June 20, 2017 By Nick P - Optimization Architect,
Written By: Nick Powell, Customer Experience Strategist at Digital Operative

If you’ve created customer personas, chances are that you've spent valuable time and resources, or maybe even hired an agency to do the necessary research, speak with focus groups or utilize fancy listening platforms. If you have an ecommerce business and determined your ideal audience through persona building, the next logical step is to give your personas the best overall path to success through your online experience. I like to call these ‘Happy Paths’, and this post will show you how to get started.

When I was a kid, I loved reading Choose Your Own Adventure books (aka CYOA). If you are unfamiliar, I’ll break it down for you. Essentially the books were written in 2nd person and enabled you, the reader to assume the role of the protagonist. You’d get to various points in the book and have to ‘choose’ what to do next, hence the name Choose Your Own Adventure. The book would continue until you either achieved a happy ending or fell in a hole or something. Websites are a lot like that, one wrong click and your prospect’s story ends, albeit with significantly less drama. That is, unless visitors to your site feel ‘The Cave Of Time’ is a fitting title to their recent online experience.

Essentially, we’re going to allow your customer personas to choose their own adventure stories, except this time we’re going to rig it to ensure every ending is a happy one.

The Steps:

  • Write out the goals within your experience, both macro and micro: sales, leads, newsletter sign-ups, subscriptions, specific clicks (CTAs), etc. Keep in mind that every action you ask a visitor to take is, in essence, an exchange of value. Now move through each persona and assign primary, secondary and tertiary metrics that apply, based on their narratives and tied to their personal success.
  • If you haven’t already, create a site map. This doesn’t have to be sexy, just workable. You may have a fancy site map laying around already which is awesome (kudos UX team!), especially if your site is particularly complex. If I’m working with an ecommerce site that is relatively simple, I typically use a whiteboard for this particular exercise.
  • Working backwards as you would if you were writing all the endings to a CYOA story first, start with the macro conversion (a sale, a lead) and use the site map to plot out the micro conversions along the path of each persona. During this exercise, ask questions that your personas would ask and take notes along the way. Be sure to note what your personas are motivated by, find difficult or what type of value he/she finds most important at the different decision points. Finally, it is important to note where adding a new landing page, etc., may be relevant during the process.

Below are some questions to keep in mind throughout this exercise:

  • Platform: Do they use mobile primarily, or desktop? Do they start on one platform and then switch to another?
  • Possible Entry Point(s), campaigns?
  • What type of value resonates?
  • Do they do research?
  • Elasticity to friction, anxiety?
  • Are they a candidate for nurturing or retargeting?

Your path might look something like this:

Happy paths

Now, move each persona through as they would navigate your site. Does each path fit the given narratives?

Compile everything you've done and use it to evaluate how your experience fits with what you (or an agency) has identified as your target prospects. Evaluate what elements you can add, change, or remove from your experience to target your most valuable personas and provide them with “Happy Paths”. You can certainly make enhancements to your experience based on this exercise, however, I always recommend testing your theories out first. Construct hypotheses that seek to prove or disprove the assumptions/ideas you’ve made as a result of this exercise.

Recap & Next Steps

I think the reason CYOA books always fascinated me was because the story was the same, however, the ending was unknown each time. Visitors to your site aren't looking for this same experience; in fact, they expect any preconceptions they had about your site to be met. This concept is the very reason we're rigging the story for them, based on our best guess of those preconceptions. A really smart person told me this once during a personalization campaign about what behavioral data reveals: "Nick, you'll never get it 100% right, won't even be close, all you can hope to do is be less wrong than your competition." You could try to change their preconceptions, which is what many of your peers are doing and is really a 'business-centric' strategy. To be honest, however, if you have the data available, preconceptions are way easier to try and match than attempting to alter, create value around the new, and then go about matching the new expectation you set. You can learn a lot about your experience through the persona lens and behavioral data, but be prepared to fail if you're shooting for perfection.

Making use of the personas you created can be a great guide as to how visitors will potentially move through your online experience. They will also help you narrow down what your target prospects find most valuable, appealing, confusing, or concerning. Alongside this exercise, it is important to utilize your analytics platform to further substantiate your assumptions. Pro tip: Data analysis is so much easier and rewarding when you have prepared specific questions to answer, and this exercise should provide you with a plethora.

Once complete, this exercise will hopefully have helped you identify several hypotheses to test. Your Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) team should develop a plan and incorporate it into their roadmap to test these against your current experience. Use validated theories to provide a more informed experience throughout your site and to provide customer theories that can be socialized across your business. Also, don't forget to continuously update your personas with validated theories, this will ensure they continue work for you!

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