Communication Techniques

Personas for innovation

Empathy Propels Marketing Past “Optimization” to Innovation

Personas for innovationAre Personas Dead? According to a recent blog post  on the Convince & Convert blog, they would have you believe they are.

Here’s why that’s wrong:

If I tell you “the king died,” that’s a single-event data point. Information, if you will.
And if I tell you “the king died and then the queen died,” that’s two data points. It’s still information.

But if I tell you that “The king died and then the queen died of a broken heart,” that’s a story.
I’ve taken the two data points and connected them with causality, which makes the data meaningful.

What does this have to do with Personas and Big Data?

All data records events. Little factual tidbits of what happened. At best, sophisticated analytics can record chronological records or patterns of events.

The website visitor did this. Then this. Then that.

Or, patterns: male customers tended to buy this instead of that.

But notice that the reported chronologies and patterns are absent causality and intention. A series of events for a Web or store visit remain nothing more than an itinerary. And a pattern remains nothing but a correlation. There is no visible cause-and-effect relationship. There is no underlying shopper intention, and no meaning recorded by the data itself. That all remains for the marketer to provide via interpretation.

Humans cannot transform data points to insight about causality, intention, and meaning.  To do so they must turn the data into a story.

Stories with the buyer as the protagonist.

And “buyer as protagonist” is another way of saying “persona.”

Formal Vs. Informal Personas

Are we really saying that all marketers use personas and tell stories when interpreting data?

Yes.  

The data might be as straightforward as “the all-inclusive bundle is our most popular product,” combined with “A/B testing proves that a satisfaction guarantee boosted conversions by 30%”

And the story might be as simple as “this category of buyer chooses the satisfaction-guaranteed, all-inclusive bundled option because of its convenience and promise of risk reduction.”

Yet as simple as that interpretation of the data is, it still represents the creation of a story centered around a character in the form of a buyer.  

Unfortunately, because the creation of the buyer’s persona was implicit and ad-hoc, it was also under-developed.

And that’s where the problems come in.

The Downside of Implicit, Informal and /or Ad-Hoc Personas

So what’s wrong with letting one’s personas remain implicit or unconscious? After all, we process intuitively as we make sense of the data?

Short answer: Our Baked-In Cognitive Glitches.

We have two cognitive biases when we rely on ad-hoc implied personas:

1) We assume everyone is like us. They value what we value, they make decisions like we make decisions, and what appeals to us also appeals to them.

2) We work off of stereotypes and then engage in the fundamental attribution error.  When we see someone doing something, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in.

Well-designed Personas help marketers avoid these cognitive biases. They show how a different temperament might engage in a different decision-making process. They look beyond stereotypical attributions to see the context.

The most important reason to use well-designed personas is prediction.

With a well-designed persona like a TV character, you can predict how they’ll behave.  Character explains a scenario better than demographic and even psychographic data.

For example, suppose a white, middle-aged, middle-classed, white-collar New Yorker found a lost wallet, stuffed with cash. What would you predict he’s likely to do?

Well, based on that, you’d have no clue, right?

There’s no way you can confidently predict behavior based on the demographics provided unless you assume that the person in question would do what you think a typical person would do. Which is to say what you’d do.

That’s exactly the situation with implicit personas that are usually drawn from demographics or based on our own intuitions of how we or typical person would behave.  

Now, if instead of giving you demographics, I told you that George Costanza found that wallet…

Now you can picture exactly what Costanza would do, even though it’s probably not anywhere near what you — or even a typical person — would do in the same situation.

That’s the kind of prediction those properly designed personas bring to the table.

And when it comes to crafting and optimizing customer experiences, that’s all the difference in the world.

Increased Data = Increased Need for (Better) Personas

Data and advanced analytics don’t and can’t change our hardwired need for a story as a sense-making tool.  

In fact, the more complex and unstructured our data sets become, the more robust our storytelling chops need to be to help us not only analyze, but make sense of that data.

The disadvantage of structured data is that the structure limits the answers you can pull from it. The advantage of structured data is that the structure suggests the questions the database is capable of answering.

So while unstructured Big Data presents greater opportunities for marketers, it also increases the burden of coming up with and framing the right questions to ask.

The better designed the persona, the easier it is to interpret the data as narrative. Personas help frame and ask questions about intent, motivation, and cause and effect.  These questions can then be posed to the data sets for not only answers but insights.

This is the only way to move from having data to being able to use that data to increase sales, market share, customer loyalty, etc.

Personas Increase Empathy and Move Marketing Past “Optimization” to Innovation

Without personas, marketers can certainly optimize what already exists to a local maximum. You don’t have to generate deep insight into the customer to run multivariate tests on different alternatives to the established patterns. Different color buttons. Slightly different calls to actions, hero images, page layouts, etc.

But you also can’t move past optimization to true innovation without thinking seriously about customer drives, frustrations, motivations, etc. Great customer experience design requires empathy.

And for empathy to be predictive, it requires fully fleshed out characters with which to work, just like you experienced with the Costanza example.

You can’t do customer design with just data alone and advanced analytical methods alone. In fact, neuroscientists have proven that analytical thinking inhibits empathy.

Your mind can do either one of these things, but it can only do one of them well at any given time. A marketers ability to generate customer insights come to live while in emotional storytelling mode, but fall dead while in number crunching analytics mode. And vice versa of course.

The point is, good marketers need both sets of skills, as well as advanced, rigorous processes for supporting and exercising those skill sets.

No one would ever argue that marketers don’t need or benefit from accurate and advanced customer data. Or sophisticated methods of statistical analysis aimed at sifting and sorting through that data, looking for patterns.

But that same level of rigor and defined tool sets also need to be brought to the storytelling side of the equation. Meaning that implicit and ad hoc personas just aren’t good enough.

And the more context-sensitive the situation, the more important simulation through storytelling and the use of formally developed personas becomes.

In other words, personas aren’t in opposition to data, they are the other half of the coin. Personas are a contextual tool for making data relevant and actionable. They are a bridge to understanding customers at a human level.

Without this, marketers are doomed. Without well-designed personas, it’s difficult to focus on customer experiences, rather than just products, price points, placement, and promotions.

So are personas still relevant in an age of data-driven companies?

Not only are they “relevant,” they’re becoming increasingly necessary for survival.

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7 Tips To Boost Your About Us Page’s Performance

About_Us picDoes an About Us page really matter? You might think it matters more for B2C than B2B or vice versa. Carly insists that it does matter. We met Carly almost seven years ago when she was a Marketing Manager at a company we were consulting. We want to tell you the story she told us, after reaching out to thank us, about how a valuable relationship might never have started but for the content of a single page. Her company’s revised About Us page was launched despite concerns of the very private and exceedingly practical founder of her company.

Carly’s About Us story retold as a Buyer Legend

Carly is a wicked-smart, tenacious VP of Lead Generation for a mid-sized B2B SaaS provider.  Carly’s no-nonsense approach to lead-gen has increased leads by ~30% since she took over in October 2013. Apart from the About Us page, Carly has redesigned the lead form, rewritten the product description, and worked with her ad agency on optimizing traffic. Carly also pushed through significant changes to the Home page, with copy targeted to entrepreneurs like Will.

Will is a diligent and savvy entrepreneur, shopping for the exact solution that Carly’s company sells. There were several strong competitors and Will collected all the data he needs. He narrowed down his choices to Carly’s company and the larger, more-established market leader.

Will likes both options. The market leader’s pricing is comparable, but has a slightly more robust feature set. Yet, he knows from user reviews and his co-founder’s experience, that the workflow is hard to master. Carly’s company solution has what everyone agrees is a more intuitive user interface and a magically simple workflow. It is also easier to deploy. However, it has fewer features, some of which might be useful in the future. Will is more-or-less comfortable that those are features he doesn’t need. From a cost-benefit perspective, Will thinks it’s a wash.

Will’s technical co-founder agrees that for their needs both solutions will do the job. However, he is more comfortable with the more established competitor’s technology. He implemented that solution at his last two companies and even though it seems to be a lot more work, it’s the devil he knows.

Carly’s company has a radically different approach to everything. If what they claim is true, not only will there be less work setting it up, but his team will use it. Will knows that hard-to-use tool sets require more training and are hardly used.

Will visits the market leader’s About Us page. It looks like most About Us pages. There is a generic-sounding mission statement, some stiff head shots of the executive team, Board members, and investors, along with all their credentials. It has a timeline and a list of awards. It was, as About Us pages usually are, perfunctory.

When Carly instructed her copywriter to tell the company’s story, it was to tell it through the eyes of the founder. The founder bootstrapped the company, putting every penny he had at risk. He had no investors because he wanted to build a special kind of company that led with its values without interference. The founder is disturbingly passionate, almost possessed by details. In fact, Carly chose to join this company over a higher-paying offer because, after interviewing with him, she recognized how rabidly committed he was to customers and how that commitment permeated the company culture.

How Will made his decision

When Will visited Carly’s About Us page he found information about the entire customer-facing staff. There weren’t just lists of professional credentials, but fun bios reflecting their personalities and style. There were pictures and videos that captured the mood and feel of the company. It made this company, selling a highly-technical B2B solution, sound fun and likeable.

That page tipped the balance for Will. The market leader’s page was stiff and corporate, exactly what made him leave his previous job. Carly’s company was inviting and human, and seemed a lot like his own company. Will felt sure that the company’s values would insure that they delivered. All other things being equal, Will finally had enough confidence to make the decision. The only company he called was Carly’s.

Carly won another lead, and then a sale, and Will has become an outspoken advocate for them. Will was so impressed with the About Us page that he contacted the CEO and shared his experience and asked if Carly would offer him advice about how to build a better About US page. She asked us to update our most popular ClickZ column about how to best create one, and you’re reading the update.

Not everyone will care. But for those who do …

Of course, not every prospective customer will visit your About Us page, but if it was the only thing standing between you and a lead or a sale, would it keep them in your funnel? Could it even win you the sale?

The About Us page is the most undervalued page on most websites. While it rarely closes a sale, it can provide a valuable assist. It is the one place where you are allowed to talk about yourself. Every click on the About Us page is someone asking you to tell them about you.  Make the most of it.

Even if you sell something boring, maybe especially if you sell something boring, it doesn’t mean your About Us page should be boring. More than anything, your About Us page is the place to show customers who you are and what your company values.

Seven tips to create an About Us page that makes a difference

You might not use all of the seven tips but don’t skip the seventh tip. We encourage you to start with a Buyer Legend.

  1. Let customers see a more human side of your company.  Become more likable by including individual information and personal interest. Include fun blurbs and pictures of life around the office. Dropbox created a montage of its employees. While hovering over the pics, you are presented with fun personal facts about the employees.
    1. Choose the voice of your About Us page. Here are some ideas that can help:
      1. What is the overall emotional stance that your company has towards its industry/market?
      2. If your company were an actual person, who would it be?
      3. Is there a favorite quote you or the people in your company have?
      4. Is there one particular moment in the life of your company that would capture its essence in a nutshell?
      5. Do certain words or phrases keep popping up in your daily conversations, your salespeople’s sales calls, your blog posts, etc.
      6. Use the verbiage your customers use. Mine your live chat logs, emails, customer service calls, in-site search, and especially customer product reviews, if you have them.
      7. As an exercise, do a “25 Random Things About Our Company”. Then, pull out the nuggets and insert them into your About Us page. Or leave the whole list as a link or tab from your About Us page.
      8. Make sure your voice on the About Us page is consistent with the rest of the site. Yes, you can afford to be a little more conversational and personal/passionate, but the overall writing style should be consistent.
  2. Tell your company’s story. The story of why it exists and about the people behind it. Include links to the social profiles of team members.
    1. One way to do this is to use a company history timeline. It is a great way to highlight achievements without braggadocio. Check out how Moz and Canva do this.
  3. Connect people to your leadership.
    1. Humans are attracted to humans, so why do so few sites include photos of company employees? Mail Chimp does an exceptional job at this.
    2. Reflect your company’s passion. Cranberry shares their passion for News and PR Marketing.
    3. Take it easy on the sales pitch and instead give your, and your company’s, story. Miles & Co, a SMB marketing agency, uses their About Us page to highlight their values and demonstrate how those values will benefit their clients.
  4. Reflect your company’s personality. If you’re a fun company, your “About Us” page should be fun. Please don’t try to be fun if you’re not. Just be yourselves. Reiterate your company’s competence and desire to serve customers. Notice how New Relic embraces their inner geek.
  5. Many About Us pages seem like a copy-and-paste job from AboutUs.com. Thinking any old creative will do, will not do. The vast majority of About Us pages are simply boring, stiff, and tightly-clenched pages. Put some thought into how yours is uniquely yours. Marketo’s About Us page is professional but not full of corporate drivel. Instead, Marketo makes a powerful statement about who they are and what they do.
  6. Let the customer inside your company.
    1. I highly recommend the use of video to show off your human side. Of course, it’s important to tell us what you do, but put that content on another page. When visitors click on About Us, they want to know about you.
    2. Reiterate your company’s competence to serve the customers by using all the above tools. Zappos does a masterful job of explaining their company values and their dedication to customers. Google’s About Us page is just plain inspirational.
  7. How to start: Writing a great About Us page is an exercise in empathy, and a Buyer Legend is a great place to start. You’ll need to put yourself in your customers’ place, take their perspective, and reflect back to them what matters most to them about you. Here is a recipe for creating a Buyer Legend.

When you write a Buyer Legend, remember that it is not the story you tell your customers; that’s just promotion. Buyer Legends are stories told from the point of view of your customers; because your brand isn’t what you say it is, but what your customers say it is. A Buyer Legend is designed to create and improve the interactions your customers have with every touch point of your brand, from the boardroom to the stockroom.

Buyer Legends are stories about your customers and their buying journey, and your About Us page gives you a chance to tell your story to the customer more powerfully from their perspective.

Would you like your customers to tell better stories about you than you do about yourself?  Start planning your About us page with this Buyer Legends recipe. Buyer Legends a simple business process that helps you create a customer-centered, data-driven customer experience design that is supported by narrative.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help, please let us know. .

 

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Business Storytelling: 3 Ways To Have A Happy Ending

Santa Claus will not be bringing any presents to your home. Not that you were naughty, don’t worry we won’t tell on you.
Please don’t be sad, it doesn’t mean you won’t have presents or a story with a happy ending. It will just require a bit more effort to make your holiday magical.
Maybe you already knew that about Santa Claus, but have you heard the story about storytelling and business?

There’s a story currently being told to business people where storytelling is the hero, the dragon slayer. It’s a sappy little story with a cliched happy ending. You know it, after slaying the dragon the business lives happily ever. Lots of stories end that way.

 Just like Santa Claus won’t make your holiday magical storytelling alone will not guarantee your success.

Storytelling is the most powerful communications tool ever and it’s worth mastering.

There are three ways to leverage storytelling to create a happy ending for your business:

 

ONE: Tell  stories to make emotional connections with customers

This is what most marketers think of when they think about storytelling.  Of course we suggest you always make the customer the hero of your story, pay attention to Michael Hinshaw over at CMO.com who tells us that customer experience is emotional.  In a post over at Medium.com  Jamie Carracher offers a nice primer on how to make your storytelling efforts accountable.

TWO: Tell stories to rally the troops.

All great leaders are great communicators, and great leaders understand how to use the power of a  story to motivate, encourage, teach, and inspire their team.  Carol Goman at Forbes does a good job explaining why leaders should leverage the power of story.

THREE: Tell Buyer Legend stories to delight customers and convert more sales

Once a leader inspires her team, and a marketer makes an emotional connection with customers can they deliver on the promises made? Buyer Legends are a brand new type of story, told from the perspective of customers, that help companies become customer focused, data-driven and managed by a common narrative to deliver on those promises made to customers.  Businesses use them to improve the entire experience from attraction to conversion funnels, sales funnels, and to delight the customer when they interact with the brand.  A decent Buyer Legend story documents what that experience is currently. A great Buyer Legend story tells you exactly to optimize that experience.  Buyer Legends are created in story form in order to bridge the empathy gap between company and customer; what Bain & Co calls the Delivery Gap. Tell a great Buyer Legend and a team will know how to design, execute, and test new and improved customer experiences.

We wish your business a happy ending and encourage you to use storytelling.

Happy holidays!

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Become Your Customer’s Fairy Godmother

JeffSextonFairyGodMother

Can you believe I had this picture taken?

When most people talk about Storytelling in business, they usually mean telling the businesses story.

And while your business undoubtedly has a story and should tell it, that’s not the story you need to focus on in order to improve sales, optimization efforts, or your content marketing strategies.

The story you need to focus on is the customer’s

And the thing about the customers story is this: you’re not the hero of it.

The customer is the hero of the customer’s story. Unsurprisingly.

But not only are you not the hero (or heroine) of the customer’s story, you’re also not Prince Charming, either.

Why?

Because as a service provider or product, you’re simply not at the center of anyone’s life. That center-of-my-life role is reserved for spouses and kids and family. Not for commercials, products, or services.

So if you’re not the heroine nor prince charming, what role do you play?

Ideally, you’re the Fairy Godmother.

Again, you’re not the hero and you’re not at the center of people’s lives. In fact, most people aren’t interested in you at all until they need you to save the day. And then you’re really, really important. For like five minutes.

But if you do your job right, you can bippity boppety boo your way into saving the day and winning the customers business, loyalty, and recommendations.

You help the customer be the hero and fulfill her purpose / destiny / task for the moment.  That’s your role.

But you can’t play that role properly until you understand the customer’s story. You need to know where she runs into life’s snafus. And what she needs during her moments of distress. What her real motivations are. And how she’s making decisions during the moment when you’re cue is called to enter stage left.

If you don’t know these things, you can:

  • Miss the magic moment
  • Arrive with the wrong solution
  • Arrive with the right solution but be unable to explain WHY it’s right
  • Watch as your Cinderella gets help from the wrong godmother!
  • And generally lose or blow the sale

So while Buyer Legends is a powerful storytelling tool for business. It’s not really about your story. It’s about the customer’s story and how that customer experiences your company and brand during that story.

Because your real story isn’t the one you tell. It’s the one your customer tells about you — to herself and her friends.

And she won’t get YOUR story right, until you get hers right first.

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Are Bullet Points Crippling Your Marketing?

Important List On BlackboardIt was May 1, 2003 and from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, with a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” looming behind him, George W. Bush declared an end to ‘major combat operations’ in Iraq.  It wasn’t until seven long years later, after counter insurgencies, countless car bombings, and dozens of setbacks that the U.S. was able to officially end combat operations in Iraq when the last remaining combat brigade left for Kuwait.

There is no shortage of Iraq war critics, but most experts agree that the Iraq war was both bravely fought by our soldiers, and that it was also a poorly planned operation.

In his book Fiasco:The American Military Adventure in Iraq author  Thomas E. Ricks cites senior military brass revealing an unexpected culprit hindering the war’s execution.

[Army Lt. General David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging issue: He couldn’t get Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld.

The issue turned out not to be so small.  Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, a former military commander went on to contrast the conventional means of detailed war planning with it’s de facto replacement.

“To imagine that PowerPoint slides can substitute for such means is really the height of recklessness.” It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer’s glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.

The problem is not just bullet points and PPT presentations, it’s any communication that lacks context.  Business culture is notorious for condensing complexities into bite sized chunks, but clearly this practice does not serve an organization well, especially an organization with boots on the ground.  In business, those boots on the ground are your customer facing employees, those marketers and content creators that must have a rich and context sensitive knowledge of your customers, or those are creating and designing products and services.

The U.S. military is arguably the most effective war machine mankind has ever known and if Powerpoint is degrading it’s ability to plan and execute, could it be doing the same to your marketing?

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