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Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2011 at 9:39 am

How To Practice Persuasion Architecture with Personas – Part 1

By Marijayne Bushey
April 13th, 2011

FutureNow always has been known as the company that does CRO a little differently than the other players in this industry. Some Conversion Rate Optimization companies have started testing based on segmentation by demographic and behavioral characteristics. At FutureNow, we create business-specific personas that reflect the demographic, psychographic and topographic dimensions of your audience. When I tell people this, I hear a lot of different interpretations of what that means, so I want to clear the air and show you what we mean when we say our personas are rooted in behavior.

What does it really mean to say personas are rooted in behavior?

Well, sometimes it’s easier to say what something doesn’t mean before you take a stab at what it does mean. When we say our personas are rooted in behavior, we don’t mean that we saw someone look at a red dress, so now we’d recommend you display all the other red dresses in your inventory. It goes much deeper than that. It’s about meeting the fundamental needs of your prospects (not just with respect to any red dresses you sell, but with regards to any of your products or services, about your company, about your policies, etc), and doing that better than your competitors, so that those prospects become recurring customers. You do that by understanding how they collect information and make decisions, and what motivates them to buy. That includes knowing the kinds of questions prospects have about your products or services, which kinds of customers are likely to have them, and leading them to that information easily and transparently. Doing this successfully makes them feel confident that you have the right product for them.

It all sounds terribly complex, doesn’t it?  No wonder so many marketing companies take the easy way out and just give you personas based on simple segmentation!  But at a high level, it’s easier to understand than it first appears.  Take a look at one of my favorite graphics of all time (see left) to begin to see beyond just the age and income differences among your prospects and into their more meaningful differences.  Here at FutureNow, we talk primarily about four different groups of prospects.  Each group has a particular information focus, and a particular pace at which they collect that information. They look like this:

Competitive – Logical information focus, fast-paced information collection and decisions

Spontaneous – Emotional information focus, fast-paced information collection and decisions

Methodical – Logical information focus, slow-paced information collection and decisions

Humanistic – Emotional information focus, slow-paced information collection and decisions

Seriously?  Different communication styles aren’t for real.  That’s just a bunch of marketing hocus-pocus.

No.  These four communication styles aren’t just something we invented so we could make a pretty little graphic for posts like this one.  Think about it: haven’t you ever had a conversation with someone where you felt like you both were saying exactly the same thing, but somehow you still couldn’t manage to agree with one another?  Frustrating, isn’t it?

In fact, the harder evidence comes from real science.  In the mid-20th century, David Keirsey, Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers did loads of scientific research that led to this system for classifying decision-making behavior. But they based their ideas on someone whose name you might recognize even more easily: Carl Jung.  And even more famous people have been talking about these same groups of people for centuries: Aristotle talked about them, Plato wrote about them, and the Greek physician Hippocrates was the first to apply these ideas to medicine.

But it’s thanks mostly to Keirsey and Myers-Briggs that we can say these ways of thinking about people are for real.  Not only did they collect loads of data to prove that these ways of collecting information and making decisions existed, but they also did lots of studies to prove that these categories are cross-cultural.  That means this way of looking at groups of people isn’t just for those of us from the US, Canada or the UK, but it applies to countries and cultures everywhere in the world. Although it is interesting to note that their research, and the work of others since then, has shown that some cultures skew more heavily toward one style than another.

OK.  There really are different ways of collecting information and making decisions.  So what?

So, we borrowed this idea from the best, and applied it to how people make decisions about what to buy. People buy when they feel confident that a product or service will meet their needs. They feel confident when they easily find answers to all their questions. Not answering questions, or making them look too hard for the information frustrates them, and can even make them feel like you’re hiding something from them.  So, the goal is to anticipate your visitors’ needs, and deliver what they are looking for before they even realize they are looking for it. Our Persuasion Architecture methodology aims to do just that: to create a sales process that is aligned with the customers’ buying processes. In other words, we help our clients to structure their website experience and the plan to continuously improve it in a way that facilitates the way the clients’ prospects buy their products or services. Bryan Eisenberg explained it this way:

“Persuasion Architecture provides a detailed process for persuading your visitors to take the actions you want them to take.  Nothing is left to chance.  To provide visitors with the information they want, when they want it, in language that speaks to their individual needs, you design persuasive paths based on personas.”

If you think about that, and also think about those four squares in our decision-making behavior grid, you quickly realize that the idea that a website has one path taking visitors through the sales process is a total delusion. There will be at least one path for each of the four groups of people. And although it’s certainly possible that all four kinds of people could enter your site at the same point and through the same mechanism, it’s much more likely that certain mechanisms and entry points will be favored by one or two groups over others, and visa versa. This is why our OnTarget services use personas to help plan and perfect these paths on your website: so you do a better job of meeting the distinct and identifiable needs of each of these four groups of people, and successfully move more of each group to the conversion point on your site. You can learn the details of our Persuasion Architecture methodology in this free download.

Align my sales process with four different buying processes?  Do I need four different websites and marketing plans?

Great question.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard it, or something similar about needing four different versions of a page. But the good news is, you don’t. You can actually have four different paths on one site, and even talk to four different groups of people on one page. How?

Well, for starters, each of these four groups tend to look at certain parts of the page first, and some areas more than others. We’ve written about this before on this blog.  For more on the subject, check out Howard Kaplan’s post detailing which pattern is characteristic of each persona. What this means in terms of your work to make your website better is that you can put specific content aimed at a specific persona in the areas of the page they tend to favor so they will be more likely to see it. To illustrate, think about the competitive persona, who collects information quickly and makes decisions quickly. If you bury the kind of bottom-line, logical information that speaks to their motivations at the bottom of the page, they’re unlikely to find it. Their content should be at the top of the page, above the fold.

But not only do you have to account for where a certain persona will look for answers to their questions, you have to confront the more difficult task of figuring out what to put there. This has to do with the particular kinds of questions each of the four personas has. As part of our persona creation process, we list out all of the questions customers ask, and then group similar kinds of questions together: logical questions on one side, and more emotional questions on the other. You can get step-by-step instructions for creating personas by downloading our free persona whitepaper. But the content you put on your site for a particular persona has to do more than just answer his or her question. Remember what Bryan said: you have to speak to their individual needs. The way you word your answers to their questions is just as important as what you’re saying. You have to appeal to the factors that motivate each of the four personas too. To help our clients better understand both the questions and other factors influencing their prospects’ decisions, we create something called a Schizogrpahic Diagram, which shows a variety of factors and motivations that might go into a decision about whether or not to buy a product, and depicts where each question or factor falls in terms of the four quadrants.  Check out the example at the right.

Of course, not only will these four personas look to different areas of a page, they might look to different areas of the site entirely.  There are probably some pages on your site with information that is more logically oriented, and other pages with information that is more emotionally charged.  Some personas will be attracted to the logical information, and others to the emotional information, and there will be some pages that all four personas are attracted to.

Tie it all together and move toward practical applications with 3 simple questions.

You now have the key pieces of information you need to start thinking more concretely about the pathways you have, or need to have, on your website.  You understand the big characteristics that define how people buy; you know those characteristics lead to unique buying pathways for each of them; where their pathways overlap, you have a means of understanding how to cover four sets of questions; you even have the ability to define what those four personas look like for your business, including their specific questions and motivations.  Next is to apply all that new-found knowledge to your optimization efforts, so you can make your website better.

Now you can begin forming some hypotheses about your personas and their likely buying paths.  Start by asking these three questions for each of your four personas:

1.     Where would they land?

2.     What questions would they need to research?

3.     Where would they get more info?

In Part 2 of this series I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of optimization tactics to test those hypotheses, employing personas of course.  So, stay tuned!

Editor’s note: After posting this piece, we realized there were several special considerations we needed to cover before discussing tactics for applying Persuasion Architecture personas.  So we’re working on Part 1A and Part 1B now.

Add Your Comments

Comments (23)

  1. The classification of personas seems like a great tool for CRO. However, I feel it is really difficult to gather the right set of data to classify vistors to each persona type online. A startup will not have a large enough data set or existing customer data to do so. In such a case, be great to know what kind of information could then be used for classification and where that data can come from.

  2. @Pat – you create your personas (see the link to our persona whitepaper that is in the post to learn how to do that), and then you can classify visitors to your site as a specific persona by specifying custom segments in your Google Analytics around specific actions they take which are aligned with your projected behaviors for a specific persona (eg – clicked on the spontaneous CTA you placed on the homepage).

  3. This is a very intricate post, with a ton of great information to digest. From what I’m gathering here – once the specific persona is identified (quantified). You start tailoring the site navigation experience to better fit the “targeted” persona (i.e. typical lead/site visitor). At least, that was my interpretation.

  4. @Automated Webinar – you are correct. That is how it works. The initial personas can be based on existing analytics data, combined with anecdotal stories from staff how have lots of contact with your customers (they often are able to provide wonderful insight into the specific kinds of questions customers ask both pre and post sale). Once they are developed, and some of the optimization techniques (to be covered in Part 2) are up and running, the personas can be re-evaluated and refined based on more aggressive segmentation.

  5. Well, it’s necessary to analyse where our visitors hit the most. So even if they aren’t interested in the product (at first), they might get interested in it after visiting the site.

  6. I think this post is the first I’ve read here that clearly explains both the idea of personas (with history!) in conjunction with their use in CRO in a very linear way. Very informative.

    I do have one question though, is it possible that a certain product might simply not appeal to a certain persona and therefore negate the need to create a conversion funnel for that persona?

    For example in the case of a product with a known flaw, say an older item at the end of its product life cycle, a methodical person could never be convinced to purchase such a product, because their attention to logic would tell them that there is likely another item out on the market that is newer or without the flaw. Where as spontaneous and humanistic people could be easily converted through emotional appeals.

  7. Once you have the initial dataset do you essentially develop categories for different groups/personas which you then use to ‘best fit’ additional candidates or is the set expanded as more data is added?

  8. The classification of the characters seems to be an excellent tool for CRO. However, I think it’s really difficult to get good data set to classify Vistors to each line of type character. A home is not large enough set of data or data on existing customers to do so. In these cases, it is good to know what kind of information could be used for classification and can come.

  9. How long time required for create pecific personas that reflect the demographic, psychographic and topographic dimensions

  10. I think the concept of persona classification combined with the concept of stage buyers in a previous article can be a great combination for revenue optimization. If a website can figure out both the stage of buying and the persona of the visitor, they can design a page that targets that specific visitor. Wonder if those 2 concepts are combined generally or are they too intersecting to be useful.

  11. one thing to mention here, is ‘social engineering’. As a security expert, I’m heavily making use of this when pentesting systems, but it can be used for marketing purpose, too.

    kind regards, s1ck

  12. Of course your article isn’t intended to be all-inclusive or all-explanatory, but you tend to lose me by identifying four different groups of prospects, each with a particular information focus and a particular pace at which they collect information.

    I understand these may be tendencies rather than absolutes, but I believe this methodology is far too compartmentalizing. I might be (at least reasonably) equally competitive, spontaneous, methodical, and/or humanistic.

  13. @David Jobs – you don’t necessarily have to have a specific page targeting a persona. Remember that different personas look to different areas of the page anyway, so if an issue is likely to be a central question for more than one persona, you can use the same page to address both of them, and just put the content aimed at each in the particular areas of the page favored by each.

  14. @joel – you are absolutely correct! You most likely are all four types under various circumstances. I hope you come back to read Part 2 when it’s published, because I will touch on this then. But for now, suffice to say that these types describe a person’s behavior at a particular moment in time…. which is subject to change based on circumstances. (In fact, we often refer to them as “modes” for this reason.) What is important is that people behaving in any one of the four modes may land on your site at any time, and you should be prepared for the kinds of questions they will have, and understand how they will go about looking for answers to those questions. You do not need to know what mode a particular person is in when they land on your site… merely to provide an appropriate option for each mode, and allow people to self select. :-) Hope that makes more sense!

  15. @Asad – when we do this kind of work for our clients, it can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, depending on how complex the business is and how deep of a look we are taking into these aspects of their customers. That is for the initial draft. On the back end, we start using these “draft” personas in our optimization and testing efforts with the client, and continue to refine the personas…. sometimes for many months. But bottom line, you can pull together a first round set of working personas relatively quickly. Check out the persona whitepaper cited in the post, and give it a try!

  16. @Tim Rowdon – I’m not sure I follow entirely. Can you provide more detail about what you mean by “initial dataset” and who are the “additional candidates”?

  17. @Finally Fast – you pose a great question! I never thought about the specific example you use, but here’s one that we see quite a bit… technology products. Think along the lines of servers, or processing chips, or even techie kinds of applications. It’s not so much that they don’t appeal to a particular persona type, as that both the company persona, and the product or service persona, can cause these four types (or modalities) to skew. EG: I’m a humanistic. That means I favor a slow-paced, emotional decision making process. But when I buy computers, cameras, other tech products, I’m a total methodical (logical, slow-paced) buyer.

  18. Really enjoyed your quadrant diagram. Any chance you could add a few examples of Users/Scenarios that you think would apply to each group?

  19. You should ask all your visitors to fill out a fun survey like page and based on their choices to display different site content.
    Extrapolating is like Google and Facebook joined forces and give you search results based on what you like or what your friends would recommend.
    It’s visible, some would say that the biggest fight now is on social media/networks side and all the big presence in Internet would pay $$$$$$ to know what you and your family/friends like in order to redirect to you the most ‘appropriate’ offers/ads.

  20. Hello Marijayne,

    First, I’d like to thank you for writing this informative article. I’ve found it useful and inspiring.

    I have a question (after reading through the pdf you linked to). Let’s say you are going to create a new web site based on the affiliate revenue model (i.e. with you as the promoter of affiliate products). You don’t have any existing products or experience in the particular market you are entering. What you do have is extensive keyword research which indicates profitable niches, and thus viability.

    In order to maximize your web site’s CR, how would you go about creating personas in a case like this?

    A possible answer that comes to my mind is to identify people from your own personal network (including friends), who are interested in the product, and carry out the five step process (as described in the pdf) with them.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts.



  21. [...] (there goes my horn again!) … our very own Howard Kaplan will be there revealing the FutureNow secrets to optimizing with personas. Joining him on the docket will be our friends from, and the incomparable Steve [...]

  22. [...] and to see what tools are out there to help you with your personas, please read our earlier piece, How to Practice Persuasion Architecture with Personas. [...]

  23. Altough is very hard to make an exact profile for every group of personas (competitive, spontaneous, methodical, humanistic) and it takes even months of work, it really helps you, so it worth the effort. I found out, for example, that the methodical personas tend to buy faster than the other ones.

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Mj has been proselytizing the merits of customer-centric, data-driven, continuous Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) for FutureNow since 2007.

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