Who's Your Audience?
The first step in building a website or branding a business is to get clarity on who the audience is. We need to understand who we’re targeting because if we don’t speak their language, if we don’t meet their needs, they will go elsewhere. And just saying, “We’re targeting 25- to 35-year old females in the greater Portland area” isn’t sufficient. You know so much more about your customers, use what you know to communicate with your customers. Fortunately, understanding your audience is easy, it’s fun, and it’s insightful.
What we’ll cover:
Alright, let’s get started!
A “persona” is a description of one of your archetypal customers. All that means is, we’re going to write down the characteristics of several imaginary people who are our ideal customers, and who we want to satisfy with our business products or services.
Think about customer segments that are important to your business. An independent coffee store might have
Working people on break,
Shoppers passing by, and
People holding business meetings
(I do many of my meetings at a local coffee shoppe). A jewelry store might think about
Young adult purchasing engagement ring or wedding band
Middle age purchasing engagement ring or wedding band
Purchasing anniversary ring
Consignment seller and/or buyer
Purchasing fashion jewelry
For a solar company (DPI Solar installed our family’s system), the personas might be
Frequent outages or medical need
You can even consider given the personas first names and pictures (stock photography is great for this). This will help you see them as real people with real needs that your business can satisfy.
The point is to decompose your ideal customers into 5 or 6 distinct archetypes. But don’t worry about getting it exactly right the first time. As you go through the process, revisit the personas to ensure that they’re not redundant with one another, and that each captures important characteristics that’s different from the other personas. Sure, there’ll be common elements, but if the personas don’t turn out to differ in meaningful ways from one another, consider combining them.
Ideal Individual Customer’s Characteristics
Whether your selling to individual consumers (B2C) or to businesses (B2B), It’s all about the individual. Companies don’t buy from other companies, individuals at those companies do. In order to build personas, we need to understand who our customers are, and their important characteristics relevant to our business. You may already “know” a lot about your customers, but it is critical to write down what you know. Some characteristics to think about:
Location: Are your customers local, regional or national? Urban, suburban or rural?
Education: Are you selling to tradespeople or to college-educated professionals or even scientists?
Relationships: Are you selling to adults with kids? Folks who are about to be married? To families with aging parents?
Age: Are kids your audience? Young adults, perhaps newly employed? Working people? Those in or nearing retirement?
Income or Budget: Are your products or services intended to appeal to those seeking luxury, custom or artisanal products? Or are they mass-market? Or do some personas shop with a limited budget, and others have more flexibility?
Gender: Are your products applicable to or generally purchased by women or by men?
These are only some of the many aspects that make us the complex humans we are; there may be many more that apply to your business. Give yourself time to think about who your ideal customers are, and which of their characteristics matter your business. Use these characteristics to build out the personas.
Ideal Business Customer’s Characteristics
If you’re selling to business people, you probably already understand your customers’ businesses, but it is critical to write down your knowledge and assumptions:
Size: Are you targeting sole proprietors, or small or mid-size businesses, or enterprises? Or are your customers non-profits or government agencies?
Industry: Are you targeting one or more industries? Maybe rental property management firms or law or dental offices? (There’s a company that does just marijuana dispensary websites!)
Location: Are the businesses local, regional or nationwide?
Organization: What departments are likely to buy from you? Accounting? Facilities? Engineering? And what roles are you targeting? CEO or COO? Engineering managers? Corporate attorneys?
Finally, think about the concerns of the decision makers. Might be revenue and cash flow (for small business), or competitive pressure, or new technologies changing the market. What’s keeping them up at night?
Now that we’ve written down important characteristics of our customers, it’s time to understand their goals when visiting your website? What are they looking for? Why have they visited?
If your website doesn’t meet visitors’ needs, they will go elsewhere.
First, visitors absolutely have one or more goals in visiting your website. They’re not here for entertainment (though perhaps they’ll be entertained), nor are they killing time. There are very real, knowable reasons for the visit. (We’ll get into the very real goals of the business in the next section.)
We can break down visitor goals into 3 categories: Learn about the industry; learn about the company; and learn about and shop for your products or services.
If you’re selling a complex product or service, consumers just beginning their purchasing journey will need help understanding the industry and its products or services. Do I need the product? Can I benefit? What are typical costs? What’s included? What questions do I need to ask? (My family and I went through this when we decided to investigate installing solar energy on our house. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.) Only after getting comfortable with an industry and its products will most visitors even think about making a purchase.
Learning about the company includes hours, location and contact information. More interestingly, customers will also want to ensure that your company is credible. How many years in service? Any community involvement or certificates or awards? (I’ll be writing about customer reviews in subsequent post. For now, let me just say that they’re absolutely critical in differentiating a company from its competitors.)
Showcasing reviews from your happy customers leads to more and better customers, and is a powerful differentiator.
The visitor is certainly going to want to learn about the company’s products or services. General questions like, What kinds of products do they carry? Do they have products that fit my budget? In short, Do they have the things I’m looking for? And then there are product-specific questions: Which product best meets my needs? What does the product look like? What does the service include? What options are available? When can I get it?
Our last topic is the needs of the business for each of the personas. After all, the entire goal of the website is to encourage potential customers to move towards a purchase. Business needs are tied to your personas because the business may want different personas to learn or do different things. For example, someone shopping for a loose diamond may be directed to an online shopping experience, while others are encouraged to call or come into the store. For each persona, we should think about visitor learning and visitor actions.
The goal of the website is to encourage potential customers to make a purchase.
We’ve already covered helping visitors learn about the industry, the business, and the business’s products and services. We also need to influence the visitor’s perception of our business. We need to help the visitor see the business as experienced, friendly, local, or unique, or whatever attributes we consider most important. (In a subsequent article I’ll share techniques for determining how you want your business to be perceived.)
Saving the best - or perhaps the most important - business goal for last: We’ll want the visitor to act, and we need to decide which actions are most important. It’s critical to know what the important actions are so that the website can be designed to make those actions as easy and obvious as possible. We might want the visitor to make an appointment, sign up for a newsletter, call the business or make an online purchase. No matter what actions we decide are most critical, the means to perform those actions must be obvious and easy to do.
The goal is to build a website that communicates effectively and evokes desired actions from the business’s best potential customers, so that they’ll make a purchase. To do that effectively, we need to know
who the customers are, what they care about,
what they want to learn or do, and
what the business needs them to learn or do.
We use personas to create archetypal models of the most important customers and their characteristics. Our personas will feed directly into both how the business wants to be perceived and how the website will be organized to ensure that visitor and business needs are met.
Here’s a checklist:
Identify 5 or 6 different kinds of ideal customers. These are your personas.
For each persona:
Write down their key characteristics that matter to your business
Capture their needs. Why are they visiting the website?
Review your personas. Do the differ in important ways? If not, reorganize to ensure that each one is different from the others.
List the business’s needs. What does the business need the customers to learn or to do?
That’s it! You’ve now got clarity on who your customers are, what matters to them, and their needs that the website must satisfy.
Please leave a comment, let me know you’ve read the article and give me any feedback.