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Use Personas to Increase Conversion Rates

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Dan Trump, Felicity Green, Vida Blue and Michael Matters are taking a business trip to Chicago and need to book a room for four nights, from September 25 through 28.

The task each of these four individuals is trying to accomplish is the same. But, hey, these are four individuals! Think they're going to solve their problem the exact same way? Think they define "comfort" the exact same way or even ask the exact same questions?

Each is about to check out Wyndham's Web site to see if that hotel is right for them. Let's take a peek at what happens.

Our Hotel Guests

Dan and his gang aren't real people. They're profiles we've created
to illustrate the concept of personas, fictional but dimensional constructions that represent the needs of a specific online audience - people who book hotel rooms in this case. Fully-developed personas form the basis for persuasion architecture - they allow you to design meaningful navigation paths that will meet the individual needs of your visitors, so those visitors will feel comfortable doing business with you.

Dan Trump has a Competitive personality.

He is decisive in his decision-making and clear-headed in his thinking. He is looking for demonstrable results and bottom lines. Dan asks "what" questions. In evaluating a hotel, he will be looking for things like convenient location, comparisons with other hotels in the area, star rating systems, automatic checkout, in short, "what can your hotel do for me?"

Felicity Green has a Humanistic personality.

To her, it's important to be useful, fulfill responsibilities and give to others. Social interactions are critical to her. Creative and entertaining herself, she appreciates these qualities in others. Felicity asks "who" questions. When it comes to staying in a hotel, she wants to feel good about the place. She's looking for friendly staff, a familiar face at the desk who can help with her questions and suggest eateries. She values learning about the experiences of others who have stayed there.

Vida Blue has a Spontaneous personality.

She tends to be impulsive, values fun and responds well to non-threatening, friendly experiences. She greatly appreciates the personal touch and avoids the impersonal details and cold, hard facts. Vida asks "why" questions: "Why should I choose your hotel?" She's the guest who wants to know there's staff to take care of her car and her bags, a fine dining experience, a night club. She will be impressed by silky sheets, quality toiletry baskets, yummy room service and personalized guest services. If the hotel placed a chocolate bar on her pillow, so much the better!

Michael Matters has a Methodical personality.

He appreciates facts, hard data and information presented in a logical manner. He is not impressed with the personal touch or disorganization. Michael asks "how" questions. When he considers a hotel, he wants to have everything clearly and comprehensively listed for him. He will be looking for things like check-out times, prices, the average size of the room, what comes with the room (cable, internet service). He wants to know how the hotel work s.

Our profile visitors are bound for Wyndham's home page. Will the Wyndham site be able to "speak" confidently to each of our room-bookers? Will it understand their varying needs and be able to get them quickly to the information they require to feel confident making a reservation?

Our Profiles Look for Answers

The Wyndham home page is a compact, but packed, visual experience. A reservation tool sits in the upper left. There's a honeymoon ad front and center. Getaway and package opportunities are clustered at the bottom. And there's a list of top destinations on the right - Chicago is among them. Below the destination list, there's a drop-down menu of Wyndham brands.

Dan Trump

Dan goes directly to the reservation tool. He types in Chicago and the dates. He doesn't select the state (how many Chicagos does Wyndham serve?) and gets an error message asking him to select the state. He does, then hits the "select reservations" button. The next page reveals a list of Wyndham Chicago properties. At first, he is frustrated because he can't determine their locations, but initially overlooked type at the top of the list informs him it's ordered by proximity to downtown. Below a "view rates / make reservation" button are smaller links to "hotel details" and "map &directions." He looks at the first hotel listed.

"Map & directions" takes him to a pop-up of written directions and transportation costs from the airport. Not what he's looking for. Another tab in the pop-up takes him to an interactive MultiMap, giving him a much better visual sense that this hotel's location is convenient for him.

He closes the pop-up and clicks "hotel details" arriving at the page for Wyndham Chicago. Here the copy informs him it's an AAA four-star hotel, in a neighborhood of world-class restaurants, choice urban view and near the financial loop (all good). He checks out a few of the visual tour images. A revolving banner tells him he'll get the best rates booking online - clicking through assures him of this guarantee.

Dan primarily works in the active window of the Web site. He doesn't rely much on peripheral navigation schemes. He doesn't see any information about checkout policies, so he uses the "search this hotel" feature at the bottom. He types in "checkout" and gets no matches ... and no way to get back to his research expect for the back button of his browser.

Felicity Green

Felicity lands on the home page and is drawn to the various Wyndham brands. She activates the drop-down, to see a list that includes resorts, historic and garden hotels. She clicks on "historic", arriving at a description page. She is drawn to particular words in the copy: atmosphere, warmth, charm, artistry. But the drop-down list of historic hotels doesn't give her locations - how is she to know if one of these is in Chicago? Already she is frustrated.

She tries "garden" hotels next and finds that copy appealing as well: intimate, comfortable, thoughtful, socializing. The locator doesn't explicity list Chicago, but she sees a picture of Chicago down the page and clicks on the link. She arrives on a "specials and p ackages" page and learns there are three garden hotels in Chicago. But where are they?

She quickly clicks through to the property descriptions, but the images look suburban and rather sterile. Not garden-like at all. Giving up on the atmosphere angle, she returns to the home page and clicks on "Chicago" in the destination list. This takes her to an overview of the city, a location map and a list of hotels - the Wyndham Chicago looks to be most convenient (none of them appear to be historic hotels). She clicks and lands on the same hotel page Dan did.

She looks at the image gallery and also the video. These and the copy imply friendly staff (a concierge can help you plan a special outing). She enters "staff" in the hotel search and gets a result that directs her to "services and amenities." It took her a while to get here, but she's warming to Wyndham. Still, she hasn't been able to find any information about what others have experienced staying at Wyndham Chicago - testimonials would mean so much to her.

Vida Blue

Vida checks out the Wyndham brands on the home page - brands are good - but to determine which brand means what, she has to read through a series of pop-ups, and she's not interested in doing that. She abandons the brand tool and goes straight to the "Chicago" destination link, which takes her to the same landing page Felicity was on.

She notices a shopping link in the left nav. Two clicks later, she's reading a description of the shopping in Chicago. A Chicago shopping link there takes her off-site, but there's a direct link to Wyndham Chicago. She clicks through to this landing page (same one Dan and Felicity were on) and starts reading.

Style, chic, shopping, attentive - these are words in the copy that appeal to Vida. She looks quickly at a few gallery images, then scans down the left nav, clicking on areas that interest her: amenities, dining, activities and entertainment. Mostly these links provide her comprehensive lists she isn't interested in reading, but brief copy suggests a high degree of personal attentiveness and a socially diverse experience for her after-business hours. She really likes the pictures, which suggest elegance and style, and help her imagine herself having a fun time.

Michael Matters

Michael is the profile willing to spend the most time on Wyndham's site. He tries both the registration tool and the Chicago destination link to see where they'll take him. When he, as did all the others, winds up on the Wyndham Chicago page, he briefly reads through the copy, which he finds mostly fluffy and unsatisfying, although he appreciates the mention of internet service and a cordless phone. Lacking direct links to information in the active window, Michael falls back upon the left nav for the keywords he is interested in - "Fast Facts" immediately gets his attention.

The list is a good start, although nothing is clickable. But sensing he'll need to use the left nav to get at the information he's looking for, he clicks on other features there. These links take him to more comprehensive lists of exactly the sort of information he's looking f or.

Before he's done, he'll check out location maps, driving directions and costs associated with moving around in the city with Wyndham Chicago as his base of operations. Willing to take the time and effort to look for this information, Michael is able - although not optimally - to find it all.

Cheers and Jeers

Wyndham does a great job of putting completely relevant information on their web site and offers different entrance paths to that information via the registration tool, destination list, and packages and specials features. Starting from different points, all our profiles got to the Wyndham Chicago page - what we call a waypoint, a page everyone with this task needs to visit.

In terms of persona design, this page must help direct our profiles further down their individual paths of enquiry. IF they get past the challenges, our profiles will move forward. To demonstrate that Wyndham does have information relevant to each profile on their site, I've made the assumption that these visitors are willing to persist, but in reality, I've given Wyndham considerable benefit of the doubt and the profiles far more motivation than a real person would have. For all that's there, the site lacks the structural paths that help visitors work through their questions - it relies almost completely on its left navigation to carry the show.

To link their information in a way that will motivate their users through their site, Wyndham needs to consider the logical flow of each profile, then create persona scenarios that meticulously answer the types of questions they would ask. This would involve using the active window (not the global or local navigation schemes) to hyperlink keywords that appeal to our various profiles. In this manner, Wyndham could move each visitor far more efficiently to the information they are looking for (it's definitely on the site!) without requiring them to continually disengage from the experience. Functionally, each of Wyndham's feature pages is a dead end - for visitors to continue moving through the site, they are forced to return to the navigation.

Wyndham currently counts on the willingness of its prospects to search for the information each needs, providing exceptionally relevant content, but no persuasive structure. At the end of the day, that's not good enough. Wyndham is leaving lots of buckos on the table.

Make It Happen for You

Sites designed using personas and persona-based scenarios have the unqualified edge in the conversion rate sweepstakes. Helping people negotiate their buying decision processes is what persuasion architecture is all about. Every site can reap dramatic benefits from persona design. I've seen it time and time again.
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Bryan EisenbergAuthor: Bryan Eisenberg, CPO - Future Now Inc

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief persuasion officer of Future Now. Bryan also writes the award winning GrokDotCom Newsletter.