Your persona: it's the role you play. It's how you act, the way you view things, what you believe, etc. Wouldn't this be valuable information to know about your customers? That's the advantage of creating web personas.

A web persona is a profile that represents your target audience based on calculated averages of your customer's buying processes, personality and demographics. Companies use personas as user archetypes to help guide their decisions and direction concerning product launch, new features, customer interaction and site design. By understanding the goals and patterns of their audience, companies can create archetypes to help create services to satisfy a specific, highly-targeted group.

Your goal is to create a persona that encompasses the most complete picture of your target audience. Doing so will allow you to produce the maximum amount of appeal to your real-life customers. Creating effective personas will help you:

  • Understand (and keep in mind) your target audiences' goals and beliefs
  • Develop the most effective voice for your company
  • Determine what products/features will and will not be accepted by your audience
  • Get to know your audience on a more personal level
  • Build a shared vocabulary between you and your audience to avoid confusion
  • Enable your company to make informed decisions
Creating Personas

Creating personas will help you identify your customers' buying decision process to allow you to maximize your conversion rate.

Do Your Homework

To create an effective persona you need to first research your target audience. The best way to do this is to either analyze previously obtained user statistics, or to do some usability testing by interviewing past and current members of your target audience. When interviewing them, you'll want to gather personal information (age, gender, location, occupation, pet peeves, etc.), as well as determine how they found your site, what their impression of your site is, how Internet savvy they are (what browser they prefer, what type of computer they use, how often they go online), which of your competitor sites they visit, and determine if they are service-oriented or necessity-oriented.

Acquiring and analyzing this data will help you develop a more complete picture of who your audience really is, how they spend their time and what they value as being important. Hopefully, after looking at this information you will start to see patterns. These patterns will be the basis for the personas you create.

Build Your Archetypes

Now that you have your data, it's time to analyze it. Hopefully you are able to see the similarities (and differences) between your customers through your research. Keep in mind that personas represent your audience's behavior patterns, not job descriptions, locations or occupations. While it's important to be aware of this information, these details should not be the basis of your archetypes. A properly defined persona will give you a well-rounded picture of your customer's attitudes, skills and goals, not a resume.

Once you have your data, group the information in a way that makes the most complete picture of a person. This will include assembling key traits (behavior patterns, similar buying process) to try and form a cohesive 'person'. You should be able to use the collected information to form a small group of 'people' that you feel represent your audience. Each persona (like your real audience) should be different, wanting and looking for different things.

Note: When you are creating your personas, do not model them after someone you know. This will alter how you work them. They should be based solely on a fictional character that you feel best represents some segment of your audience. Doing so will force you to concentrate on your audience and address their needs.

Refining

Once you have your persona, don't keep it to yourself. Share it with the other members of your company to get their insights. They may have valuable opinions that will help you narrow down or fill out the personality of your customer. Use this time to fill in any blanks. Name your persona to differentiate it from the others.

Using Your Personas

You have your persona -- you've named it, you know where it comes from and you know what it's looking for. But, you're not done. It is now time to put it into action. You should use your persona to role-play case studies, aide in user testing, evaluate new features, help make product and design decisions and develop customer service programs.

Here is an example of a persona and how you can put it to use:

Jane is a competitive personality. Social status is very important to her and she appreciates these qualities in others. She tends to be impulsive and doesn't mind the impersonality of doing things online as long as she is able to get what she needs quickly and efficiently. She is looking for verifiable results and quantifiable bottom lines. Social interaction is not important to her. She is willing to pay more to get a little extra. She is unmarried and does not see marriage in her near future.

Jane is very Internet savvy and uses the Internet for 10+ hours per day. She has multiple email accounts from various service providers and does all of her shopping and banking online. Jane works for an Internet company and has just purchased a modest condo in the suburbs outside a large metropolitan city.


By analyzing the above profile on Jane, it enables you to better target her needs. Based on this, you can see that her primary concern is for quick, expert information. Jane is an impulsive buyer; the key to acquiring her conversion will be to give her information in a quick, easy-to-read format while touching on her desire for prestige. You can guess that when she first visits your site, her eye will quickly scan the content for keywords. If you lose her interest for a moment she will be gone.

The profile also gives you an idea of Jane's experience level with your product. This will help you decide how to target her. For example, if you are a technological company, you know that Jane has a certain experience level with your breed of product. You can assume that Jane will likely understand the basic workings of your merchandise without you having to break things down step-by-step. Based on her Internet savvy, you know she will likely have little or no problem navigating through your site, but if she doesn't find what she's looking for immediately, she will likely take off and visit one of your competitor sites. At this stage in her life, brand loyalty comes second to quick service.

Similarly, if your product is home and garden related, you know that Jane will need a lot of detailed information to better understand how your product or service could benefit her. You need to make sure your information is presented upfront so that Jane doesn't wander away from your site. You know that Jane just purchased her first home. It is likely she is looking for easy ways to spruce it up. How can you gear your marketing campaign to address this? Is there a way to market your product as a 'timesaver' so that she can 'focus on other things'? Is Jane likely to have a pet? Maybe your product will do a better job of keeping her pet safe. By understanding Jane, it allows you to target her more efficiently.

Using Jane's portrait will help you flesh out her persona and identify the language that will most likely appeal to her and satisfy her motivations and needs. When testing out new features or campaign plans, make sure to keep Jane in mind. Ask yourself:

  • Does this feature offer a clear benefit to Jane?
  • What, if anything, will we need to provide Jane with to help her understand this new feature?
  • What kind of language should we use? Does Jane understand industry jargon?
  • Does Jane realize the problem this feature is supposed to address?
Benefits of Using Persona Archetypes

Personas provide many benefits. First, by speaking with your customers directly while gathering the data to create your personas, you have taken the first important steps to creating brand loyalty. Taking time to ask them about their needs and their interests will show them that you are interested in who they are, not that you are just out to make a sale. You want to learn about them, their goals and what is important to them so that you can make your product better for them. Customers are likely to remember such a move and will be more likely to do business with you in the future. By investing in them, you have made it easier for them to invest in you. Secondly, your personas may alert you to problems you may not have known existed. For example, while doing your research you may discover that your persona set is larger and wider than you could have imagined. Knowing this will show you the two very different audiences that you must address. This may mean creating a whole new product, or set of instructions, to fit more advanced users, while still catering to your more inexperienced ones.

Drawbacks

Many companies will resist the ideas of personas because they don't understand how they work. They may design personas that are too vague and are inefficient in helping with the direction of their company. If not done correctly, they may cause companies to pigeon-hole their audience, negating the basic purpose of creating personas.

Another drawback with using strict personas is that no matter how much research you do, and how in-depth you analyze it, you will never know 100% for sure that you have customers who feel exactly the way you have portrayed. If you create your campaigns too close to your persona you risk the chance of alienating some of your other customers. This is why it is important to create multiple personas - you will have a better chance at targeting the largest number of users.

Let's be honest, at the end of the day, despite your best efforts at analyzing your customers' personalities, all you are left with is a best guess about what they're looking for and who they really are. Using web personas allows your guess to be an educated one and provides your company with an invaluable tool to help keep users' interests in mind.




Lisa Barone is an SEO copywriter at Bruce Clay, Inc.






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