Behavioral Archetypes Toolkit for Assessing Customer Persona

Dec 29, 2020 by Anna Ho and Amanda Parkhurst


Now more than ever, a company lives or dies on the quality and credibility of the experiences they provide for their customers. As purveyors of digital experiences, we must place ourselves firmly and confidently at the intersection of business goals and user needs. Understanding and empathizing with the customer behavior of your target audience is the first step to exceeding their expectations. It broadens our perspective and forces us to challenge our own biases and conventions in favor of approaches that align to customer persona, motivations, needs, and pain-points.

Let’s say you (and/or your marketing-focused colleagues) have identified potential target market segments for your product or service and have in hand, one or more marketing personas. Armed with this aggregate customer data, you’re eager to design an experience that captivates and resonates with these customer personas.

Your question is: What next? How can we build a meaningful relationship with these customers, and what are our opportunities to create value?


First, Let’s Align on Language

At times we talk about customer personas and archetypes in a broad sense, perhaps implying that personas are less valuable than archetypes for driving decisions around a digital experience. Let us clarify.

Firstly, the nomenclature used to describe representations of customers varies across the design industry. For example, what we refer to as an “archetype” may in your organization, be called a “persona.” To help develop a clearer understanding of these design artifacts, we'll be discussing market profiles and behavioral archetypes.



Market Profiles (a.k.a. “market segment profiles” or “marketing-centric personas”) depict the “who” of your audience. They describe the similarities of potential customers within a market segment, and highlight the differences among customers — if you have more than one — in different market segments.



Behavioral Archetypes convey the “who does what, when they do it, and why” of your audience. Steeped in user behavior, they focus on a group’s needs, motivations, and pain-points and capture how they think, feel and act in particular situations or scenarios.


Market Profiles and Behavioral Archetypes: Better Together for the Win

Now you’re probably wondering, market profiles and behavioral archetypes — which one do I have, and more importantly, which one do I need?

We believe profiles and archetypes are strongest together. Market profiles are valuable for many decisions intended to steer or drive the overall business direction. Depending on what data is collected, market profiles can also inform the value proposition and scope of the offering. Behavioral archetypes excel at guiding both broad and specific choices that are key to the offering’s experience.



Both market profiles and behavioral archetypes serve as lenses with which to view your users — together they form a value chain that shepherds the most important customer data along the project timeline.

As a lens, market profiles are valuable early on in the project timeline, when you are trying to scope out target segments and understand their respective goals, needs, and barriers. Behavioral archetypes shine a light on the question, “Which features should I prioritize, and how will the user utilize my product or service?” There is a point when a contextual view on user behaviors, goals, and needs becomes more valuable for decision-making — we refer to this point as the hand-off zone.

The hand-off zone is when behavioral archetypes become the primary lens with which to view users. A person’s behavior can be vastly different depending on the context or circumstances. As a lens, behavioral archetypes allow you to focus on more nuanced scenarios and identify the user’s specific behavior in a given context.


A Rose By Any Other Name…

The artifacts above go by many names — persona, user-group, profile, archetype — they are often used interchangeably, or merged into one “super-persona” artifact.

Each artifact serves a specific purpose, but requires a certain amount of detail to capture it. When we used “super-personas” in our own projects, they became so information-dense and cumbersome that clients and coworkers didn’t want to spend time absorbing and internalizing them — or updating them — and they quickly lost their efficacy. This is why we believe that both are more valuable as separate artifacts used at the right time in the course of a project.

Starting with well-researched market profiles can quickly set the best course for the product/service and ring-fence the overall offering to focus on the features with the highest customer and business value. Once the team transitions from a more strategic (discovery/planning), to a more tactical (ideation/design/engineering) focus, you should extract key attributes from the market profiles to serve as the starting point for your behavioral archetypes.

What if I have a combo (a super-persona), or I don’t have any market segmentation data at all?

If you have one or more super-personas, then congrats! You have a head-start as much of what’s needed for behavioral archetypes can be extracted from these artifacts. Just remember to validate that your contextual scenarios make sense for each super-persona you have.

However, if you have no marketing data to work with, worry not. It’ll take a little more research effort on your part but you can still develop a market profile and behavioral archetype(s). A combination of user and stakeholder interviews, and competitive research will give you the foundation to create your market profile. Then the toolkit will walk you through the steps to create your behavioral archetype(s).


Getting Your B.A.

While market profiles may provide a compelling depiction of who your customer is and what they care about, market profiles typically fail to reflect the fact that people’s motivations, needs, and behavioral patterns may change depending on the context. For example, the young digital native who needs help seeking jobs will have different goals and needs when she has recently been laid off versus when she is employed and simply looking for a change.



An understanding of a person’s mindset and behavior in certain scenarios is the first step to building behavioral archetypes for your target audience. Scenarios encompass environmental factors including time, location, circumstances, and your user’s contacts who influence their motivations and needs. Scenarios define what is influencing a user’s driving goals, needs and pain-points in a given situation.

Motivational mindsets are the situational goals, needs, and assumptions that drive users’ behavior in a given scenario. Motivational mindsets represent the underlying factors that influence user behavior and ultimately determine whether or not they will utilize your product or service.

Once you define the contextual scenarios and motivational mindsets that drive the behaviors of your target segment(s), you will have a framework for identifying:

  • Your users’ context-specific goals, needs, and pain-points
  • What they are likely thinking, feeling, and doing in a given scenario
  • Potential barriers preventing the user from engaging with your product or service
  • Potential value/opportunities for offerings that intersect with those behaviors

This resulting data set provides the inputs for your behavioral archetype — with needs, motivations, and pain-points at the core — evolving your understanding of user behavior patterns and what drives their actions.


Where Do We Go From Here…?

Creating well-documented behavioral archetype(s) can set you up to make decisions with confidence and lead you into future activities like:

  • Aligning all stakeholders on who your primary archetypes are
  • Gaining more empathy for your users as you make decisions from their viewpoint instead of your own
  • Identifying features that will resonate with your core users
  • Creating an experience map with each of your primary archetypes to understand how they currently use your product/service
  • Conducting usability testing with users that represent your primary archetypes

We’ve designed a collaborative toolkit to help you and your team build behavioral archetypes based on the market profiles of your target audience. In this toolkit, we step you through the process of identifying key scenarios and mindsets for your target segments, empowering you and your team to align on the underlying factors that drive the behavior of your users.

Once you’ve defined relevant scenarios and motivational mindsets that influence the behavior of your target audience, you will have the basis for behavioral archetypes. These initial behavioral archetypes will help you evaluate behavioral commonalities and differences among your target audience. In conjunction with metrics from your market data, the behavioral archetypes will also help you determine which solutions or features to focus on and identify which assumptions you need to validate through user research.

Create your own behavioral archetypes today. Our toolkit includes a template and step by step instructions to guide you and your team through the process.


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