Persona is a multifaceted representation of how an individual, literary character, or entity portrays their identity to the world. It’s about masks, roles, and how these shift depending on context.
Persona in writing and communication is a complex construct of characteristics that define how an individual, character, or entity is presented. Specifically, it entails:
- Role and Archetype:
Foundational character types or roles, such as ‘The Hero,’ ‘The Mentor,’ or ‘The Rebel,’ offer a primary lens for understanding behavior, responses, and motivations in a narrative or real-world context.
- Background and Experience:
Every individual or character carries a backstory, a history that impacts current decisions, actions, and worldviews, granting depth and context to their persona.
- Values and Motivations:
Beyond mere actions, the driving forces behind decisions and behaviors are deeply tied to the core beliefs, principles, and desires that guide an individual or character.
- Strengths and Vulnerabilities:
These inherent attributes influence interactions, reactions, and decisions. They shape the nature of the persona’s engagements, whether leading to success, conflict, or growth.
- Interactions and Dynamics:
How a persona connects with others, the nature of their relationships (friendly, adversarial, neutral), and the quality of their engagements play a crucial role in defining them.
- Physical and Emotional Attributes:
Observable traits and internal emotions, moods, and feelings add layers of depth, making the persona relatable, distinctive, or memorable.
- Goals and Aspirations: |What the persona aims for, their dreams, ambitions, or objectives, defines their journey, guiding their decisions and actions in various scenarios.
Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.Niccolo Machiavelli
Persona from a Rhetorical Perspective
For writers, persona functions as a rhetorical tool: writers meticulously engaged in rhetorical analysis, rhetorical reasoning, and customer discovery to determine the persona they need to project to accomplish their aims of discourse.
- a politician could pander by attempting to appear religious when the last time he viewed a church was watching the Exorcist or The Two Popes.
- a self-assessed introvert could present herself as an extrovert when applying for a job as a salesperson or some other sort of role that involves dealing with the public.
- a writer who views a topic to be deadly serious (e.g., environmental degradation) could use humor or satire to lighten the tone of their text.
Adopting a persona is not necessarily disingenuous. The politician could be deeply concerned about representing her constituents. The car salesman could really care that he finds the car that fits your needs and desires.
Persona as a Subjective, Interpretative Framework
Readers, right or wrong, make judgments about who you are based on their interpretation of your persona. Communication is invariably a psychosocial, semiotic process. At one level, you cannot control the interpretations of your audience. As a rhetor you may consider your tone and voice as reasoned, thoughtful, and intelligent whereas the reader might dismiss your text as biased, underdeveloped, or emotional.
Yet because your persona may play a big role in establishing whether your audience will give sufficient time to reflect on your persona–and to ask different readers to give you feedback on whether the tone of a particular text is appropriate and effective.
Persona in Literature
In 1895, Vladimir Propp, a Soviet folklorist and structuralist, analyzed hundreds of traditional Russian fairy tales to identify recurring plot structures and character roles. From his work, he delineated a set of character roles, often termed “spheres of action,” that appear consistently in tales.
- The Hero: Often the protagonist, embarking on a quest or challenged to prove their worth.
- The Villain: Opposes the hero, creating the central conflict in the narrative.
- The Donor: Provides the hero with a magical object or crucial piece of knowledge.
- The Helper: Assists and supports the hero throughout their journey.
- The Princess (or Prize): Typically the hero’s objective; their plight often prompts the hero’s journey.
- Her Father: Can act as an impediment to the hero or as the individual setting the task for the hero.
- The Dispatcher: Sends the hero on their quest.
- The False Hero: Initially perceived as good, their true nature is revealed as deceitful or malevolent.
Persona in Customer Discovery & Usability
In Customer Discovery as well as Usability Studies, two common empirical research methods, persona (sometimes Customer Persona or User Persona) refers to a type of user who represents a cohort of other users.
Founders/Developers/Investigators engage in customer discovery or venture design in order to better understand the problem space from the customer’s point of view. By interviewing loads of customers, they hope to identify how the user navigates the problem space. They talk one-on-one with customers to understand what each customer thinks, sees, feels, and does when facing a problem in a problem space.
Then, over time, after repeated customer discovery interviews, founders/developers/investigators look for patterns in customer interviews. They come to divide customers into customer segments by examining how the customer navigates the problem space. For example, when interviewing customers about their experiences learning new technologies for his research study on what influences people regarding their adoption of new technologies, Everett Rogers (2003) theorized there are five major types of consumers:
- Early Adopters
- Early Majority
- Late Majority
In the world of product design and marketing, a persona shifts its meaning to represent a specific user demographic. This profile, often crafted from research and interviews, amalgamates preferences, habits, and needs of similar users, providing designers with a blueprint of who they’re catering to with a product, application, or service.