User Personas are used across the marketing landscape and most people know what to expect when creating them. However its time to realise that the investment and consideration being made with the traditional user personas is not only going to waste but isn’t actually very valuable at all.

User personas are still an effective tool when using digital psychology to develop digital solutions but how we create them needs to change. Our belief is using Digital Psychology will transform the success of your digital products and to be successful you need to be following this framework from the start.

Where do most solutions start? With an idea and an audience.

Why Traditional User Personas Aren't Effective

The normal user personas are created around the board table with marketeers and stakeholders holding long, painstaking meetings discussing every aspect of what they “believe” their ideal customers are. Typically starting with gender, age and job titles and then moving into more personal aspects such as the cars they drive and aspects of their family life, down to the details of how many pets they own.

This is madness! Unless your product or offering is set around home life or pet food, you are wasting your time. It’s an exercise that is important at the start of projects but the way we have been doing it all these years is wrong.

The reason things such as pets and interests are not as useful as we are led to believe is because they do not have any real reflection on the reasons people use your service or buy your products. Our brains make decisions or opinions within 50 milliseconds of seeing something, so this first impression of a product, service or brand is key to helping people take the next step.

Using Digital Psychology Instead

To get this right, we need to understand the users’ motivations. User personas based on motivations and emotions rather than the typical one you have seen thousands of times will allow us to get an understanding of why the decision is being made at all. Why are they looking at your website? What is the need they are looking to solve? And what was the motivation for them to take these actions?

This may sound like a server change in how we think when designing digital products, but with the right tools, it’s easy to get started.

A traditional user persona looks like this:

All that detail and time could be turned into a Limbic Map:

Use the Limbic Map to discover your users’ deeper motivations and values by focusing on their emotions. As a result, you’ll make more informed choices about the aesthetics and language you use, ultimately encouraging your users to behave the way you want them to.

​As you can see, the Limbic Map shows an array of different motivators and, by extension, a range of potential objections as the polar opposites. For example, someone with tolerance motivators would likely object to intolerance.​

Where does this Map come from? Psychologists assigned these emotional values to certain fields. And the Nymphenburg Group (a university-supported marketing group based in Germany) gathered and assessed empirical data in-order to determine their distribution and relationships.

​Using the Limbic map will allow you to create a single group of emotions and drivers (sometimes a couple, if you are unsure) which then will allow you to pick a focus persona from the ones we’ll outline shortly. These personas have strong emotive drivers which will easily guide your designers on how to create the look, feel and user experience of your digital product.​

Already have traditional user personas for existing user data? Then use those as a starting point. Otherwise, it’s completely fine to use the Map based on assumptions.

Patagonia vs Chanel

On this Limbic Map, we’ve plotted two recognisable clothing brands. Let’s take a look at how they’ve approached their website design based on the Map principles.

Plotted Limbic Map

​Patagonia (in orange) is more complex than simply erring towards one side of the limbic map. Their users are likely to value authenticity, safety and quality, which skews them towards balance while also valuing fun, individualism and risk at the top of the table. This could present a challenge as marketers need to effectively appeal to both sides of the coin.​

​Chanel however is massively skewed towards the dominance side of the map with fame, status and pride being the key motivators.

If we take a look at the Patagonia website we can see how they have implemented the motivations we showed on the Limbic Map.​

​The imagery is actually more about how and where their products are used. It’s clearly speaking to motives such as fun and risk appetite, as the brand is build on adventure and exploration. ​

​However, Patagonia realises that the quality of their products is also important to their users motivations, so the content they use directly addresses this. “Purposefully designed” ia a key phrase that sets their quality apart, while also making sure the imagery has space to address the other motivations. ​

Chanel, on the other had, leans heavily on imagery and bold colours. The grand staircase shows status and pride while the bold colours and design choices of the clothing range show courage and freedom. This is why they do not feel the need for the overlay of content like Patagonia. Their group of motivators are close enough to address in a more succinct manner. Just the imagery and their strongly minimalist branding is required.

The Power of Motivation and Objections

Understanding your users’ motivations and objections is the key insight that will ultimately guide whether or not your personas are effective. Implicit motivations refer to our unconscious needs/desires that can lead to gaining an incentive or lead to the avoidance of fear or loss (loss aversion). It’s the underlying and subconscious reasoning to why a person/user will perform an action or not.

A user is not solely buying your service or product, they are buying the experience and feeling they get from doing so. Focussing on motivations and objections (why a user would object to a particular product or service) allows you to develop your messaging, content, imagery, language, user flows, and triggers to ensure that your product is specifically tailored to their wants and needs. This will ensure throughout your customer journey that their goals are the forefront of your decisions, creating unique experiences and long-lasting customer loyalty.

Still Unsure About Your Users' Motivations?

The Limbic Map should guide your efforts in thinking about the motivations of your users and be able to help you make design choices. With traditional user personas’, this information has stemmed from your assumptions of your audience and is not definitive.

If this is your first step in using digital psychology, you may find it difficult to shift your thinking. So, what should you do if you are not sure you have accurately defined your users’ motivations? Or, what if you have identified several locations on the Limbic Map?

This is when you should A/B test or even perform multivariate testing to try your theories. Testing is an incredibly powerful tool when paired with plotting users on the Limbic Map. The decisions you are making for each test are based on different areas of motivation, and so the design decisions for each test should align with each specific motivation.

Here is an example of testing multiple motivators being tested for the same product:

With the test above, it was discovered that the design tailored to Individualism converted 70% more often than the other versions. However, the other variates were still useful as they were able to be used for specific advertising campaigns targeting different user types, meaning that the messaging still resonated with the motivators of different target audiences. This highlights another powerful use of the Limbic Map, as customer segments can be quickly mapped and running different versions of pages ensures that you are accessing and resonating with more than one segment of your target market.

You can clearly see the obvious design changes to match the motivators of each group and the language changes that align with the emotions of each persona. These strong guidelines help designers quickly create tests and allow us to define our best market and messaging whilst still being able to access other markets with changes to visuals and copy. This way, we are always creating the right environment to help our users take the actions we want them to.