'Scenario' is making its way into more and more conversations these days. You'd like to wrap your mind around this concept, 'cause you have the sense it's the essence of how you construct your online experience (and you're right!). But depending on who you ask, you get a entirely different answer to the question, "What exactly is an online scenario?"
So join me for another installment in my "What Exactly Is" series. Today we come to grips with persuasion scenarios.
If you were to ask a techie or a web analytics expert to define 'scenario,' the concept of a 'funnel' would probably pop up, and that person would tell you a scenario is a series of steps a visitor must take to complete a funnel process. In this case a scenario is a very binary entity - either the visitor takes the prescribed action on a page or they don't.
If you were to ask a marketer, you would get a different answer. Most marketers have an intuitive sense of how a customer would buy in a specific situation - they think in terms of narrating how a visitor could participate in a conversion action. So if a customer were going to buy event tickets online, you'd expect her to narrow down her choices either by date, location or type of event (or a combination of these qualifiers), and once she selected an event, you'd expect her to check out.
Which of these definition is correct?
The right answer: Neither.
The 'righter' answer: Both.
Analytics experts and marketers have legitimate, mission-critical reasons to define scenarios differently. The marketer must account for the needs of the visitor; the analytics expert must be able to effectively measure the success or failure of a scenario. But taken individually, their definitions fall short.
Taken together, their definitions provide the essential elements for describing exactly what a scenario is and what it must accomplish:
A scenario consists of persuasive components that lead a visitor segment to participate in a conversion action. Some of these components will be linear; others will be non-linear. All must be customer-focused - based on how each segment approaches the decision to buy - rather than business-focused.
A scenario provides for the meaningful measurement of customer activity so you can optimize performance.
When we explicitly plan a scenario to meet the needs of marketers, analytics experts and customers, we call it a "persuasion scenario." It helps to understand the components that make up this beast.
This is the prospecting point, outside the funnel, where a scenario technically begins. It might be a search engine result, a pay-per-click, a banner ad or a home page. It's the concretely identifiable place where the visitor shows a level of interest in entering the scenario. Think of it as the for-sale sign in front of a house - it's not the house itself, but the persuasive alert that the house is available. Or think all those Munchkins pointing to Brick Number One of the Yellow Brick Road.
These are pages that are entrees to the conversion funnel - a door (perhaps one of many) to the house that's for sale. At this point, you are in a position to control and develop the dynamic of the persuasive process. A funnel point can be landing page or main product category page, and essentially functions as a home page would to build persuasive momentum within the scenario itself.
These are pages that contain information visitors may or may not need to answer questions associated with their individual buying processes. Each point of resolution page or entity must always link to either a waypoint or a conversion beacon (see below) to ensure the visitor never misses an opportunity to convert.
These are 'persuasive touch points' that marketers determine are integral to the seller's conversion goals, as well as important to the needs of a particular visitor segment. Waypoints support the sales process and the conversion goal. For example, an analytic, price-conscious ticket buyer for an event would certainly wonder about costs, so a sales-process "Ticket Pricing Page" would help her answer those questions. Similarly, if the ticket seller wants to increase bundled sales, a waypoint would be a "Subscription Ticket Options Page" that appeals to a visitor segment interested in better overall value. Not every visitor to the site needs to hit every waypoint to be persuaded or complete the scenario - waypoints are selling-process pages that meet the needs of a majority of folks within a visitor segment.
Points of resolution and waypoints are persuasive components that support the non-linear qualities of the online experience. The order in which a visitor hits these pages and the actual number of these pages she views is dynamic. In other words, they allow her to interact with you in a way that feels comfortable to her.
A conversion beacon signals the first (or next) step in a linear process through which a visitor must pass to reach the conversion point. Points of resolution and waypoints lead a visitor to the conversion beacon, the place where the visitor demonstrates the intention to convert. For example, if the persuasion scenario is designed to get visitors to subscribe to a newsletter, points of resolution and waypoints would build value for the newsletter while the sign-up button that begins the registration process would constitute the first conversion beacon. Each step in completing the registration process constitutes another conversion beacon - and the visitor must complete each step in order. Checkout processes include lots of conversion beacons.
This is the point where we know with absolute certainty that a visitor has successfully completed a persuasion scenario. The conversion point is the entity that gets delivered so that both we and the visitor know conversion has taken place. This is usually some form of confirmation.
Each component of a persuasion scenario is designed with a customer focus that acknowledges the differing needs of each visitor segment and provides persuasive momentum. Into that structure, and always sensitive to it, the scenario incorporates the sales process of the business in a way that benefits visitors without undermining their buying decision process.
This explicit planning provides exceptional support for the analytics goal of measuring so marketers can, in turn, optimize. At the end of the day, folks, it's a cooperative effort.
The analytics expert describes the success of the linear aspect of a scenario. Linear aspects typically occur at the beginning or at the end of a conversion process.
At the beginning, they could look like this:
Search engine result (the driving point) to landing page (the funnel point)
Banner ad (driving point) to landing page (funnel point)
And at the end:
Shopping Cart (the conversion beacon) to Complete Checkout (conversion point)
Form Completion (the conversion beacon) to Confirmation (conversion point).
Linear aspects of a scenario come into play when visitors need to start a conversion process or complete a registration process or checkout process. They're easy to setup in most of the better analytic tools.
Intuitive marketers know people don't interact with websites in straight lines. They understand visitors have questions that need to be resolved. In the online exchange, the ability to answer these questions requires building non-linear qualities into the scenario - these are more difficult, but by no means impossible, to measure.
Visitors themselves define the non-linear aspects of a scenario as they navigate your website. These scenarios can either be explicitly planned or implicit (they occur randomly if they were not planned). In a non-linear scenario, analytics can measure the point at which the visitor starts the scenario (the driving point) to the point at which they complete the intended scenario (conversion point), identifying whether or not the visitor hits the key value pages (waypoints).
It is also possible for analytics to identify the click-through path within the non-linear points of resolution, which can help marketers determine whether they are providing appropriate answers.
Now you know. Scenarios aren't simply airy-fairy concepts that sound as though they come from someone with a background in theater. They're meticulous, methodical constructions that merge marketing with analytics with a customer focus, making it possible for your visitors to "buy better" so you can achieve your goal of "selling better."
My sincere thanks to Anthony Garcia, Future Now's Senior Persuasion Architect and the principal force behind A Day in the Life of a Persuasion Architect, who graciously provided the draft for this article.