Best Buy’s personas hit the mainstream

Where I muse about personas and technical writing

It is exciting when something relevant to your job hits the mainstream news sources. In my case, Best Buy’s use of personas to help create empathy and understanding of customers was a concept I could relate to immediately. I want to share it with others who may not be familiar with technical writing and how we can use personas to help us write targeted end-user documentation. In this Washington Post article, I learned that Best Buy’s personas are:

  • Buzz (the young tech enthusiast)
  • Barry (the wealthy professional man)
  • Ray (the family man)
  • Jill (a soccer-mom type who is the main shopper for the family but usually avoids electronics stores).

The book that the Washington Post article references is “ Angel Customers and Demon Customers,” by Columbia University Professor Larry Selden. Apparently Best Buy would like to release the Demon Customers from their customer lists. I guess those demon customers are the people who buy-to-rent electronics, like buying an expensive scanner to scan one picture, and then returning it. Their Angel customers are someone like Jill, who rarely shops at the store but spends a lot when she does. I was curious to find out more about what they put in place to help target “Jills.” As it turns out, it’s better signage, special “escorted” assistance to fast checkout lanes, and places for her to hang out with the kids while they play the latest gadgets. I could go for all of that. I suppose I resemble a Jill in some ways, but in reality I’m such a tech enthusiast I’m probably a Buzz.

Personas aren’t meant to be a stereotype (I can empathize with the moms-who-go-to-soccer-games but don’t like the “soccer mom” label). Rather, personas should help you get a mental image of someone you’d like to help accomplish something. We’re not pigeonholing our users, rather, we’re trying to read like they would read and seek information like they would seek. Also, while you can keep a persona in mind while writing doc or designing a new product, you should be sure to accomodate people who learn or think in different ways.

At BMC, we have used personas in the past either for brand-new products or for a newly-acquired product where we want to be sure to understand the target audience. My favorite persona was a UNIX admin or DBA with 20 years of experience with long hair and a tie dyed t-shirt. He’s “Kip,” and he’s sleep-deprived, has wrinkled clothes, carries a pager, he’s an introvert by nature, a workaholic by habit and demand, a total tech junkie, he might feel a little ego-centric about name recognition and contribution, and he reads techy magazines online. There’s also “Kim.” She’s a junior DBA, just out of college, proud to be a DBA, goes to professional association meetings, she’s highly technical and professional but knows that she won’t be doing reorgs until she gains her coworkers’s trust. There are more personas used for different products, but that’s a sampling. You can use personas for writing doc or for designing a product.

One of the personas for writing that I always have in my head is my system administrator husband. He came home with a software user manual one night. He needed to refer to it because their VP had gotten a new BlackBerry and wanted their Exchange server to work with it. He didn’t need the manual for any other reason than the one-page of system requirements and the maybe two pages of configuration info. Other than those two types of info (reference info with a little bit of task info), he understood the product well enough from the interface alone to accomplish the task of setting up the VP with his new BlackBerry so he could receive his email off the Exchange server. This example sticks in my mind because the real task was getting two different technologies to work together.

How about you? Do you identify with any particular personas from Best Buy or BMC? Do you use personas while designing user assistance or a product or a service?

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