Salespeople in the online environment are always striving to overcome the impersonal nature of modern shopping.
Being that there is no face-to-face interaction between the salesperson and the shopper, it can be difficult to get a “general feel” for the customers that are interested in a particular product, their motivations for buying it or even assess how satisfied they are with the product when they purchase it.
Customer personas are our attempt at creating archetypes for our customers that help us make meaningful decisions to improve customer targeting, conversion and sales based on preconceived generalizations, which can be based on a number of things.
The problem with these archetypes is that they often tend to boil down to stereotypes, which can be offensive to the consumers and damaging to a businesses’ overall sales and marketing tactics.
We are here to discuss ways to improve your personas in order to avoid getting caught in stereotypes and making decisions based on misinformation.
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Don’t rely on personas alone
If a company is hitting a particular market for the first time, they might want to start off relying on personas that were created completely detached from any real data. While this may be helpful at the very beginning, as soon as a business converts their first couple of customers, it should cross-reference the information they gathered with their assumptions.
This should be done for a number of reasons but we are going to focus on the two most important ones:
- First, you can see how your targeting is going. If none of your converted leads match the personas, then you might want to consider building new ones as soon as possible.
- Second, you can identify new personas which can open you up to previously unconsidered marketing and sales opportunities.
It’s one thing to have a persona before the sales start. It’s a whole other story when you actually start to engage real people – that’s when reality and fiction need to start clashing.
Build your personas based on real customers and add to them
This is a big challenge to face due to the, well, the sheer complexity of humankind. No matter how much detail you add to a semi-fictional idea about a particular kind of customer you keep facing, there are still going to be numerous situations where the real deal just doesn’t fit the character but still shares some needs and opinions.
This can partially be due to the branding efforts you make. If you market your brand in a particular way, more and more customers might come to expect common qualities, values, and approaches from you. Because of this, your personas might start to acquire common features.
By keeping tabs on the development of personas based on real customers, you can see the way your brand changes, as well as how your customers are changing.
Use data as a basis
The first and foremost tactic for getting a clearer picture of your customers is relying on data. Analytics, real-time customer behavior, market research, polls and surveys, interviews – these are just some of the data you can analyze to create more realistic personas for your customers.
These sources can give us insight into anything from browsing time, common abandonment issues, social groups interested in a product, personal motivation, common issues they face, grievances they may have.
By having more than a source to confirm common customer behaviour, we can create personas that would actually make sense to your customers if you asked them about it (which might not be a bad idea).
If you want to see if your basic persona makes sense, try fleshing out an entire person out of a persona. Give them a face, a job, a schedule, go beyond the information that is relevant to your sales and see if the actions and behaviors you attribute them still stand.
The reason we first focused on building personas based on data is that it can help you create personas that are based in reality and can help you develop them further than before.
Through this, you will be able to flush out any irregularities and inconsistencies that superficial persona creation can suffer from. The goal here is to remove any potentially damaging and misleading assumptions about the customers.
Customer reviews can add to your persona
Not every review is going to be a big and incredible source of information. Still, a lot of things can be inferred from a simple star rating and the profile behind it. When people leave reviews they tend to outline the things they found most prominent, good and/or bad.
If you keep track of your reviews and add them to your personas, you are more likely to get a broader understanding of that particular persona. You have practically found a way to give a real voice to your fictional character.
Use content to engage and create a dialog
Everything in the online environment tends to come down to content. If you are looking for a way to acquire real customer stories and experiences to add to your personas a blog can be an indispensable tool.
In a review situation, the customers may feel a need to keep things brief and to the point. This isn’t the case for the comments section of your articles. If you can engage your audience, you can get all kinds of discussions going and receive a ton of feedback to breathe life into your personas.
Of course, you will have to adapt the content to achieve this goal. Will you be posting video content or will you go for infographics? Maybe the classic article type content would work best? Are you going to leave your content open-ended or are you going to make a point?
Creating content that produces no reaction isn’t going to do you any good here. The content you put out there are your conversation openers. If you tend to sound boring, off-topic and disingenuous, nobody is going to join the conversation. Would you?
On a final note, we’d like to advise caution and common sense when using personas.
They can be a great asset if they are used correctly but being that they can impact everything from the web copy you create, the audience you target, ideas you promote and a lot of other decisions that are related to marketing and sales, they need to be more than just a collection of stale stereotypes.
Taking a wrong turn with your personas and not reviewing your decisions can lead you to wrong conclusions and bad investments that don’t pay off. Whole marketing campaigns can go under due to simply being targeted at the wrong people and all this due to assumptions made based on stereotypes.
Make sure you keep your personas fresh and evolving as your business does so that you can understand who is actually helping you grow. You can start off with a mildly stereotypical persona but you need to build on it until the stereotypes get overwritten by information based in reality.
Guest author: Anja Skrba is the Content Creation Manager for FirstSiteGuide – an educational website which provides tutorials and guides that help people create, grow and maintain their online presence. You can connect with her on Twitter.