When businesses build their online presence, they often make the grave mistake of simply guessing who their audience is and how they might react to their brand. This can often result in businesses experiencing low sales, poor customer engagement, and even bankruptcy.
So how do you fully understand your brand's target audience? Sitting down and talking with some of your actual audience can be helpful, but it can also be time consuming, expensive and frustrating. Often overlooked, a simpler approach for businesses to solve this problem is to construct user personas.
What is a User Persona?
User personas are fictitious users that are constructed using sample data that is collected from actual users. User personas can also be arranged by creative strategists assigned to correctly identify a brand's target audience. User personas are more than just hypothetical users - they are given a name, a picture of a real person, a background, skills (both in terms of using the internet and their understanding of the product), an age, an educational level, a geographical location in which they live, and even which platform they are connecting to the internet with (OS, Windows, Linux, etc.). These elements come together to create a representative for a business' larger target audience.
Along with character traits, these users are given a set goal or objective that they are trying to complete when they come to the website. Using the various traits that the personas has been assigned, User Interface Designers are better able to gauge how a certain user would go about trying to complete a goal on the website and optimize parts of the site where the user persona might have trouble staying on track to complete his or her assigned objective.
Why Are They Helpful?
When it comes to a hypothetical user that is representative of a larger target audience, a high level of detail helps UI designers better understand the personas as real people.. This helps you create a baseline about what certain personas will do when confronted with different tasks on your website and make sure that navigation paths, or "user flows," are correctly optimized for users to easily move through your site.
Personas are particularly helpful for your design team to better understand things like how many informational pages a brand requires, how much space for copy pages will need, and what font sizes should be used based on what kind of user they expect to have.
For marketing purposes, personas can be extremely helpful when used to consider what your target audience might relate to and enjoy in your marketing efforts. User personas can help you answer difficult questions about your online business, including what kind of content or copy might appeal to your users and what the best times are to focus your marketing can all benefit from a user persona that can help you answer what can sometimes prove to be difficult questions about your online business.
User personas can also be a helpful tool in that they can be applied across an entire website's development process. They help to clarify the goals of the website and keep your various teams on point. By creating good user personas, the whole process of creating a website for a business becomes much easier because it makes everything about the website goal driven around the type of users who will ultimately be interacting with your business instead of relying on the gut instincts of those who are developing it.
How Many Personas Do You Need?
When creating your online presence it will become quickly clear that your business is trying to target multiple different audiences. This is going to be particularly true for larger e-commerce retailers who are trying to sell a broad spectrum of products to many different audiences. If this is the case, obviously one user persona is not going to cut it. So how many should you create?
While there is no limit to how many personas you can create, there definitely is a point where you can end up having too much of a good thing. Although having a couple dozen user personas might seem like a good idea, having so many can often jumble your website's creation process and leave you with a number of user personas that resemble each other very closely.
As a result, a good rule of thumb is to use no more than four user personas to get a good understanding of how your target audience is going to act. Why only four? Quite simply, most brands will have audiences that fall under a subset of one of your main four personas.
While your personas might not perfectly capture your audience's actions, the point is to get an idea for how the majority of your audience is going to act - and four personas is more than enough to do this. Extra personas will normally fall under a subset of your original four and while they might provide some insight they will often make using user personas a more complicated experience than it needs to be.
What's the Goal?
When creating an online business, you can never make everyone happy, but by taking the time to create a well thought-out and data-backed user persona, your brand can make sure that the vast majority of audiences that find your business online will have positive interactions that will lead them to convert and come back to your business in the future.
Finely tuned user personas will make your audiences have a better experience with your brand online and help your business think about who their audience is going to be. When done correctly, a good user persona can translate into increased revenues when compared to other businesses who haven't taken the time to create a persona that accurately reflects the audience they are trying to appeal to.
Have any questions about how to put user personas to work for your brand? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us @BFMweb.