We now have the ability to design websites that provide custom browsing experiences for customers, and many businesses are starting to catch on. The days of creating a one-size fits all website are quickly fading away since websites now have the functionality that marketers crave for targeting specific customer personas with unique offers, content, and page design.
Marketing firm HubSpot reports on data by Gleanster research: “A majority of companies within the B2B realm are investing in technologies, capabilities, and resources to bring the concept of web content personalization to life.”
A customer-centric website can involve cutting edge design that is tailored to individuals, shifts in how you target your content, and/or using plugins that provide your website with increased functionality such as adding landing pages and greeter boxes. The approach each company takes to persona-driven website design will vary depending on industry, marketing budget, products, and online marketing strategies. As you consider what your online marketing strategy for the next few years will look like, consider ways you can develop clear personas for your customers and then target them more effectively through your website and online marketing efforts.
Here are some ways that customer personas impact website design and how you can best put them into practice for your own website design plans.
If you don’t have user personas in mind, you’re essentially marketing to no one in particular, and your sales and leads will suffer accordingly. According to UX Magazine, “A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioral patterns in their purchasing decisions, use of technology or products, customer service preferences, lifestyle choices, and the like. Behaviors, attitudes, and motivations are common to a ‘type’ regardless of age, gender, education, and other typical demographics.”
Personas are best developed by in-person interviews conducted in the buyer’s context, such as at work or at home. While these interviews can be conducted online or in a research facility, in-person interviews will be most effective for filling in gaps in a persona that may be missed in an online interview.
Kevin O’Conner of UX Magazine suggests that an in-person interview “is an opportunity to ask specific behavioral questions to better understand how the personas relate to products and messaging. This yields valuable information on how to customize the user experience to specific types of people based on their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations, regardless of demographic information.”
A customer persona is only as useful so long as the key departments in your business use it and integrate it into their daily operations. UX Magazine warns, “The company may create great products based on the personas but lose customers on poor acquisition, unresponsive customer support, or other problematic areas of the customer lifecycle. A consistent and customizable user experience across the entire customer lifecycle is the key to adoption, usage and loyalty, increasing ROI exponentially.”
As you begin developing customer personas, make sure everyone involved in product design, website development, marketing, and customer service understand customer personas and why they’re important. Each department’s leader should be involved in the process so that they can both add value to your work and help you effectively implement the customer persona information down the line. It’s not enough to create a persona. You need to make sure that the people who need to use a customer persona for their work are willing to use what you develop.
As you develop personas for your different customers, you’ll start at the most basic level of whether you’re targeting a customer or another business. Once you have those categories in mind, HubSpot suggests moving on to define that customer’s demographics, life goals, job, shopping experiences, and sources of information.
The most important place to start with a customer persona will be basic information such as age, gender, children, and household income. Only second in importance will be your customer’s job status, seniority, and security. It’s especially important to know at this point whether you’re marketing to a customer or an employee at another business. With these basic data points you’ll be able to sketch a fairly helpful portrait of your customers, but this is only the beginning of an effective customer persona.
The next step in developing a persona takes the data you’ve accumulated and reshapes it into a narrative. What does this person wear to work or to exercise? What does this person worry about? How does this person relax? What life goals does this person have?
Some natural next steps from there in imagining your customer persona would be where this person goes for news and in order to shop. You’re trying to imagine a person in a particular income bracket and place in life and where he/she finds information and makes purchases so that you can relate to his/her experiences and weave your company into his/her daily experiences. If that person has any reservations about your service or you’re unable to reach this person, you’ll need to determine whether your marketing approach needs to change, you need to target different customers, or you need to promote a different product to the customers represented by that particular persona.
Smart Insights provides some especially useful examples of persona narratives and how they impact the development of website design. For example, “Georgina is a 29 year old ad exec who has been using the Internet for 5 years and uses her Macbook, iPad or Android phone to access the web – whatever is to hand.” This persona tells designers that they need to focus on mobile website design in order to reach Georgina.
An effective persona creates a story line that website designers and writers can put to work as they create your company website. Francisco Inchauste writes for Smashing Magazine, “Storytelling offers a way for the team to really understand what they are building and the audience that they are creating it for. Stories allow for the most complex of ideas to be effectively conveyed to a variety of people. This designed product/experience can then offer meaning and emotion for its users.”
A great story about your customers will provide the big picture overview that your team needs in order to design an effective website.
With your customer personas in mind, create options on your home page that will funnel customers into the places that provide the best information for them. Your customer needs may vary based on whether customers are businesses or private individuals, but you also may have customers with vastly different needs. For example, Producteev is an organization tool that provides both a free option for individuals and a premium group option for businesses on its home page.
Income levels are also important factors to consider on your home page. For example, a company selling organic mattresses for infants and small children can offer a variety of pricing options to meet the needs of their different customer personas. Some customers may be wealthy and health conscious about the materials in their mattresses, while some young married couples may be willing to pay extra for an eco-friendly mattress but they can’t afford the same mattress as wealthier families. Young married couples may need either a lighter weight mattress or even a bassinet option that will better accommodate their price range.
People of a variety income levels value organic materials for their mattresses, but their income levels and financial situations will vary. Both are willing to pay extra for a high quality mattress, but you can only close the sale with each customer if you provide the price range and quality that each needs.
The key to focusing on customer personas is ensuring that every major demographic of customers can find something for him or herself at your home page. For example, HubSpot suggests that a hotel website may, “create a page for each of those separate [customer] personas: independent business travelers, corporate travel managers, event planners, vacationing families, and couples planning their wedding reception.”
Keep in mind that personas will also help you remove non-customers from your design experience. Some hotels may focus on only business clients while others are resorts that cater primarily to family vacations. In either case, a customer persona will both help businesses focus on their customers’ needs and save them from developing content for those who aren’t potential customers.
One way to specifically cater to specific customers is to create landing pages that you use for all of your inbound links, especially search engine visitors. Focus on unique offers and calls to action that will appeal to them and provide ways for them to connect with your business on social media and to subscribe to your blog.
A landing page should have a family resemblance to your business website or blog, but it should generally focus only on the one service that you’re trying to sell to a particular persona. Don’t try to reach all of your customers at a landing page, since you can’t reach everyone on one page.
For example, a plumbing company’s website will have different personas that include businesses, families who have urgent plumbing problems, and families who want to remodel a bathroom. The first two will need rapid, reliable service that is affordable. They may want to read reviews, but if a plumber can show up on time, that may be enough for them! Those interested in remodeling a bathroom will be interested in viewing pictures or videos of past bathrooms, reading customer reviews, and estimates. A landing page from a PPC campaign for each persona will focus on directing customers to take different action steps.
As you create content for your website, keep user personas in mind and then organize everything according to what you know about them. That may include successful blog posts, E-books, or videos, especially the content that has received the most engagement from users. Your categories should reflect user personas and then once you create content, you can link to it on a page or landing page dedicated to a particular persona.
If you’ve created a lot of content for your customer personas, consider designing unique pages dedicated to each persona with images and messaging that will appeal to them and make it easy to find the information they need. These customer persona pages will become your home base as you create more content that is relevant for each persona. Add links to your posts, videos, E-books, and other content to each persona’s landing page.
If you have put together a significant amount of content around one topic over the course of several years, you may overwhelm your landing pages or persona-targeted pages. It may be better to create a resource center and then link to it on your landing pages.
HubSpot also suggests, “Your resource center can also house third-party content like market research and analyst reports. If you work with third party content creators or researchers, offer to publish their long-form content in your resource center. It gets them more visibility in front of a new audience, and it can help you keep the content in your resource center fresh.” By linking customers to the best content in your industry in general, you increase the value of your website for customers and establish yourself as a knowledgeable authority in your field.
If you’re selling products or a service, the sales pages for your products or services will especially benefit from the lessons learned by developing customer personas. Each industry or product niche has specific jargon that will be unique to its customers.
For example, pages dedicated to the welding business demand specific customer personas. One of the most important features in a welding machine is its duty cycle, which is the amount of time a welding machine can operate before it needs to cool down. A welding machine that can run longer, with a longer duty cycle, will be far more expensive.
Besides speaking the language of customers, websites designed with personas in mind will be able to effectively create a hierarchy of customer benefits that make it clear a product or service is well worth the financial investment. Sarah Bauer writes at Smashing Magazine, “benefits and accomplished goals go hand in hand. A product that doesn’t fit their budget, needs or preferences offers them little benefit. So, in order for S.M.A.R.T. goal-driven product pages to serve user-centric purposes, the text must follow suit.”
In returning to our example of a welding machine, some users may value having a more versatile machine over a machine that can weld for longer periods of time. Therefore, website content writers will need to focus on the variety of projects that other machines can handle, selling the benefits of versatility over longevity.
While creating persona-specific product pages, keep in mind that you may need to create a consistent customer-experience throughout your website. In other words, there are certain features of your brand that should always come through loud and clear, even if you need to tailor different pages to the needs of specific users.
While it’s essential for the user experience to understand your customers and to provide content and pages that speak to them and their needs, the persona experience cuts both ways. A brand that remains sterile and inaccessible will fail to directly impact customers, lending an inauthentic feel to any attempts to communicate with customers through a persona.
Aarron Walter writes in Smashing Magazine “In a consumption-centric world where products are pushed on us and companies are always taking instead of giving, we crave real human interaction that is reciprocal and respectful. A few companies have figured this out and are forging emotional connections with their customers by sharing their personality.”
Besides creating pages and content that tell the stories of customers, inject stories about your employees and leadership. For example, General Electric tells the stories of its employees and what they enjoy about their work. Smashing Magazine notes that these are “personal stories about Seth, Mark, Kareem, Tom and their colleagues putting their hearts into their work. The stories express their love for what they do. It is clear that this small team of individuals goes to work each day not just for a paycheck, but because they feel a sense of responsibility and because they care for the passengers that their engines carry.”
Effectively marketing to specific customers does not necessarily require a complete overhaul of your website or content marketing strategy, but you will need to research your customers and then modify your design and content production to more intentionally reach them. This is a challenging, cross-department effort for many businesses that relies on clear communication, intensive research, creative imagination, and the ability to overcome barriers to particular customers.
Once you lay the groundwork of a content marketing strategy based on personas, it will be easier to write excellent content that meets their needs. In addition, all of the content you create can be repurposed for customers if you create it with the correct customer personas in mind.