Monday, June 21, 2010

Segmentation and Personas Part 1

The Web is all about choices and Analytics is all about understanding the choices by analyzing the behavior patterns:

Who are my right customers? Why do they make the choices that they do? What opportunities are worth chasing? What features will provide the most value? What is the best time-to-market, and most important which customers are most important.

While it’s difficult to make ALL the right choices, one has to make most of them right for the campaign, site, or product to succeed.

Enter Personas

This is a must have tool for marketers for helping them make the right choices. Personas is essentially a technique for capturing the important learning(s) from analyzing users and customers and identifying and understanding the different types of people who use the site.

It is a description of an imaginary but very plausible user that “personifies” these traits. The three key traits which personas help identify are:
Behavior, Attitudes, Goals.

How can Personas Help

  • Rallying – Personas can help you build a common vision. If you look at any website, there is so much information that most marketers look at it at an aggregate level. There are literally thousands of details about a user (think pathing, content affinity, referring sources, tools usage, yada yada yada). An analyst, can’t possibly measure or conclude key behavior traits by analyzing these data points. Personas can help group these types at a high level and provide a human face to the types of people.
  • Testing and Optimization – As a side benefit, you can test specific creative tactics on these personas. Messaging for the Net Generation (Gen Y) would be different than the messaging for Gen X (Baby Busters) . If you can identify the key behavior traits by type then you can build a test plan around it to drive conversions on the site.
  • Targeting – Anil is one of the great thinkers around the topic of One on One personalization. His entries on Behavioral Targeting are a delight to read. Imagine, armed with “statistically significant” behavior data (or traits) you can proactively market or provide content to drive usage and ultimately convert the user. That’s the ultimate promise and the holy grail of marketing isn’t it?

Are there any cons or pitfalls

There are obviously things to watch out for. The biggest ones are prioritization and validation:

As a practitioner I have seen that a lot of research, thought, and homework done in building personas. Usually Strategy gets involved along with Product/Brand Owners and Senior members of the client and is handed down to executors.

What is important to understand is that your website is not for everyone. People will come to your site, tease you, perform competitive shopping, look for products, research about products etc.

It’s not okay to say that your website is for everyone. If you think that way you are deluding yourself. This is extremely difficult for most marketers to grasp. I try hard to explain to my clients is to focus your efforts or release or a landing page on a single persona. It doesn’t mean that the website or landing page will not be useful or usable by others, but if you gradually build the user experience around each type or user profile you will ultimately do a great job in attracting the highest quality users to your site. That’s the promise of Qualitative surveys and Quantitative analysis.

Another pitfall I have seen is that teams create personas based on their "assumptions" which usually comes from the Highest Paid Person In the Organization (HIPPO). In my mind this is guesswork and not based on any analysis; the right thing to do here is to take time to analyze your web data, interview/take time to talk to real users and verify if these personality types or personas really exist.

So are you using or thinking about personas for your website? Does your agency recommend taking the approach? Share it with us.

Next time we will talk about different techniques both qualitative and quantitative to measure personas.

Thoughts? Comments?

This is a guest post from my friend and ex-coworker Kanishka Surana. Kanishka is currently the Head of Web Analytics for Ogilvy. He runs Ogilvy's Web Analytics group in North America, he has been in the Web Analytics space since 2002 and has worked in London, Seattle, Greece, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and most recently in New York.
Before that Kanishka worked at Gerson Lehrman Group a pioneer in proprietary research space. Kanishka and his wife Mini live in New Jersey.
This is first of a series of posts that Kanishka will be doing on this blog.

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  1. Great article Kanishka. Well thought out and has left me begging for more. I'm looking forward to Part 2! Do you recommend any good technologies for identifying segments and personalizing content? Does Ogilvy offer this type of service?

  2. Well articulated, love to see this space grow.  Too many HIPPOs and substantially more capability than one might expect surveying current commercial offerings... at least from my perspective deep-diving in this space over last few years. 

    Knowing your customer(s) is key to effective targeting, yet too few "marketers" are empowered to describe using even loose measures of confidence the characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, and interests that define and distinguish their core customer(s).  

    More often, attributes of interest are collected/measured, summarized, and finally ascribed to some generalized target customer model bearing little or no resemblance to any group(s) actually driving the business.  

    Getting it right doesn't necessarily require so much time/investment as it does commitment to empowering analytic approaches as a greater complement to traditionally more qualitative science/expertise.            

  3. @Steve : Thanks for your comment. In terms of technologies for identifying segments nothing specific comes to mind. It's mostly human analysis. People like us actually doing the grunt-work and popping out insights. Usually, Strategic segments may be created by LTV calculations, Demographic and Psycho graphic data.
    Ogilvy offers Persona or User Journey service based on proprietary research. Very few agencies (Ogilvy included) take a quantitative approach towards validating or building personas and applying to practice in creatives. The ones that do are ahead in their game.

  4. @Steve: Thanks for your comment. Part 2 will provide more details on process and practices on putting this to action. While I don't know of any technologies that do this out of the box, I know WebTrends' optimize solution offers Targeting based on Personas. However, these would have to be set as rules. There are few self learning systems that validate or offer service in creating these profiles. In almost every case it's human analysis that goes into this. Most agencies offer this as a service based on qualitative data. Very few (including Ogilvy) take a quant approach in either creating or validating these profiles. Ones that do are ahead in the game.


I would like to hear your comments and questions.