A couple weeks ago I was asked by a friend and colleague if I could give her any advice on developing buyer personas for her company – a really great organic food business. While trying to craft a helpful response it occurred to me that there are several “right” ways to create user personas for your website; it really is as much an art as it is a science. How you actually go about it will depend largely on the answers to the following questions:
1) Who will be making the business decisions (internal stakeholders) based on the personas you create and what is their tolerance for qualitative vs. quantitative validation?
2) How do you plan to use the personas and what types of decisions will be informed by them? (What triggers the persona to buy your product or service? How do the persona’s personality traits lead to them making a purchase? What medium (social media, webinar, etc.) is the best to reach the persona?)
3) How much time and money do you want to devote to establishing your personas? You can create “qualitative” personas relatively quickly and without a lot of expense. More statistically significant “quantitative” personas will require far more time and resources to develop.
For the purposes of my friends relatively small but growing independent business, the importance of getting her user persona “right” is secondary to the enormous value she’ll derive just from going through the persona development process. Thinking about who her customer segments are and how they might be different will help her establishing a strategic approach to communications and goal-setting that can only add to her site’s success.
The first step we usually take in developing a buyer persona for our clients at Ayantek is to collect as much empirical information about the current users as we reasonably can. I suggested to my friend that she try some of the three techniques listed below; they are relatively inexpensive and do not require an advanced skill set:
- Ask as part of site experience: If you require registration on your site, the sign-up process offers a perfect opportunity for you to ask questions and begin to develop a primary data set that will allow you to categorize users into specific category profiles. These profiles will be immensely helpful and can be used in creating buyer personas
- Website analytics: There can be a treasure trove of information about a site’s user when collecting analytics. Even the free version of Google Analytics provides a number of ways to understand user data. Google Analytics collects user data from direct visits, referring sites, social networks, and search engines. The data is visualized in easy to read charts providing context for user’s behavior on the site. What pages users are viewing, the time of day users access the site, and where users are accessing the site can be analyzed.
- User surveys, interviews, and focus groups: Sending a short survey or creating one online can be an excellent way to collect broad behavioral data. When asking customers about how they shop, their interests, and other demo/psychographics provide some kind of incentive for people in exchange for their giving you this information (maybe you have coupons or freebies to give away). This can be followed up with either focus groups or one-on-one interviews, both of which are really simple to execute, to generate more in-depth buyer personas.
Once you have collected a good base of audience information, the next step is to actually craft the personas. Personas can be basic or quite detailed depending on the level of effort you are willing to put into creating them. The most common elements to include in your persona are: a fictitious name, a brief description of the type of person they are, an outline of the personality traits and life circumstances of the person, a section outlining their needs and goals as it relates to the products/services or your company and the kind of content on the site that will help them achieve their goals.
Creating a persona is important for anyone conducting business online because it adds a human element to the oft-times abstract data your web analytics packages provide about your customers. A persona will give your company an understanding of your target market that is reality based and will help you to uncover new customer behaviors and buying patterns that have yet to be explored. Using your existing website analytics along with user surveys, interviews and focus groups, you can create hypothetical personas that will help you better market your products to actual people like you and me.
For further reading about developing a buyer persona check out this excerpt from Steve Mulder’s The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web.