need answering to better segment users and build a better customer experience? Here are nine user persona questions you can rewrite to fit your niche:

1. What role do they perform at work?

By identifying their role, you can better understand their jobs-to-be-done, and likely use cases for your product and its features.

2. Do they have the final say on purchasing decisions?

This is more a consideration for building buyer or customer personas, but a useful personal attribute to know in UX personas as well. Are your personas decision-makers or product advocates? Do they have direct access to budgets? This information will help you understand their seniority and likeliness for in-app purchases.

3. What device do they use?

Meet them on devices they use every day. Especially if your product team is running off of the RARRA framework—focusing on retention over acquisition, you’ll want to be building interfaces that work with their device and screen size. Answering this question will help you focus on designing a UI that helps retain users.

4. Do they use social media? What do they use it for?

Another good question to ask when building buyer personas, and this question can certainly support your product marketing’s social media strategy. However, it’s also a great-to-know for UX/UI designers.
When you understand your personas’ most-used social media channels you can borrow tactile UI navigation rules they’re already familiar with, making their product interactions with you seem like second nature.
For example, if you find one persona typically uses TikTok, a swipe up feature to navigate to new screens may be more familiar for your mobile app than a swipe across or click.

5. What are their career goals?

Looking beyond jobs-to-be-done, how can you help your users achieve their entire role, and be championed for their work? Identifying personal attributes like this can help highlight new features, onboarding strategies and more.

6. What are their values?

Today’s users won’t buy products that don’t resonate with their values. What’s more, helping users achieve personal missions and values will create product advocates, increase referrals, lift net promoter score (NPS), and more.

7. What workplace culture are they in right now?

Identifying workplace culture will help you make core product decisions. Are personas looking for a product that can keep up with their agile culture—rapid releases, sprints, and fast-paced teams? Do they have a waterfall culture that will require admin rights and seniority levels within your app?

At the same time, are you dealing with people in an entirely distributed team, and your product also needs room for digital communication?

Remember, you’re not building for the culture they aspire to create—if you do that, your product won’t be relevant. Build for the culture they are working with right now.

8. Who are they following?

Who are your user personas following? These can be competitor brands, industry influencers, or likeness brands. Answering this decision will help you better understand the personalities you’re dealing with, the language and references they’re accustomed to, and UX branding traits they enjoy.

9. What language & sentiment do they use?

Take a look at how your current users talk about your product, or your competition’s if you don’t have a product on the market yet—what trends are you noticing? Do they refer to features another way to what your team has named them? Do they feel a certain way toward a feature, product, or even brand? What language do they use to express this sentiment?

Understanding all this can help UX writers—and marketers in general—put together copy that resonates, weave onboarding flows which are understandable, and thread tooltips that your personas will understand.

Now we’ve covered the questions to ask and how they can help your persona mapping process, let’s look at how you can learn from them and map your data into something useful.

Map your answers

Start by segmenting answers based on your respondents’ goals and barriers. Consider demographic features like job title, geolocation, and age—but only if you deem demographics to be important to your product design decisions.

Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze, explains how he likes to go about segmenting data.

“I’m a big whiteboard, mind mapper-type designer—very visual. I tend to work heavily in Miro. That’s where I can start to sort and make sense, and organize user information. Physical or digital whiteboards can play really helpful roles in the storming stage of user persona-building, and later on as well.”

We asked Ash, why Miro?

“Personas tend to be boxed into a one-page, text-driven template doc, and that’s okay if they serve their learning purpose. However, Miro helps build an interactive learning place—it hosts a live project we can come back to time and time again.”

Alongside Miro, Ash also highlighted some other tools as key to his persona mapping process.

“Notion is another big tool I use. The flexibility within the document structure is really helpful. I’ve also used Excel for more quantitative research and creating a measure to run with, once I start coding out teams and tags.”

After you’ve started to group your data into the above trends you can micro-segment them to enable you to build user personas from each segment. Two categories to consider are:

Lifecycle segments:

  • First-time users
  • Passive users
  • Regular/active users
  • Power users/advocates

Note: If you’ve run an NPS survey with your user base, then the information from this research will drastically aid this segmentation through use of detractors, neutrals, and promoters.

Purpose segments:

  • Experiential users: People that use your product recreationally
  • Side-hustle users: People that use your product outside of work for their passion projects
  • Professional users: People that use your product for their work

Understanding these further segmentation categories will help you understand the potential customer lifecycles for these personas. For example, it will highlight if they’re likely to churn, not activate, or be a long-term advocate of your product. It will also help you define the feature sets most relevant to each persona.

Segmenting all of this information will help you map user personas that can truly inform your product design roadmap and provide a personalized experience for the right people.

Now you know the right questions to ask, let’s cover the benefits of persona mapping.

8 Benefits of persona mapping

When you dive into the details of your target audience and accurately map detailed personas, there are plenty of benefits on the table. Let’s take a look at eight persona mapping benefits for UX researchers and their product teams.

1. Develop more personalized UX strategies

Personal details win user longevity. They help you develop conscious products that are aware of users' needs, surroundings, and problems. They give your users a tailored experience that you can scale to a wider audience.

2. Fight customer churn

Customer churn is a metric every company tracks, and with good reason. However, when you run persona mapping, you’re able to fight customer churn by implementing anti-churn strategies within each persona’s first few in-app experiences.

This can extend outside of your application too, with push notifications, email messaging, and more.

3. Build on customer retention via referral rates & growth loops

Let your product do the selling for you. Product-led growth teams that are able to increase their customer retention rates, referral rates, and create impactful growth loops generate a larger and more scalable ROI.

Persona mapping can provide key information to support these strategies and build customer experiences that resonate around them.

4. Increase NPS

This is another core metric that validates product-market fit, and a promising retention rate. Persona mapping can help you build products that create a positive NPS. The information you collect will dictate core product design elements that users love.

5. Understand jobs-to-be-done and 'aha!' moments

When you’re better able to understand your users, you’re able to identify their jobs-to-be-done, and aha! moments that will activate them within your product. Next, you can build smoother onboarding flows to get new users to these moments quicker, and to keep delighting them with more throughout their lifecycle.

6. Create products that are easier to onboard

Businesses often struggle with attracting potential customers, even if the customer knows they need the solution. Why? This could be a pricing and cost issue, however, it can also be a fear of change; due to time, capability, or something else.

When your team runs persona mapping, your product development efforts shift to create solutions which are easier to onboard, helping attract new users, either through word-of-mouth or other product-led growth (PLG) strategies. Suddenly, the task of onboarding a new tool doesn’t seem so daunting after all.

7. Create accessible interfaces

Your target market has needs that are larger than what your product can provide. If your product team is small, then it can be hard to consider this array of potential needs which you must adapt to.

When you conduct persona mapping, you create empathy and open the floor up to diverse and inclusive product decisions which will attract a wider user base, create a better digital presence, and give every user the accessibility they deserve.

8. Build better product positioning

Although we’re specifically discussing persona mapping to build user personas, this will also help your product positioning.

The buyer insights you’ll get from this research will help your product marketing, as well as allowing your product teams to better place your product and its features in the market, set it apart from the competition, and convey benefits in a way which resonate.

Furthermore, it will help you hone in on product messaging within your product, ensuring you’re using the right language that accurately reflects how your users view your product and features.

The importance of testing and validating your user personas

Your persona mapping doesn’t have an end date and your team should constantly be updating and tweaking personas to adapt to change.

At Maze, we approach user personas on an ongoing basis, it’s part of our UX team’s routine. That doesn’t mean we need to update a particular UX artifact—like a persona PDF one-pager—every six months. Instead, we have ongoing workshops every eight weeks or so, to constantly find out things that are contrary to what’s documented.

In order for UX teams to learn often, you’ll need to make their learning pathway as easy as possible.

Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze

Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze

To enable regular user persona testing and learning opportunities, move away from project-minded personas and take an iterative approach. Do your internal users feel like the information they’re getting is specific and valuable?

It could be specific, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s valuable. A great example of this is demographic information. Do you really need that information to relate to someone? This data may not (and probably won’t) help your internal users.

Does your team feel like they’re getting specific, valuable information that’s driving successful decisions? Or are they finding the decisions they’re making unsuccessful?
Furthermore, validating comes from a combination of data and product decisions.

Take copy and positioning, for example. Say you’re making decisions on this based on persona research—if it doesn’t move the needle, it either suggests you’re leaning in the wrong direction, or haven’t gone far enough.

In order to test and validate you need to place some educated bets and decisions. It’s always a test, and things can always change further down the line.

Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze

Ash Oliver, UX Designer & Design Advocate at Maze

Conclusion: persona mapping

That’s a wrap on persona mapping. Hopefully you’re now in a position to collect and segment your user data in a way that enables you to efficiently map personas which optimize UX tactics and product growth strategies.

Now you’ve got all your data, and have segmented it, you’re ready to start displaying and sharing it. The final chapter in this guide will walk you through how to showcase your data for internal teams.

Frequently asked questions about persona mapping

What is persona mapping?

Persona mapping is the process of collecting and segmenting potential user information to create archetypes that help your product team make informed product-led decisions.

Persona mapping helps encompass your ideal customer’s characteristics, job-to-be-done, diversity needs, and more.

Why is persona mapping important?

Persona mapping is an essential UX research strategy that enables your product teams to collect an array of customer-centric data. This data segments ideal users and ensures you’re building products that are empathetic, inclusive, usable, and retain target customers or existing clients for the long-run.

How is creating a user persona beneficial for customer journey mapping?

A user persona is beneficial for customer journey mapping as it helps product marketing teams understand who they’re selling to and the types of long-term users that benefit from their products. Persona mapping helps flip traditional AARRR pirate metrics to RARRA growth models, prioritizing retention over acquisition.