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Many clients have asked and been confused about the differences between customer segmentations and personas. So here’s a quick write-up to help provide some clarification.

Customer segmentation is a marketing tool to identify different groups of customers (or potential customers) within a market so that it is possible to target particular products, services or marketing messages. There are many ways to slice and dice customer segments depending on the marketing needs, such as age, income or life stages. Customer segmentation itself does not provide insights but a way to differentiate and group customers.

Personas (and archetypes) are essentially a design tool to create empathy with a group of real users. Personas are fictional characters (but based upon robust research with real people) designed to represent a group of people with similar characters, values and behaviours. The purpose of personas is to mix demographic information with archetypal behaviors in a believable and true to data harmony. Personas are most useful when they are paired with scenarios to provide contexts and lead to insights thus guide design decisions.

Customer segmentations and personas are not mutually exclusive however they are totally different types of tools for different purposes and contexts of use. In some cases personas could be mapped to segmentations to represent key customer segments, but in other cases, personas could be based on factors that are totally separate from segmentations. For example, when we segment insurance customers we may segment them by life stages, while looking at a digital decision flow design we will develop personas focused on their readiness to make a decision and their use of digital as opposed to life stages.

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