In the ever-evolving landscape of websites, apps, and other interactive experiences, understanding and engaging with your target audience is paramount. Curating an experience is all about keeping the user top of mind while you design, but how do you figure out what that user looks like?
Painting an accurate and insightful picture of your audience is a complex process, but it’s a crucial one. Personas and journey mapping are two major marketing tools that have long helped craft audience strategies that engage with the people companies are trying to reach. But how do those tools translate to interactive experiences, and how can we ensure we understand all of our users’ needs?
Using personas as an example framework, we’ve outlined why audience research is worth the investment, and the role it plays in the development of interactive products in particular. Read on to learn how your research can create exceptionally engaging experiences that keep users coming back.
Audience personas offer a synthesized representation of a real segment of your audience. Their purpose is to help us better understand that audience’s needs, preferences, behaviors, and motivations. They are archetypes and demographics of a specific customer or prospect you’re aiming to attract or are already actively engaged with. Personas provide a deeper understanding of your target audience, enabling you to create messaging and content that aligns with their interests and connects with them on a more personal level.
An audience persona might include detailed information about their everyday habits, their hobbies, their level of education or their personal and professional goals. You can use a variety of different methods to build these personas, but they always rely on research into actual customers to develop an understanding of what they need. This might require surveys, voice of customer interviews or other data collection methods.
Persona development occurs at the beginning of a project, during the early stages of audience research. This is because they serve as a foundation for everything that comes after the research process. They help guide the development of a message, product or experience that accurately meets the needs of the audience being targeted.
Once you’re equipped with buyer personas, you can begin the process of mapping their journey as a member of your audience. Maybe you’re interested in the steps they take to buy a particular product, how they seek out a type of service or the goal they’re trying to accomplish. This might entail finding contact information, or applying for a job. Either way, at each step of their journey you want to identify their goals and any related pain points.
Knowing their goals helps you identify areas where you may be able to step in and meet their needs, thereby building trust in your brand as a reliable solution provider. Knowing your customers’ pain points helps you find opportunities to provide a uniquely strong experience that addresses issues they’ve had in other places.
When you can do this consistently, it elevates your brand and builds confidence in the fact that it can deliver on its promise. That leads to repeat customers, brand advocates and ultimately long-term growth. It also helps differentiate your brand from the competition and will communicate that you understand their challenges and are there to assist.
For interactive experiences in particular, these tools are important because they inform how someone might use a website, app or another interactive experience. People from different age groups, professions, or levels of expertise might interact with a digital product differently, and personas are one way for us to account for these differences and design experiences accordingly.
Since user experience is a major component of your customer experience, special attention towards the interactive element your brand offers will go a long way towards ensuring that your audience’s needs are met. Let’s break down some of the ways audience research can be applied specifically to interactive experiences, and how that influences the development of websites, apps or other digital products.
Audience Research for User Experience
We’ve covered all the ways that personas and journey mapping help you understand your audience, and consequently cater the experiences you provide to meet their needs. But how do these traditional marketing tools apply to the people using your interactive platforms like websites and apps?
Fundamentally, your marketing team and your UX team is researching roughly the same persona groups because they are both trying to reach segments of the same audience. The only difference in their approach is the type of information that they collect—UX teams are not only interested in their marketing demographic information but also the traits that will inform how they will interact with a website or app.
First off, there are specific questions related to digital experiences that you’ll need to answer about your audience. Some examples might include:
- What is the user’s connectivity going to be like, based on where they live?
- What kind of look & feel are they most likely to engage with?
- What type of voice or tone of content are they most likely to engage with?
- What kinds of accessibility needs are unique to this user?
- How does the user prefer to interact with websites? Do they prefer traditional navigation menus or a different layout?
- What is the technological proficiency of your user?
These are just a few of the basic facts to know about your audience that will prove crucial to the development of your website or app. But on a higher level, UX audience research is trying to hone in on what the users want to know, and what they want to do. These needs underpin every way the user behaves when they encounter your interactive experience.
Why Invest in Audience Research?
Critics of audience research often point out a few flaws:
- Personas are often based on stereotypes, and are therefore unreliable.
- Audience research takes a lot of time and resources to conduct accurately.
- User findings can become outdated with evolving technology.
Let’s address each of these critiques in turn. First, the claim that personas are over-generalized or based on stereotypes overlooks the fact that they are based on real research into the audience. Generalizations in personas only happen when you begin to make assumptions about who your audience is. It’s important to remember that even if you’re extremely familiar with your audience and have worked with them for decades, you can’t assume you know everything about their experience as an audience and as users until you collect data through interviews, surveys, focus groups and other research methods.
Doing this research, of course, does require a significant amount of time and resources to do properly. Some see this as an unworthy investment if you’re already familiar with your audience. But again, thorough, reliable and unbiased audience research will unlock new insights that you didn’t know about your customers before, and that information will prove invaluable to curating experiences that keep people engaged, interested and excited to work with your brand again.
It’s also worth noting that although audience research can require a significant investment, there are now more tools than ever to collect data about your audience. Audience research tools like SparkToro help you identify who your audience is, while customer relationship managers like HubSpot and Birdeye help you keep track of your existing users and analyze their experiences.
Personas, especially in the context of interactive experiences, can become outdated after just a few years. This is because the development of new digital experiences moves quickly, along with the ways people engage with them. You might be surprised at how quickly your audience could shift in demographic as well. But that’s all the more reason to keep investing in updating these personas to stay on top of your audience’s experiences. Doing so can work wonders for building rapport with your audience and building up the responsiveness of your brand. If you don’t, you run the risk of speaking to an audience that’s no longer resonating with your message.
Case Study: Spotify’s Personas in Action
In 2017, Spotify’s user research team began investigating who their users actually are. As a music streaming service, their audience is so vast that it can be difficult to pin down, but they began developing personas to understand how their users listen to music.
They broke this process down into two phases: the first began studying music listeners of all different ages, lifestyles, income levels and more through qualitative interviews. Then they coded these interviews based on common themes they would find related to attitudes around music and entertainment.
The second phase focused on the context in which people listened to music, from the car to the home to the workplace and more. This covered many of the different ways people would listen to music together, and gave the Spotify team a better picture of the situations in which their product might be used.
After the extensive audience research process, Spotify started creating the actual personas that would represent the audience they had researched. This involved picking names and appearances to represent members of their audience, but they kept their visual style illustrated with brand colors to appear more abstract and flexible.
The results that Spotify saw were immediate: the personas served as a jumping off point for any new feature or idea to be implemented in the app.
“[Personas] can help us create educated hypotheses and save us time – meaning we don’t need to run foundational research every time we want to explore a new topic within the music listening experience. Our teams can now focus their resources on diving deeper into problems from the level set by the personas.” -Spotify Team
They also noted that when performing maintenance on different Spotify features, their team can map out how it would affect different personas in different ways. This allows them to better refine the features towards “certain ways of listening to music, while making sure they don’t alienate others.”
While it took a significant amount of time and effort to make these personas, they serve as a foundation for Spotify’s decision making when it comes to designing interactive experiences. The audience research informs their brand and makes them better at catering the experiences to the real people who use their service.
A Few More Insights
BrandExtract helps businesses inspire belief by aligning their brand with what matters to their audience. If you’re looking for help curating interactive experiences that make an impact, don’t hesitate to reach out. Or, explore some of our other insights:
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