Behavioral Archetypes Toolkit

by Amanda Parkhurst, Anna Ho, Drory Ben-Menachem, & Nick Pollock

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 — which is why understanding and empathizing with the expectations of your target audience is the first step to exceeding those expectations. It broadens our perspective and forces us to challenge our own biases and conventions in favor of approaches that align to people’s 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 market profiles. Armed with this aggregate customer data, you’re chomping at the bit to design an experience that captivates and resonates with these customers.

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

Ready to put insight into action? Download our free Behavioral Archetype Toolkit — a step by step guide, including worksheets, detailed examples, and tips on how to use these artifacts in decision-making.



In a previous article, we talked about personas and archetypes in a broad sense and may have implied 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 vary across the design industry. For example, what we refer to as an “archetype” may in your organization, be called a “persona.” In order to facilitate a clearer understanding of these design artifacts, hereafter, we will discuss market profiles and behavioral archetypes.

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



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, they can also inform the value proposition and scope of the offering. Behavioral archetypes excel at guiding both broad and specific choices key to the offering’s experience.

Both market profiles and behavioral archetypes serve as lenses with which to view your users, and 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 my user use my product or service?” The point at which a contextual view on user behaviors, goals, and needs becomes more valuable for decision-making is what we refer to as the hand-off zone. This 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.



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

Each artifact serves a specific purpose and requires a certain amount of detail in its own right to capture that purpose. 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. Hence our belief 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, key attributes from the market profiles should be extracted 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, competitive research will give you the foundation to create your market profile, and then the toolkit will walk you through the steps to create your behavioral archetype(s).



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 in effect, 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 the environmental factors, including time, location, circumstances, and the people around your user that 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 held by users that drive their behavior in a given scenario. They 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 for the user to engage 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.



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

  • 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 this collaborative toolkit to help you and your team to 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 amongst your target audience, and in conjunction with metrics from your market data, help you determine which solutions or features to focus on and identify which assumptions you need to validate through user research.



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