Persona Definition – What Is A Persona? 10 Answers That Count

Developing a persona for your customers or buyers is one of the most powerful ways to bring to life your ideas and relate them to your target audience. In this article, I’ll briefly give you a persona definition to work with, and review some of the main definitions from other sources.

A persona will help everyone involved in a project to have a common understanding of the user or customer. There are literally hundreds of applications for how you can use a persona within your business.

Generally, personas help improve decision-making because they create a shared mental model of a user. Although the word persona is used a lot there are a lot of definitions and meanings that depend on how and where a persona is used. The following definitions of ‘what is a persona?’ demonstrate the background and history of the concept.


Persona Definition

Understanding where personas come from and why they were used will help you to decide if they are right for you. Personas were originally described in the book, ‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum’ written Alan Cooper in the early ’80s.

He used the persona concept of a persona as a method to empathize with people who would eventually use the software he was designing.

Alan Cooper interviewed lots of people from his target audience as part of his project. As a result of working closely with his audience, he was able to pretend to be them. He used this knowledge and understanding to evaluating ideas his ideas.

This method-acting technique allowed Cooper to put users front and center in the design process as he created software. As Cooper moved from creating software himself to consulting, he quickly discovered that to be successful, he needed a way to help clients see the world from his perspective, which was informed directly by a sample set of intended users.


There are several definitions of a persona. Of course, the definitions vary because of the broadway personas are used.

A Persona is the particular type of character that a person seems to have, which is often different from the real or private character that person has.

Cambridge Dictionary – Persona

In other words, a persona is an actor’s mask and is a representation of a fictional character. In this definition of a persona, the actor is the writer’s mouthpiece, portraying the characteristics, emotions, and qualities of the writer’s ideas.

What Others Say is a Persona Definition

Despite many similarities with real people, living or dead, a persona is simply a fictional character.

A Persona is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.

Wikipedia – Persona

Although this is a good definition from Wikipedia, it doesn’t mention the importance of services. As a result of digital technologies, more organizations are faced with delivering services as well as products to customers.

Developing for the elastic user gives the developer license to code as he pleases while paying lip-service to ‘the user’.  Real users are not elastic.”

Alan Cooper (1999), ‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum’, p127.

This quote from Cooper highlights the reason personas are often used and are effective. More persona definition:

Detailed descriptions of imaginary people constructed out of well-understood, highly specified data about real people.

The Persona Lifecycle 2006 – Pruitt & Adlin

A persona is a fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group of users, identified and selected as a key target through use of segmentation data, across the company in a usable and effective manner.

This ultimately enables the company to design the best user experience for its customers at all touchpoints, which is a key success factor in today’s business environment”.

Foviance and Seren

A persona represents an aggregate of target users who share common behavioral characteristics (i.e., is a hypothetical archetype of real users).

Pruitt & Adlin, 2006

A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.


These persona definitions all have a common theme.

A persona is an archetypal representation of a group of people that helps teams create a shared mental model based on attaining both qualitative and quantitative data. The persona helps teams to make decisions that strategically affect resource investments and outcomes of projects.

Gary Fox

If a persona is going to be used to make important decisions though.


Most personas are a single page of paper with a photo of a person, their motivations, behaviors and other related data. The goal is to help people empathize with the persona and therefore produce better decisions.

Another important use of personas comes is when you develop a business model and focus on your customer segment.

Personas have become popular because it has got easier to get data about customers and then use these to support development projects.

In particular, a persona has become part of the marketing deck in most marketing agencies as they outline marketing campaigns and talk about a customer segment.

The only problem though is that personas can become an oversimplified and ‘vanilla’ description of how people react. For instance, in the world of startups, there is an acknowledged understanding that how you think a customer will react bears little resemblance to how they do react.

As Steve Blank famously says, your product will immediately fail on the first contact with the customer. Of course, here he is talking about prototypes and usually software as a service company.


In the next part of this guide on personas, I cover how marketing personas are used and developed.