The Power of Persuasion: ABCs of Leveraging Personas for Search Success [#CZLNY]

In this session at ClickZ Live New York, we welcomed Grant Simmons, vice president of search marketing at Homes.com, to chat about the various ways to conduct research and analysis in order to better understand the people who matter to our business.

Simmons started off by asking a question: What’s better – more website traffic or better website traffic? Why wouldn’t we want both?

First, we need to define better. Better, Simmons says, is more targeted. And personas are a tool that can help in the strategy development, tactical execution, and measurement of outcomes.

personas-simmons

Bottom line: personas help us with our targets. So how do we get there? There are three main concepts within personas, Simmons says:

  1. Activation
  2. Behavior
  3. Connection

Let’s look at those closer now.

Personas, Step 1: Activation

First ask, why are people actively searching for your products and services, and where do they search? What is the stimulus that makes them active?

To start research, you can go with the obvious, Simmons says, like published study data and so on – but sometimes you need more.

He illustrated this idea by sharing a study that shows why people move from their homes.

move-data-simmons

This data is good, but only tells part of the story, he says. So we look at the triggers – what are the triggers that cause the behavior? For example, perhaps someone has a terrible commute and wants to move closer to work.

So in this stage, guess, research, hypothesize. Working from the data above, the trigger for the eviction would be, “I have been evicted” – but why?

So then there’s the stimuli. And marketers can actually influence this, says Simmons. These are around a person’s needs and desires. Fast-forwarding to strategy, if you were marketing homes, how would you tap into the desire for someone to have a closer commute?

For this portion of the research to understand needs and desires, you need to ask your market. But ask open-ended questions to get this data, says Simmons. For example, what are you looking for in a new neighborhood?

Looking at trigger research, Simmons says you can do it on your own, or pay a pretty penny and hire someone to do it for you. Here are a few resources to consider if you’re doing the self-serve model:

research-resources-simmons

For stimulus research, there are several ways to go about this. Simmons listed a few of them:

  • In person
  • Email surveys
  • Online surveys
  • By phone
  • Website surveys

Most marketers leverage site data to start looking at their audience, but those are the people you already know and can target. You want to move beyond that, says Simmons. You want to expand that audience.

Here are a few ways you can expand your audience set:

find-audiences-simmons

However, you should still leverage the site data. Check out your Google Analytics “demographics” reports to learn more.

Now it’s time to build your personas…

Simmons shared a template he likes to use. In it, he puts not just text, but also tweets from real users and images that depict ideas.

user-template-simmons

To fill in the template, ask some of the following questions …

Facts:

  • What do they do? Business, hobbies, education, demographics, income.
  • What do they search for? This is basic keyword research.
  • Check out the Google “display planner” tool to help you. It’s free.

Goals:

  • What are they trying to do?
  • Why can’t they do it?
  • How can you help them?

Personas Step 2: Behavior

Here, Simmons says to look at how the user is interacting online. And remember, sometimes they are passive searchers – not active. Maybe they aren’t using Google – maybe they are on CNN.com browsing, but they are still your target market.

By the way, the Google display planner tool can give insight into certain sites you may want to target.

Think about the differences between triggers and stimuli when thinking about why they need to be in the funnel, says Simmons. A triggered need might be because “my boss told me to” but a stimuli could be something different.

Usually, says Simmons, triggers are emotional: “I don’t want to miss out”; “I want to impress” – there are emotional motivations to do what we do. Simmons says to check out Robert Plutchik’s “Wheel of Emotion” to build into the personas:

wheel-emotions

And keep in mind that while the old “funnel” we’re all used to does still apply in some industries, Simmons showed that it has morphed quite a bit. It’s not so “cut and dry” anymore:

old-funnel-simmons

new-funnel-example-simmons

Personas, Step 3: Connect

Simmons pointed out that it really is all about content to connect. If we don’t have content to connect, we can’t leverage the triggers. So, next step is to connect content with context.

How do we do that? Simmons says to start doing real interviews to better understand who the people are. What are their questions, and how can your content answer them?

context-simmons

Simmons shared some examples of these ideas in action. Loosely, the steps involved were conducting research, segmenting the audience, mapping segments to personas, understanding the personas’ funnel journey, and answering with content that speaks to their needs.

Here’s a sample funnel for a sample persona, so you can get an idea of how complex it can be:

new-funnel-simmons

Finally, you can test personas by doing post-interaction surveys and such to validate.

So, how are you creating your personas? Weigh in in the comments below.

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