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ISSUE 07 - Q3 2003

Personas and the customer decision-making process
How to capture the nature of online customers

In my last article Supporting customers' decision-making process, I pointed out how bad commerce sites are at supporting customers when they try to decide whether a product will meet their needs or not. I concluded that careful research of customer behaviour is a necessity, if you want to design profitable commerce sites, since as designers, we have little chance in knowing exactly which needs and concerns customers have, as they progress though the decision-making process.

With this case study I want to show how our team used the concept of personas - fictional, representative user archetypes - and the customer decision-making process model in a project, in order to capture the nature of customers and their needs and concerns as they progress through the customer decision-making process.

The project setup

Our client is a large Scandinavian metal packaging company producing tins and cans mainly for the food industry. They had experienced that potential customers went to competitors, because their web site didn't inform effectively about the products, services, and competences they possess. For that reason, our client wanted a new and improved web site, which could act as an effective marketing tool and generate customer leads for the sales department.

As metal packaging is a complex business area, which doesn't lend itself to online purchase, the primary objective of the web site should be to guide customers through the decision-making process to the point, where they would be assured that our client is a reliable and competent metal packaging supplier that will be able to meet their needs. The next step for the customer is to pick up the phone and have a talk with a sales consultant, who will then guide the customer through the rest of the decision-making process.

The customer decision-making process and its five stages
The customer decision-making process and its five stages


Creating the personas

We choose to conduct a workshop with employees from the client company, who are in daily contact with customers and know their needs, concerns, the sales process, and the business area. The first item on agenda was to identify and describe the primary personas of the site. Wise people will notice that this isn't the "correct" way to create personas. In order to be true personas, they should be based on interviews and observation. But with a limited budget, we agreed that this was a reasonable way to do it. It gave the team a quick insight into both the customer base and business area and was at the same time a healthy exercise for the participating employees.

At the workshop we used the customer decision-making model as a basis for discussing the needs and concerns that the personas have at each step of the decision-making process. Besides describing the personas in terms of age, gender, profession, educational background, professional goals, and experience with metal packaging, we asked:

  • How will the personas recognize their need for the products that our client sells?
  • How will the personas search for product options and what are their needs and concerns at this step?
  • How will the personas evaluate the product alternatives they find and what are their needs and concerns at this step?
  • What will make them decide to make contact with our client?

We identified two primarily personas, Peter the Purchaser and Karen from the Advertisement Agency.

Peter the Purchaser

Peter is a purchaser from a large international food company. He is in his mid-forties and has an educational background in commerce. He has some experience with metal packaging after several years in his position. Part of his job is to make sure that his company has got the best and most profitable metal packaging solutions at all times.

Peter will show interest in our client if he is dissatisfied with an existing supplier - or in-house production - and wants to find better and more cost-effective alternatives. His perspective is primarily economical, but he takes the whole production and supply chain into consideration.

Peter's profession demands him to stay informed about opportunities for optimizing production costs and product quality. He knows our client by reputation and is aware of their core competences. He keeps himself up-to-date with the information, which is easy accessible.

Peter is mostly interested in standard mass-produced cans and tins. He demands detailed information about all aspects of the products to be able to make informed decisions and justify his choices to his colleagues and superiors. He will also consider other metal packaging suppliers and compare prices, quality, service level, logistics, and their reliability.

For Peter to consider our client as a future supplier, he has to be unsatisfied with his company's current metal packaging solution or realise that our client can deliver better quality and service at reasonable prices.

Karen from the Advertising Agency

Karen is a Project Manager at an advertising agency. She is in her mid-thirties and has an educational background in sales and advertising. Her job is to support her design team, make sure that the relationships with her clients are running smoothly, and that they are happy with the concepts that her agency comes up with. She has some experience with packaging design in general, but not with metal packaging in particular.

Karen has never heard of our client, since metal packaging is usually too expensive to be considered at all. If she stumbles across our client, it would be while researching creative packaging designs and packaging producers in context of a promotional packaging project.

Karen is mostly interested in the creative opportunities and will rather not be involved with technical stuff. She wants to be presented with examples of creative metal packaging solutions, which she can relate to the task at hand.

Karen will consider our client as a supplier if she can come to trust that out client will be able to realise the creative concept that her agency has in mind. In the process, Karen will consider companies offering other types of packaging such as paper, plastic and glass.

What we learned from Karen and Peter

The next item on the workshop agenda was to discuss how we could support Karen's and Peter's very different goals and needs. Clearly, we couldn't serve them the same kind of information. Each persona should have their dedicated section at the web site - a Product and Solutions section for Peter and a Creative Solutions section for Karen.

The products section should hold very detailed but prioritized information on all aspect of the products, such as key benefits, shapes, dimensions, volume and opening systems of the cans and tins, production processes, quality control, hygiene, logistics, and after sales service. In order to increase Peters trust in our client, links to relevant case stories should be provided on the product pages. Also, contact information to packaging consultants responsible for the different product areas should be present on the product pages as a call to action.

This massive amount of information would probably scare Karen away. She would get the impression that this is merely a mass-producing company, with no experience in dealing with creative people. Instead, the creative section should contain works from previous projects, which can serve as inspiration for Karen, prove that our client is able to handle custom metal packaging solutions, and explain, in an engaging and non-technical way, which options are available. Also, the section should explain the workflow from idea to result, in order to reassure Karen that our client is used to work with custom designs in a structured way. As with the products section, there should be links to relevant case stories and contact information to packaging consultants.

Working with personas

Through this project we found that combining the concept of personas and the customer decision-making model was a nice way of capturing the nature of online customers and the requirements they have at each step of the decision-making process. Personas doesn't provide us with reliable information on how people will actually interact with our designs, but they provide us with a tangible way of thinking of the customers, understanding their needs, and making informed decisions about the design of a site. Whether they are based on interviews and observations or not, the decisions we make on behalf of the personas have to be evaluated against usability testing results and web site statistics, and the personas should be adjusted accordingly, to be reliable for future use.

Text: Henrik Olsen

 
"Personas doesn’t provide us with reliable information on how people will actually interact with our designs, but they provide us with a tangible way of thinking of the customers, understanding their needs, and making informed decisions about the design of a site."


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