Give me faster horses, Henry!

18 May 2022 Martin Cheetham

If you are wanting to enhance or completely reimagine an experience for your customers or employees. Or you’re trying to establish product-market fit, or even problem-solution fit when developing a new product/service. If you are simply wanting users to engage more with your digital platform or needing them to buy from you. If you are trying to innovate within your business or even disrupt an entire industry, personas are an invaluable tool to help you meet that objective. BUT they have to be validated (more on that later).

Personas help you form a hypothesis. An idea of who the people you’re serving are, and what motivates their behaviour. Understanding their drivers is the key. These usually fall into three categories: Jobs to be done (JTBD), pains and gains.

JTBD also fall into three sub-categories: social, emotional and functional. A great example of how this works is a person buying a car:

Ash Williams wants to buy a new car. His functional job is buying a vehicle that will be able to transport him from point A to point B. His emotional job is buying a vehicle that makes him feel good when he’s sitting inside it. Whereas his social job is to get something that his neighbour sees and thinks “Wow, Ash is moving up in life – he’s really successful”. The functional side of him would just buy a second-hand Toyota, the emotional side may buy an SUV, while the social side would throw caution to the wind and get a brand spanking new Benz! (that’s what credit is for right?!)


Henry Ford

There is an old adage from Henry ford that goes something like this: “If I had asked what my customers wanted, they would’ve asked me for faster horses!”.

On the surface, this seems to dispute formulating personas and researching with customers to unpack their desires. Remember, that in those days, he would be speaking to people daily and understanding their needs, if even by default.

And this is where it gets interesting – only by asking the right questions and digging deeper, do you start to uncover the motivational drivers. On the first pass, they just mention speed, but when uncovering the layers you’ll unpack their frustration with how long it takes to get to their destination. Maybe they are worried about when someone in their family gets sick, and they need medical treatment quickly. Maybe they just need more time to spend with their families and the daily commute eats into that precious time.

The delivery or execution may not be what they were asking for, or what they expected, but the outcome may (and in this case, certainly did) exceed it! The exact same thing is happening now with autonomous cars. As the technology is adopted, congestion will free up, accidents will reduce in frequency, and people will have more time to do what they love.


Validation (told you it was coming)

Personas are only truly valuable if they are validated by speaking to real people and getting unbiased data from them. You can get some basic demographic info from quantitative research methods such as surveys or even focus groups, but the real juice lies in in-depth, one-on-one interviews.

Assumptions will only get you started on the path, but in order to truly empathise and uncover those behavioural drivers, proper research must be conducted. Customer research. Employee research. User research. Whatever it is, the first step is understanding your people. Just get out there and start finding out.