Open. It's not just the sign on a retail shop door-it's an imperative and a state of mind for consumers. The successful open brand must operate under a new set of rules, embracing social Web-empowered consumers and their impact on the digital landscape, brands and each other.
Who are these new consumers? According to the Resource Interactive iCitizen Motivational Study conducted with Harris Interactive, they represent 86 percent of the online population and are defined by their online behaviors and motivations.
In addition to the three core behaviors of shopping, researching and self-servicing, three new social behaviors have emerged-creating, sharing and influencing. The consumer is social. She is empowered. She has the ability to activate and amplify a viral campaign. She can be a brand unto herself. In collaboration with her online community, she is creating a paradigm shift. She's taking the power of brand messaging into her own hands.
Today's consumer isn't necessarily more complex. The difference is that we now have far more information about her, allowing us to create more compelling and relevant experiences and thus increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and profits. A key to unlocking the social Web-empowered consumer is to create personas 2.0, which incorporate attitudes and expectations within the context of the social Web to your brand.
What Is a Persona?
Let's start with what a persona is not. A persona is not a segment. It's not a profile, and it's not a representation of a single customer. A persona is a tool that puts a human face on data, allowing everyone to share a common, documented understanding of consumers-to see them as knowable and real. It is an archetype that represents groups of consumers with common attitudes, motivations, goals and actions.
A successful persona paints a picture of the consumer's life and illustrates who she is, providing an opportunity for empathy for the consumer and her relationship to the brand. Personas are a tool that can unify stakeholders across an organization, allowing everyone to know the customers and to make more informed decisions. And ultimately, personas are an easy way to infuse your customer into the business's day-to-day operations and decisions.
Personas 1.0 were created and used by brands with the fortitude to put the customer at the center of their experience design processes. More than likely, they include transactional data as well as information extending beyond basic demographics and perhaps psychographics to understand customers' needs and desires to research, shop and self-service.
If your personas were created prior to the emergence of the social Web and the importance of online communities, they likely do not include the social aspects of emerging behaviors and expectations of this Web-empowered consumer.
Personas 2.0 represent the social Web-empowered consumer. They consider consumers' individual goals as well as their role within open brand stewardship. These evolved personas aid in understanding the relationship between the consumer, community and brand-the love triangle.
Personas 2.0 must include the implications of the ever-changing digital landscape and the role of the digital channel within the consumer's world-her ability to be a producer, an author and a change agent, as well as a customer. Consumers do not draw a discerning distinction between activities-shopping, entertainment, research, networking. The social Web-empowered consumer expects portability and a seamless experience-allowing her to pause and play across a variety of activities in any channel.
Personas 2.0 provide insight into how your personas interact, either one-to-one or within a network.
How Do I Create a Persona?
An organization should begin by defining how it wants to use personas. It's important to engage business stakeholders across the organization (marketing, merchandising, IT, operations) at this stage, as well as throughout the persona development process. Next, gather all your customer research and data (CRM, sales data, Web analytics, etc.). Now, it's time to perform an analysis to determine what, if any, additional information is needed. It's important to capture answers to these questions:
- What motivates your consumers?
- What are your consumers' attitudes and preferences?
- What are your consumers' goals?
- What are your consumers' actions and/or behaviors?
To gather this information, use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to capture both aided and unaided information about your consumers. The research should include methodologies that will harvest attitudes and motivations within the social Web.
Once you've collected the necessary data, it's time for synthesis and persona definition-a process that is centered around informed clustering. Include this rule of thumb in your formula for persona development: Personas should be mutually exclusive and distinguishable to drive business decision making that could define user interface design and online campaign developments, fuel information architecture, and prioritize features.
After the personas have been defined, collaborate to determine how many and which personas to prioritize and visualize. Then partner with your creative team-including designers and copywriters-to visualize the personas.
Consider the hypothetical example of a persona 2.0 called Sarah, a social shopper (see the image below). It includes a view of her basic profile information, a quote which embodies her feeling about the Acme Apparel Co., and a brief narrative that helps her audience understand her expectations and goals. The component that allows Acme in this example to understand Sarah as a Web-empowered consumer is her core value of "interaction" and the three experience components of shared world, inner world and the brand world. The world metaphors translate the love triangle, which provides Acme a view of how Sarah is as an individual, as a part of the community and her relationship (actual or desired) to Acme as a brand.
When and How Should I Use Personas?
Creating personas is only one part of the work; applying them as an ongoing decision support tool is the most important step. Once the personas are visualized, share them and infuse them into everyday business conversations.
Because personas are distinguishable and mutually exclusive, they can be further prioritized using weights that are driven from your business goals to help the organization focus on the most important personas. Personas can help you make decisions across your business-targeting online marketing campaigns, prioritizing IT project lists, modeling customer acquisition, and acting as a creative lens for designing and building brand communications. They are also a proven tool in the experience design process as they fuel information architecture, user interface design, content creation, use cases and metrics reporting. Personas also can be used to fuel strategic work-translating brand models, informing feature road maps or influencing platform decisions.
Personas are an invaluable tool to build consensus within the decision process-but they will not provide answers on their own. They help prevent brands from talking to themselves or wasting time and dollars implementing features that are simply popular. Personas can unlock actionable insights that help brands stay relevant, so it is important to revisit them and update them as your brand makes significant change or the industry experiences a major shift.
If you have customers, then you should have personas. Personas 1.0 are a great start. If you want to understand the dynamic of the social Web and mine opportunities for buzz, word-of-mouth, influence or advocacy, Personas 2.0 are your next step. Ultimately, in order to know your consumer today, you also must know her points of connection with her community.
If you don't have the resources in-house to help you create personas, work with an agency that has experience with persona creation. The investment will be realized with the first application. If the values of consensus, commitment and humanizing your data aren't impressive enough, consider this very bottom-line value: Companies that use personas successfully have seen both revenue and conversion increase. Staples, for example, is a brand that created seven personas. By zeroing in on the most prevalent two in its site redesign, Staples saw its online revenue jump from $3 billion to $4.9 billion, according to an article in the November 2007 issue of Internet Retailer.
Personas can help remove guesswork when you are faced with limited budget and/or time, and they support a greater rate of return on your Web 2.0 investments as well as helping you align your brand experience with your consumers' attitudes and goals.
Mila Goodman is the director of retail strategy for Resource Interactive. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org