Are personas done? Evaluating their usefulness in the age of digital analytics

Joni Salminen, Bernard J. Jansen, Jisun An, Haewoon Kwak, Soon-gyo Jung


In this critique, we conceptually examine the use of personas in an age of availability of large-scale online analytics data. Based on the criticism and benefits outlined in prior work, we formulate the major arguments for and against the use of personas, analyze these arguments, and demonstrate areas for the productive employment of personas by leveraging digital analytics data in their creation. From our review of the prior literature and the given availability of online customer data, our key tenet is that personas are located between aggregated and individual statistics. At their best, personas capture the coverage of the customer base attributed to aggregated data representations while retaining the interpretability of individual-level analytics. Persona creation benefits from both novel computational techniques and data sources. To demonstrate this, we propose and implement automatically generated personas primarily based on quantitative data. We also review key persona validation issues and examine how these issues can be addressed with automated persona generation using real user data from online analytics platforms. Finally, we outline areas of future research in the persona domain within the field of digital marketing and advertising. Overall, to survive in the rapidly developing marketing industry and online customer analytics, personas must evolve by adopting new practices. There are implications for this evolution of personas in a variety of domains, including design, content creation, and digital marketing.


Data-Driven Personas, Digital Analytics, Customer Insights, Digital Marketing, Marketing Automation

Full Text:



An, J, Kwak, H & Jansen, BJ 2016a, ‘Validating Social Media Data for Automatic Persona Generation’.

An, J, Kwak, H & Jansen, BJ 2016b, ‘Towards Automatic Persona Generation Using Social Media’.

An, J, Kwak, H & Jansen, BJ 2017, ‘Personas for Content Creators via Decomposed Aggregate Audience Statistics’, in Proceedings of Advances in Social Network Analysis and Mining (ASONAM 2017), Sydney, Australia.

Ancarani, F 2002, ‘Pricing and the Internet:: Frictionless Commerce or Pricer’s Paradise?’, European Management Journal, vol. 20, no. 6, pp. 680–687.

Ansari, A, Mela, CF & Neslin, SA 2008, ‘Customer channel migration’, Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 60–76.

Balabanović, M & Shoham, Y 1997, ‘Fab: content-based, collaborative recommendation’, Communications of the ACM, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 66–72.

Berthon, PR, Pitt, LF, Plangger, K & Shapiro, D 2012, ‘Marketing meets Web 2.0, social media, and creative consumers: Implications for international marketing strategy’, Business Horizons, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 261–271.

Blattberg, R & Deighton, J 1991, ‘Interactive Marketing: Exploiting the Age of Addressability’, MIT Sloan Management Review, retrieved July 10, 2017, from .

Bleier, A & Eisenbeiss, M 2015, ‘Personalized Online Advertising Effectiveness: The Interplay of What, When, and Where’, Marketing Science, retrieved May 18, 2016, from .

Bodapati, AV 2008, ‘Recommendation systems with purchase data’, Journal of marketing research, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 77–93.

Bødker, S, Christiansen, E, Nyvang, T & Zander, P-O 2012, ‘Personas, people and participation: challenges from the trenches of local government’, in ACM Press, p. 91, retrieved June 27, 2017, from .

Bughin, J, Shenkan, AG & Singer, M 2008, ‘How poor metrics undermine digital marketing’, McKinsey Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 38–61.

Chapman, CN, Love, E, Milham, RP, ElRif, P & Alford, JL 2008, ‘Quantitative Evaluation of Personas as Information’, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, vol. 52, no. 16, pp. 1107–1111.

Chapman, CN & Milham, RP 2006, ‘The Personas’ New Clothes: Methodological and Practical Arguments against a Popular Method’, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, vol. 50, no. 5, pp. 634–636.

Chatwin, RE 2013, ‘An overview of computational challenges in online advertising’, in American Control Conference (ACC), 2013, IEEE, pp. 5990–6007, retrieved from .

Claycamp, HJ & Massy, WF 1968, ‘A Theory of Market Segmentation’, Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 388–394.

Cleary, PD 1997, ‘Subjective and Objective Measures of Health: Which is Better When?’, Journal of Health Services Research, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 3–4.

Constantinides, E 2004, ‘Influencing the online consumer’s behavior: the Web experience’, Internet Research, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 111–126.

Cooper, A 1999, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity 1 edition., Sams - Pearson Education, Indianapolis, IN.

Danaher, PJ & Rossiter, JR 2011, ‘Comparing perceptions of marketing communication channels’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 45, no. 1/2, pp. 6–42.

Doherty, N & Ellis‐Chadwick, F 2003, ‘The relationship between retailers’ targeting and e‐commerce strategies: an empirical analysis’, Internet Research, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 170–182.

Dong, J, Kelkar, K & Braun, K 2007, ‘Getting the most out of personas for product usability enhancements’, Usability and Internationalization. HCI and Culture, pp. 291–296.

Ein-Dor, P & Segev, E 1978, ‘Organizational Context and the Success of Management Information Systems’, Management Science, vol. 24, no. 10, pp. 1064–1077.

Faily, S & Flechais, I 2011, ‘Persona Cases: A Technique for Grounding Personas’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’11, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 2267–2270, retrieved from .

Floyd, IR, Jones, MC & Twidale, MB 2008, ‘Resolving Incommensurable Debates: A Preliminary Identification of Persona Kinds, Attributes, and Characteristics’, Artifact, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 12–26.

Friess, E 2012, ‘Personas and Decision Making in the Design Process: An Ethnographic Case Study’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’12, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 1209–1218, retrieved from .

Ghose, A & Todri, V 2015, ‘Towards a Digital Attribution Model: Measuring the Impact of Display Advertising on Online Consumer Behavior’, retrieved May 18, 2016, from .

Goodwin, K 2009, Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services 1 edition., Wiley, Indianapolis, IN.

Graepel, T, Candela, JQ, Borchert, T & Herbrich, R 2010, ‘Web-scale bayesian click-through rate prediction for sponsored search advertising in microsoft’s bing search engine’, in Proceedings of the 27th international conference on machine learning (ICML-10), pp. 13–20, retrieved September 20, 2017, from .

Han, JK, Kim, N & Srivastava, RK 1998, ‘Market orientation and organizational performance: is innovation a missing link?’, The Journal of marketing, pp. 30–45.

Hauser, JR, Urban, GL, Liberali, G & Braun, M 2009, ‘Website morphing’, Marketing Science, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 202–223.

Hill, CG, Haag, M, Oleson, A, Mendez, C, Marsden, N, Sarma, A & Burnett, M 2017, ‘Gender-Inclusiveness Personas vs. Stereotyping: Can We Have it Both Ways?’, in ACM Press, pp. 6658–6671, retrieved May 28, 2017, from .

Holtzblatt, K, Wendell, JB & Wood, S 2005, Rapid Contextual Design: A How-to Guide to Key Techniques for User-centered Design, Elsevier.

Jansen, BJ & Schuster, S 2011, ‘Bidding on the buying funnel for sponsored search and keyword advertising’, Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1–18.

Jansen, BJ, Sobel, K & Cook, G 2011, ‘Classifying ecommerce information sharing behaviour by youths on social networking sites’, Journal of Information Science, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 120–136.

Jansen, BJ, Spink, A & Saracevic, T 2000, ‘Real life, real users, and real needs: a study and analysis of user queries on the web’, Information processing & management, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 207–227.

Johnson, MD & Selnes, F 2004, ‘Customer portfolio management: toward a dynamic theory of exchange relationships’, Journal of Marketing, pp. 1–17.

Jung, S-G, An, J, Kwak, H, Ahmad, M, Nielsen, L & Jansen, BJ 2017, ‘Persona Generation from Aggregated Social Media Data’, in Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI EA ’17, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 1748–1755.

Kathuria, A, Jansen, BJ, Hafernik, C & Spink, A 2010, ‘Classifying the user intent of web queries using k-means clustering’, Internet Research, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 563–581.

Kiani, G 1998, ‘Marketing opportunities in the digital world’, Internet Research, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 185–194.

Kohli, AK & Jaworski, BJ 1990, ‘Market orientation: The construct, research propositions, and managerial implications’, The Journal of Marketing, vol. 54, no. 2, pp. 1–18.

Kozinets, RV 2002, ‘The field behind the screen: using netnography for marketing research in online communities’, Journal of marketing research, pp. 61–72.

Krashen, SD 1984, ‘Immersion: Why it works and what it has taught us’, Language and Society, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 61–64.

Kumar, V, Choi, JB & Greene, M 2017, ‘Synergistic effects of social media and traditional marketing on brand sales: capturing the time-varying effects’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 268–288.

Kwak, H, An, J & Jansen, BJ 2017, ‘Automatic Generation of Personas Using YouTube Social Media Data’, in Waikoloa, Hawaii, pp. 833–842.

Lee, DD & Seung, HS 1999, ‘Learning the parts of objects by non-negative matrix factorization’, Nature, vol. 401, no. 6755, pp. 788–791.

Leong, L-Y, Jaafar, NI & Sulaiman, A 2017, ‘Understanding impulse purchase in Facebook commerce: does Big Five matter?’, Internet Research, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 786–818.

Leppäniemi, M, Karjaluoto, H, Lehto, H & Goman, A 2010, ‘Targeting Young Voters in a Political Campaign: Empirical Insights into an Interactive Digital Marketing Campaign in the 2007 Finnish General Election’, Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 14–37.

LeRouge, C, Ma, J, Sneha, S & Tolle, K 2013, ‘User profiles and personas in the design and development of consumer health technologies’, International Journal of Medical Informatics, vol. 82, no. 11, pp. e251-268.

Ma, J & LeRouge, C 2007, ‘Introducing User Profiles and Personas into Information Systems Development’, AMCIS 2007 Proceedings, retrieved from .

Mahajan, V & Venkatesh, R 2000, ‘Marketing modeling for e-business’, International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 215–225.

Massanari, AL 2010, ‘Designing for imaginary friends: information architecture, personas and the politics of user-centered design’, New Media & Society, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 401–416.

Matthews, T, Judge, T & Whittaker, S 2012, ‘How Do Designers and User Experience Professionals Actually Perceive and Use Personas?’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’12, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 1219–1228, retrieved from .

McGinn, JJ & Kotamraju, N 2008, ‘Data-driven persona development’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, pp. 1521–1524.

Meadows-Klue, D 2008, ‘Opinion piece: Falling in Love 2.0: Relationship marketing for the Facebook generation’, Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 245–250.

Miaskiewicz, T & Kozar, KA 2011, ‘Personas and user-centered design: How can personas benefit product design processes?’, Design Studies, vol. 32, no. 5, pp. 417–430.

Miaskiewicz, T, Sumner, T & Kozar, KA 2008, ‘A latent semantic analysis methodology for the identification and creation of personas’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, pp. 1501–1510, retrieved from .

Mulder, S & Yaar, Z 2006, The User is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, New Riders.

Mustak, M, Jaakkola, E & Halinen, A 2013, ‘Customer participation and value creation: a systematic review and research implications’, Managing Service Quality: An International Journal, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 341–359.

Nacke, LE, Drachen, A & Göbel, S 2010, ‘Methods for evaluating gameplay experience in a serious gaming context’, International Journal of Computer Science in Sport, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 1–12.

Narver, JC & Slater, SF 1990, ‘The effect of a market orientation on business profitability’, The Journal of marketing, pp. 20–35.

Nielsen, L 2013, Personas - User Focused Design, Springer Science & Business Media, Springer-Verlag London, retrieved May 28, 2017, from .

Nielsen, L & Storgaard Hansen, K 2014, ‘Personas is applicable: a study on the use of personas in Denmark’, in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, pp. 1665–1674.

Pruitt, J & Adlin, T 2006, The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design 1 edition., Morgan Kaufmann, Amsterdam ; Boston.

Pruitt, J & Grudin, J 2003, ‘Personas: Practice and Theory’, in Proceedings of the 2003 Conference on Designing for User Experiences, DUX ’03, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 1–15, retrieved from .

Raman, K, Mantrala, MK, Sridhar, S & Tang, YE 2012, ‘Optimal resource allocation with time-varying marketing effectiveness, margins and costs’, Journal of Interactive Marketing, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 43–52.

Ricotta, F & Costabile, M 2007, ‘Customizing customization: A conceptual framework for interactive personalization’, Journal of interactive marketing, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 6–25.

Rönkkö, K 2005, ‘An Empirical Study Demonstrating How Different Design Constraints, Project Organization and Contexts Limited the Utility of Personas’, in Proceedings of the Proceedings of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences - Volume 08, HICSS ’05, IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 220.1–, retrieved from .

Rönkkö, K, Hellman, M, Kilander, B & Dittrich, Y 2004, ‘Personas is Not Applicable: Local Remedies Interpreted in a Wider Context’, in Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Participatory Design: Artful Integration: Interweaving Media, Materials and Practices - Volume 1, PDC 04, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 112–120, retrieved from .

Sahay, A 2007, ‘How to reap higher profits with dynamic pricing’, MIT Sloan management review, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 53–60.

Salminen, J, Şengün, S, Kwak, H, Jansen, BJ, An, J, Jung, S, Vieweg, S & Harrell, F 2017, ‘Generating Cultural Personas from Social Data: A Perspective of Middle Eastern Users’, in Proceedings of The Fourth International Symposium on Social Networks Analysis, Management and Security (SNAMS-2017), Prague, Czech Republic.

Schneidewind, L, Hörold, S, Mayas, C, Krömker, H, Falke, S & Pucklitsch, T 2012, ‘How personas support requirements engineering’, in Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Usability and Accessibility Focused Requirements Engineering, IEEE Press, pp. 1–5, retrieved from .

Scott, DM 2007, The New Rules of Marketing, Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

Srisuwan, P & Barnes, S 2008, ‘Predicting online channel use for an online and print magazine: a case study’, Internet Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 266–285.

Stauss, B, Heinonen, K, Strandvik, T, Mickelsson, K-J, Edvardsson, B, Sundström, E & Andersson, P 2010, ‘A customer-dominant logic of service’, Journal of Service Management, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 531–548.

Sweller, J 1988, ‘Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning’, Cognitive science, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 257–285.

Taken Smith, K 2012, ‘Longitudinal study of digital marketing strategies targeting Millennials’, Journal of Consumer Marketing, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 86–92.

Thoma, V & Williams, B 2009, ‘Developing and Validating Personas in e-Commerce: A Heuristic Approach’, in Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT 2009, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 524–527, retrieved from .

Thunholm, P 2004, ‘Decision-making style: habit, style or both?’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 931–944.

Vahlo, J & Koponen, A 2018, ‘Player Personas and Game Choice’, in N Lee (ed), Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games, Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 1–6, retrieved March 6, 2018, from .

Vargo, SL, Maglio, PP & Akaka, MA 2008, ‘On value and value co-creation: A service systems and service logic perspective’, European management journal, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 145–152.

Venkataramani, V, Amsden, Z, Bronson, N, Cabrera III, G, Chakka, P, Dimov, P, Ding, H, Ferris, J, Giardullo, A, Hoon, J & others 2012, ‘Tao: how facebook serves the social graph’, in Proceedings of the 2012 ACM SIGMOD International Conference on Management of Data, ACM, pp. 791–792, retrieved from .

Vincent, CJ & Blandford, A 2014, ‘The challenges of delivering validated personas for medical equipment design’, Applied Ergonomics, vol. 45, no. 4, pp. 1097–1105.

Wang, J & Yuan, S 2015, ‘Real-Time Bidding: A New Frontier of Computational Advertising Research’, in Proceedings of the Eighth ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, WSDM ’15, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 415–416, retrieved February 28, 2016, from .

Wolin, L & Korgaonkar, P 2003, ‘Web advertising: gender differences in beliefs, attitudes and behavior’, Internet Research, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 375–385.

Yang, Y, Qin, R, Jansen, BJ, Zhang, J & Zeng, D 2014, ‘Budget Planning for Coupled Campaigns in Sponsored Search Auctions’, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 39–66.

Yang, Yanwu, Zeng, D, Yang, Yinghui & Zhang, J 2015, ‘Optimal Budget Allocation Across Search Advertising Markets’, INFORMS Journal on Computing, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 285–300.

Ying, Y, Feinberg, F & Wedel, M 2006, ‘Leveraging missing ratings to improve online recommendation systems’, Journal of marketing research, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 355–365.

Zhang, X, Brown, H-F & Shankar, A 2016, ‘Data-driven Personas: Constructing Archetypal Users with Clickstreams and User Telemetry’, in Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’16, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 5350–5359.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License | ISSN 2205-5258