7 minute read · Published June 29, 2024

Personas are key to good product mapping

Latest Update July 4, 2024

Product mapping is essentially the process of creating your product’s blueprint. It’s a strategic process used by product managers, designers, and development teams to visually organize and outline the various elements, features, and functionalities of a product that they’re bringing to market. 

Think of it as a roadmap that guides the development, enhancement, and marketing of the product. 

The goal? To ensure your product fits user needs, market demands, and business goals perfectly.

Components of a product map

There are a few key components that make up a good strategic product mapping process. 

Features

Perhaps the most obvious component is features, especially when we’re talking about SaaS products. 

Teams will lay out the core features, which are the essential functionalities that help the product to fulfill its primary purpose. They’re must-have elements that would render a product obsolete if they weren’t there. For a messaging app, for example, the core features may include sending and receiving messages, user authentication, and notification settings. 

But of course, to really differentiate from competitors and to provide a more enhanced overall experience, teams often include several supplementary features, too. These are non-essential features that help to add a little extra oomph to the product. Keeping with the same messaging app example above, some additional features may include emojis and stickers, end-to-end encryption, and integration with other apps. 

User journey

Customers don’t experience product features in isolated instances, though, so it’s important to contextualize them during this product mapping process by laying out the user journey. 

The user journey identifies every step that a user takes when interacting with your product, from first interaction to last. This often involves highlighting important touchpoints, or key interactions that users have with the product, pre and post-sale. 

Another major part of this is illustrating (and optimizing) specific user flows, which are visual representations of the steps that users take to complete specific tasks within the product. They show the path a user follows from entry to achieving specific goals. 

By mapping out the overall user journey, key touchpoints, and specific user flows, it makes it easier to identify potential bottlenecks or pain points in the user experience and gives you a solid framework for designing more intuitive and efficient interactions. 

Competitor analysis

Benchmarking against competitors is an extremely valuable strategy in mapping out a product that can sustainably increase market share, especially in saturated markets.  

This involves comparing your product’s features and performance against competitors to see where you stand in the grand scheme of things. You’ll want to look at features and functionalities, pricing models, and customer base. 

This helps identify areas where you excel and where you might need to improve. It can also help you identify any places where there are major gaps in what your competitors are providing, which can be a great opportunity for differentiation. 

Another important part of product mapping is tracking market trends, which involves getting a better understanding of any current trends or future predictions to make sure that your product can remain relevant and competitive. This helps you anticipate changes in user preferences and adapt the product strategy accordingly, ideally proactively rather than reactively. 

For example, in the tech industry, some current trends that are currently having a major impact on companies are the rise of AI and machine learning and the increased demand for data privacy. 

You can gather insights from official sources like industry reports, market research studies and trend analyses published by reputable sources, but you should also keep tabs on more casual but more timely sources like trends on social media, relevant podcasts and newsletters, and industry events.

Establishing a good product mapping foundation with user personas

So you know everything that goes into the product mapping process, but how exactly do product teams get to that end result?

One of the main strategies to create a successful product map is to create really in-depth and reliable user personas. User personas are fictional, data-driven profiles that represent your ideal customers, helping you understand their needs, behaviors, and preferences. The purpose is to give you something to hold your new ideas up against, questioning how your personas would react. 

Creating really great personas rooted in real data helps you to connect product features to real user needs and enhance the overall user experience by curating it to things that will resonate with your personas specifically. 

You can also use your persona-building exercise to identify personas that are not being addressed in the market currently, giving you a clear advantage. 

Basic elements of a user persona (and how they relate to product mapping)

  • Demographics - Demographics are statistical data that describe the characteristics of a population. This could include things like age, gender, income level, education, occupation, and marital status. Knowing this information helps you understand the basic background and social context of your users, which is beneficial when you’re segmenting the audience or attempting to design product features that cater to specific groups of people. 
  • Psychographics - This data goes deeper into the psychological aspects of users, including their interests, values, attitudes, and lifestyle choices. Digging into this information gives you more insight into user’s motivations and preferences, which helps you create more personalized and relevant user experiences. 
  • Behavioral patterns - Identifying patterns in how certain users interact with (or are likely to interact with) your product is a crucial part of a persona-building exercise. You want to identify patterns like usage frequency, preferred features, and common pain points. This can help you nail down sticking points or areas of priority. 
  • Goals and challenges - This is perhaps the most relevant area of the user persona when it comes to product mapping. This focuses on what users aim to achieve with your product and the main obstacles they face in their journey. You want to clarify their primary objectives and motivations for using your product. You want to develop features that help them achieve their goals more easily and provide resources and support to help them overcome any challenges. 

Using surveys to gather data

Surveys are a great strategy to get self-reported information on all of the elements above. While there are several different research methods that you can use to build out your personas, and they’re all valid, I want to focus in on the information you can get firsthand. 

Sometimes, the easiest way to get the information you need is to just ask. 

When you’re creating your surveys to touch on all of the key elements of personas, you’ll want to use a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions. The open-ended ones will give you really rich anecdotal, qualitative data, while the close-ended questions will give you more quantifiable insights to work with. 

There are a handful of different ways to distribute these surveys. You could always do social media polls or email out surveys on a platform like Typeform. But one especially fruitful strategy is to send out in-product surveys

The reason that this is so valuable is the fact that you can collect contextual data from actual users to help you expand your engagement with existing users or improve your product to draw in new users. Instead of just sending out surveys at random, you can trigger surveys to go out based on specific audiences, when someone visits a specific page, or with tools like Commandbar, you can even use more nuanced triggers like when someone rage clicks or shows signs of confusion. 

Analyzing survey data

Once you have all of your survey data in, ideally from a variety of sources, you want to look for any patterns or common trends in the responses to build out your understanding of any common characteristics and behaviors of your personas. 

Then you’ll want to translate those enhancements to your user personas into changes to your product map, whether it informs new features, new products altogether, or optimized user journeys. 

Enhancing product mapping with chat interactions

While surveys are incredible, chat is another invaluable tool to dig deeper into your understanding of your user personas to improve product mapping.

In comparison to a survey, chat reveals more natural and off-the-cuff responses. People are a lot more likely to speak candidly and in detail during a chat conversation than they are during a survey. (And that’s if they even take the survey in the first place).

Luckily, you probably already have tons of this data available to you already if you keep a record of any support chats. If these records are stored, they’re a potential goldmine for insight into your personas. 

Another new strategy that you should absolutely consider if you haven’t already is leveraging AI-assisted chat. This helps you level-up the insight you can pull from support records alone. 

When you have an always-on AI agent at your user’s beck and call, especially one that provides a truly conversational, human-like experience, you’ll suddenly get more and richer records to pull from. This helps you scale real-time personalization and probe deeper into issues. Instead of someone just clicking buttons or getting pre-selected responses, more dynamic conversations that are personalized at every moment get your users to open up and share more. 

Analyzing chat data

Once you have all of your chat records in front of you, you can use a strategy like sentiment analysis or use tools that help you identify trends or top keywords. You can map these onto personas (or use them to create entirely new personas) that help you pinpoint needs, frustrations, and preferences. 

So for example, you may see that users that fit one specific persona are more likely than other segments to express frustration at a certain touchpoint. This could help you start making plans to either adapt that touchpoint or provide more robust support when that segment gets there. 

The best product maps are rooted in your users

What good is the world’s best product if it only resonates with the team that built it? In order to create the best, most successful, and most helpful product, you need to have a clear understanding of the exact people you’re trying to target and align all efforts exactly with that understanding. 

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