I'm not a fan of provisional personas. Yes, they are better than nothing, but they are generally nothing more than an excuse used in order to protect our ideas from REAL people. Developing a real persona means we risk that people might think our baby is ugly. No one wants to hear their baby is ugly. No one.
Fear of risk isn't the only reason provisional personas still get traction. Sometimes it is simply that people don't know how to go about building a real one. Here are 3 simple tips I've found useful in creating real personas.
Start with data
If you have an existing customer base that you're trying to innovate for, let the numbers begin painting a picture for you. You can identify groups of customers based on their behavior, general demographic information, etc. You can use this segmentation as a launch point for building a real persona. (yes, a designer just suggested using your marketing data to shape your solution)
Look for outliers
Broad customer segmentation is helpful, but finding the deviant and ultra conformist customers can often yield the most beneficial insights. They will often tell you what the masses wont. They'll surprise you, make you mad, and show you things about yourself you never saw before. Find them. Learn from them.
Identifying people is not the same as actually talking with them or observing their behavior. If you know the individuals, call them up. If you don't, call them up, or use a service to help you out. If at all possible, get in the same space as your customer. Watch them interact with your product or service. Leave your intuition at the door and be prepared for a surprise.
**With these 3 simple tips, you have all you need to get started making real personas. I'd love to hear what tips you've found useful! **