Michelle SmithIn order to plan the click-through-experience models, or persuasion scenarios, on a web site, we develop archetypical fictional characters composed from real data, called personas, who represent your buying audience. We must allow for multiple personas to reach many of the same pages or marketing entities (emails, ads, tweets, etc.), but must separately address their needs.

Before designing a single pixel or writing a single word, we get a feel – using a wireframe – for the experience the personas will have navigating the site. We spend time up front planning the hyperlinks and the words around these personas, to be sure each page a persona visits will be relevant to satisfying needs and answering questions. At any given point, we want to move them one step further in the buying process.

Who is going to SES San Francisco?

ses-sanfrancisco2013To help you understand what a persona is why it is central to your online business goal, I’m going to rough out the character attributes of three personas who all want to attend an SES Conference in San Francisco (BTW I will be there next week – hope to see some of you there). (Disclaimer: I made up these personas for illustration purposes only.)

Starting with the data at hand and interviews with team members (we may or may not use customers at this point) we start our assumptions gathering with creating complexograms based on what dimensions are believed to change the buyer’s purchasing decision making.

One clear dimension that might affect the purchase process for a conference attendee is whether they are purchasing the ticket for themselves or if their company is planning on paying for it. Let’s examine the complexograms of these two use-cases to understand how they impact the purchase process:

An individual who is paying for themselves has a moderate amount of need and requires a moderate amount of knowledge. They have a significant risk if they choose in attending the wrong conference but have virtually no consensus (unless they have to convince a significant other).

An individual who has a company paying for them also has a moderate amount of need and requires a moderate amount of knowledge. However, they have a slight risk if they choose in attending the wrong conference but have a certain amount of consensus (depending on how many people in their organization they need approval from and the process involved).

Continue until you identify all buying dimensions that matter

When we overlay these two complexograms you can clearly see these have to be two different personas because they have such different complexograms based on the “who’s purchasing dimension”. We’ll go through this exercise for several other buying dimensions and this is how we can whittle down from the 40+ buyer segments that companies have to the 4-7 personas that have different buying modalities. If those segments, don’t each have differing complexograms their purchase process is more identical than different based on things like industry verticals, or job titles, etc.

At this point we may jot down a quick, down and dirty profile (these are not complete as personas) so that we can begin to talk about these prospects in a slightly more tangible way.

Putting some flesh on the bone

In an atypical example, I’ve purposely named each profile “Michelle Smith.” They’re all college-educated, single women aged 33-36. They have annual incomes of $65,000-$75,000 and work in marketing. They all live on the same block in downtown Manhattan and work in the same building in midtown Manhattan. They’ve been using the Web for several years and are proficient in all Microsoft Office applications.

From a traditional user-centered design (UCD) perspective, these profiles could be regarded as identical. They share the same demographics. And they share the same goals: they want to visit the SES San Francisco Web site and plan to attend the conference.

But even their parcel delivery person can tell you they do not share the same way of accomplishing tasks. Most importantly, we are not looking for their task focus but on their motivational mindset in order to persuade them.

Persona #1: Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith 1Michelle, a 36-year-old marketing manager, works for an Internet company that licenses data to manufacturers on a business-to-business (B2B) basis. The company powers comparison channel sites and well-known manufacturer sites. In addition, it powers all the comparison data at popular industry research sites.

Michelle makes judgments decisively. She wanted the site to generate more revenue, so she introduced the business-to-consumer (B2C) concept to run the Web site as a profit center. Results have been great. Revenue for channel and manufacturing sites is about $5 million, with 90 percent of that generated from the B2B channels. But B2C is rising.

Michelle’s main challenge is that her site has lost significant rankings due to the Penguin and Panda updates. But because the channel sites are dynamic, Michelle wants help understanding exactly how to get them ranking well again. She has discretionary money in her budget to attend conferences but must make sure her assistant can reach her while she’s gone and has to make sure her VP understands the value of her attending the conference in person instead of just taking an online seminar or something similar.

She has a secondary motivation to attend the conference. She wants to meet some of her favorite industry experts, such as Lee Odden, Noran El-Shinnawy, Marty Weintraub, Jim Boykin and maybe even yours truly.

Persona #2: Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith 2

Michelle’s 35 years old and owns a medium-sized click-and-mortar retailer. The company sells products to a niche market and has been in business 10 years. It’s been profitable from the beginning. Last year, it finally decided to build an e-commerce site. The site also offers a few exclusive product lines for testing before they’re rolled out in stores.

Michelle’s assembled a team of energetic young people to develop and maintain the site. The site’s done reasonably well in search engines, because Michelle works with the content and IT people to focus more on the customer and less on the technology. But with growing competition, changes in Google’s algorithm, extra competition in PPC, Michelle wants to stay ahead of the curve.

She’d really like to keep up the friendships she’s developed from attending past SES conferences. This time, she hopes to focus more on the conference itself, instead of all the after hours activities. She doesn’t want to miss too much valuable information during the morning sessions because of the inevitable late-nights parties and time spent with colleagues.In the past, SES conferences allowed her to network with and learn from search engine reps, industry experts, marketers, engineers, Webmasters, and business owners. Colleagues who referred her to this company were actually people she met at previous SES conferences.

Persona #3: Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith 3Michelle is a 33 year old responsible for HR at a medium sized, interactive agency. She was recently promoted from media planner to HR because of her methodical presentation of client documentation. She’s still unsure which conferences she should send her colleagues too this coming year. In her previous position, she oversaw trafficking out ads.

One of her needs is to help her tea, develop better skills around mobile marketing. She’s interested in SES sessions that could help.

What do you think her complexogram looks like? How does her need, risk, knowledge and consensus affect her buying decision? How does it compare with the other Michelles?

Personas as a Tool

If we accept the above as realistic SES attendee profiles, how might these constructions influence the experience and content on the site? Make the effort to empathize with each one. Visit the current site, and experience it the way they might. Visit competitive conference sites, and compare each profile’s experience. A competitive analysis from your visitor’s point of view is more valuable than one from your own.

Next time in this column, I’ll share with you how we move beyond complexograms and profiles to develop richer personas using a technique known as the Johari window.


PS. Some images courtesy of Shutterstock