We have long known that the key to running a successful business, whether it be on or offline is fully understanding your customers. When you dig deep and get a better understanding of who they are, what their needs, worries and pain points are, then you can appeal to them in a way that suits them.
Take a look at the high street, everything from the window display to where the fitting rooms are placed, the tills, mirrors for checking out your new chinos, clothes segmented into styles and variations… It’s all based on understanding the customer and what they are looking for, how they navigate the store, what comes into “eye view” at the right time. All in order to increase the average order value of their trip.
It’s very much the same with our online presence, decisions for content, navigation, calls to action, links, images, conversion points (don’t necessarily have to be selling, could be read another article or sign up for a newsletter) all need to be based around persuasion and what the visitors needs and pain points are, they can’t just be the needs of the site owner to sell more products, which is why you need to develop personas.
Personas have been around for a very long time within commerce and I am still quite amazed by how many brands shy away from developing their own, thinking that it’s a very onerous and labour intensive task to undertake, I have even been told that “we don’t have time for all that, we are too busy trying to sell our products”, my reply was “but selling it to who exactly?”.
Developing personas isn’t something you can do in an afternoon, it does take time to model it, test it and get the structure of it in place, but the returns on understanding your customer is key to longevity, growth, giving them what they need and creating a lot of efficiency within your company.
Issues for the brand around its audience
When I first started working at Roland UK, there was little understanding of the core customer base, due mainly to the vast amount and variety of products that Roland sell, every thing from electronic drumkits, digital pianos, synths to accordions with flames on the side. With the product range being so diverse (and that they don’t sell direct), it was hard for us as a brand to focus on the core customer, communicate with and understand them and allow the fact that some products were secondary, less important in some cases than those that deliver the growth and revenue they need.
Without understanding who the customers were, what they needed or wanted, how they shopped, why they were there, where they have come from and where they were in the research or purchasing cycle – then trying to appeal to them really difficult, where one size fits all was never going to work (it never does).
Stairway to persona heaven
We used five main steps to developing the personas and understanding the customers and tried to keep them as simple as we could.
Throughout each of the stages, we always asked “what data or information will we get back that will allow us to create actionable tasks and work towards a goal” and the stages were a mix of internal and external tasks – but we made sure not to make them too complex.
Pencil sketch the personas
Using Roland staff from the sales, marketing, customer services, product support departments, we hypothesised and pencil sketched initial personas, – you have to start somewhere and its easy to quickly build up a “stereotype” for you to model while gathering more data about the customer and their ways. We gave them names with different attributes, personalities, ages, demographics, shopping traits, online behaviours, worries and pain points, really trying to get under the skin with the personality, emotions and behaviours.
At the starting phase we ended up with 11 personas – but merged those that had similar traits and behaviours, that were “close” together – we got the number down to 6. The number needs to be manageable, I have come across brands with more than 12 personas, which can be difficult to manage and envisage when creating content, developing UX or even a marketing message. Keeping the number down will make it an easier place for you to start – you can always expand out later down the line.
Empathy mapping each persona
Empathy mapping usually starts with this little person. Fill the room with your product managers, marketing and sales people – hand them a load of post it notes and ask the following four questions, which really help you get a better understanding of the personas that we pencil sketched earlier:
- What does a person Think/Feel on your site, or about your products – what worries, obstacles
- What do they Hear – from friends, influencers, media
- What do they See – when on the site, from the product, content, brand and experience – do they see themselves with your product
- What do they say and do – whats their behaviour, attitude to what they have in front of them?
The pain and gain part of the diagram allows you to gather what the people in the room have said, collate it and relate to what a potential customer may find pain points, but at the same time some positives in the gain section, afterall it cant be all bad (can it?).
Categorising products via Card Sorting
Once you have empathy mapped the pencil sketched personas, its a good exercise to add them to a wall and then card sort which products you sell, again using post it notes, add the products to the typical persona – if you have an entry level product then that goes with the pencil sketched persona, a top/high end product isn’t going to suit that person. Just add each of your products via the post it note to each of your personas, we ended up quickly gaining visibility on core products and the type of person we associated with them.
User testing onsite
If you are reading this and have been through user testing on your site before, and stomached the results, you will know how much it sucks… if you haven’t, then read on. We set tasks for users to complete on our site and recorded the results, asking them:
- How does the homepage make you feel
- Where can you find user manuals for certain products
- Find a beginner drumkit
- Find out how to buy a certain product
- Where would you find how to return a product
- Use the search function and find a beginner piano
Setting the user what you would seem simple tasks on your site (don’t forget you look at this site day in and day out), we recorded both how the user interacted and undertook the tasks and what they were saying at the same time. The results are pretty shocking, at times when you watch the video played back, we found most of us in the room shouting at the screen, like something out of a horror film.
All jokes aside (although we weren’t laughing at the time), you can recruit sample guerrilla users via quite a few online agencies with testing facilities, like Class Marker, which is a lot cheaper than you think, they will undertake the tests and feed back via download links so you can collate the feedback and start to understand the pain points that even the most internet savvy users come across when using the site.
I would recommend that the user testing is never skipped, it provides you with the insights into some pain points that users face on your site, and of course what needs to change.
Ask your existing customer database
Surveying the customer database allowed us to add a rich layer of data across all the research we had already done, categorising people into the personas we had developed. Asking questions that would support any other research we had received. We sent out an incentivised prize draw via email to our customer base, who better to ask than your customers, they will give you honest feedback and Roland has an amazingly engaged fans and customers. Asking them questions like:
- How many times to you play your instrument per week
- What kind of music do you play
- What product did you last buy
- Do you buy online or instore
- How long do you take to research buying your next piece of gear
- What do you normally spend on an a piece of gear (minimal, mid range, premium, the rent)
After collating all the answers from those who filled the survey in, we cross referenced the products that people owned and assigned people who hadn’t filled the survey in to each segment and persona. It allows you to close the gaps on the database you have.
Use an agency to do the hardwork
Using an agency to do marketing segmentation modelling really works in your favour, the one that we used adding a great rich layer of data to what we had found so far, finding key demographic, lifestyle and financial variables, so if they were typically:
- Male or female
- What the household income was
- Households with Children
- What social grades they were
- Living in detached houses
- Owners of 2+ Cars
- Readers of the certain newspapers
- Amount spent on groceries
Creating a Persona Bible (a hand held guide)
After all the work that we had done, gathering each layer of data to add to what we had done before, we were left with a comprehensive understanding of our core customer base. We developed a hand book which we used as our “Persona Bible”, so when we talked about developing content, pushing a new product launch we could quickly and easily all out the Persona and all understand what their pain points were, what language, tone, messaging, images and so on we would use that would resonate directly with that customer – and not just “what we thought would work”.
So what can a Persona Bible do for you?
When you end up with a persona booklet or bible as we called it, you will find it really helps you to focus on what marketing messages, content, UX you need to develop and really connect with your customers, understanding the main issues that they have with you as a brand, marketing messages and your website. At Roland, we used the new persona booklet (we printed a few hundred copies) and made sure it became part of our daily working lives. We used it to develop content, develop a new website, based solely on the personas and really connect with the core product customers and their pain points… the results and KPIs that we had put in place really flew, we saw bounce rates lowered, conversions increased and more and more customers spending more time on the site. We saw an increase in traffic, better rankings for our core products and search terms (both head terms ad long tail) and feedback from our customers was really positive.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, developing personas isn’t something that you can do quickly, it does take time to get them to where they need to be, but the benefits of truly understanding your customers should allow you focus on solutions to their pain points and get one leg up over the competition….