SEO Copywriting eBook
The SEO Copywriting Guide, By Ian Lurie
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internet marketing

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Know the Room: Prepare for Your Conversation

Know thy audience. Before I get into that, though, I should explain what “audience” really means.

Your audience is the group you’re trying to communicate with and persuade (you’re always trying to persuade, even if you’re just trying to persuade them to keep listening). Really, awareness of audience requires awareness of three things:

Personas

Note: I've written a new article about internet marketing personas - it's a great supplement to this section. you can read it here.

First, you need to understand who is going to use your site. To do that, you create broad definitions of the different typical visitors. These definitions are called personas.

You can use a lot of different resources to define a persona:

The first person I know of to use this term in a marketing context was Alan Cooper, around 1999. You can learn more about him and his firm at www.cooper.com. He has an excellent newsletter, too.

At a minimum, always look at existing data, get feedback from sales/outreach folks, and rely on gut instinct. Purchased data, surveys, focus groups, and other forms of external or “fresh” information can be priceless, though — if you can, make room in your budget.

Once you’ve collected your data, build your personas. Expect to have two or three different personas on a particular project. Very few organizations have only one, and if you find there are more than three, you need to reexamine the goals of your project — in nine years I’ve never seen a web site successfully cater to more than three distinct groups.

A typical persona definition includes:

You don’t have to perfectly know the room, right away. Remember, it’s Conversation Marketing. You’ll learn more about your audience later, and you’ll act on what you’ve learned. Imagine a magazine ad that tells you who’s looking and whether they like the ad or not....

Morgan’s Bikes: Hitting the Road with Personas

Morgan immediately realizes she has two personas she needs to please:

Consumers are folks who may buy and ride a Road Special. Using her past sales data and a little intuition, she knows that typical consumer-customers race on weekends, but not professionally. They typically work in white-collar jobs, and probably two out of three are men. They’re generally very web-literate and buy all sorts of smaller goods online, but they won’t want to buy a custom bike without personal attention from a shop owner. Morgan also talks to a few local shops and finds out what they hear from customers looking for high-end road bicycles. They tell her that typical consumers looking for an upscale, custom ride are over thirty and ride regularly with their clubs and groups. And, most importantly, most of these consumers take at least a month to decide which bike to buy.

Morgan wants to please consumers — they buy her product, after all, and they go to shop owners to order. Every consumer whose interest is captured isn’t just another potential customer, he’s also another voice persuading shop owners to distribute the Road Special.

Shop owners are established sellers of bicycles, accessories, and repair services. They could be anywhere in the world. Morgan knows that her best dealers run a fairly high-end shop, have a small, dedicated clientele, and are experts in all facets of cycling: equipment, training, and sports trivia. They’re huge fans and see their sport as a calling, not just a business — they’re passionate about it. Ages vary widely. But most of the time shop owners in or near cities or suburbs have the easiest time selling Morgan’s bicycles. And most of the shops already selling her bicycles also carry at least one other custom brand.

These owners want and need products that they can recommend without hesitation. They also want a manufacturer they can trust.

Morgan really wants to please shop owners — they’re her ticket to the big time....

These two personas compose Morgan’s audience. Now it’s time to figure out how to deliver what they want.

The Workflow

Once you know your personas, you have to determine a model for how each persona might use your site. You can do that using workflows. A workflow is a simple, commonsense map that describes how a persona moves through a web site — it may include a single visit, but typically spans several, and ends with some desired conclusion.

A workflow might be a simple list, a flowchart, a mind map, or anything else that makes sense to you. When we map out workflows for our customers, we typically use flowcharts that we can later combine to show all personas together (also called swimming lane diagrams, for you process modelers out there), but really anything that makes sense for you will do.

Morgan’s Bikes: Going with the Flow

Personas firmly in hand, Morgan can now think about how they might use her site. She starts with the consumer, and does a simple list:

  1. Conversation starts: Hear about the Road Special on the web, in print, or from a friend.
  2. Arrive at web site.
  3. Read about the Road Special on the overview page.
  4. If I like it, read the technical specifications and/or the testimonials.
  5. Check on the price.
  6. Leave the web site. Think it over, talk to my friends, maybe ask a local shop about the bike and what they’ve heard. Check for reviews on the web.
  7. Come back to the web site. Dig deeper — read the specifications if I haven’t already. Learn about custom options.
  8. Think about the configuration I’d really want.
  9. Find out how to order.
  10. Leave the web site. Go to my local shop and place an order.
  11. Get my bike. Ride it. Love it!
  12. A little later, consider upgrades — what else can I do to make my bike cooler?
  13. Can I get a jersey/T-shirt/other stuff to show I own a Road Special?

It’s that simple. Notice that the workflow isn’t necessarily web-centric — a lot of stuff in here might or might not take place on her web site. And it doesn’t end with a purchase, either. Upgrades and accessories keep the conversation going.

The Calls to Action

Now you know who’s going to use your site, and you’ve sketched out how. The final step in knowing the room is understanding where in this process opportunities exist to help potential consumers move forward — at some point you have to “sell” them, even if you’re just trying to persuade them to sign up for a newsletter or to download a document.

What are you trying to persuade them to do? The possibilities are endless, and “Buy this” is only one, very narrow message. “Elect me,” “Sign up for our newsletter,” “Have another look,” “Download our white paper,” and “Take a test drive” are also valid calls. Consider your call to action very, very carefully.

Typically you’re going to have several different calls to action. If, for example, you sell something, the ideal call to action is “Make a purchase.” But there are other actions your audience can take that will lead to a good outcome. They could sign up for your newsletter, or order a free sample, or tell a friend about your product. Don’t depend on folks to take the best possible action the first time they visit your site. Instead, give them options that escalate to that best action.

To figure out your calls to action, think about what you’d do upon first visiting your site. Make an ordered list, or a flow-

chart, or whatever else works for you, of the things a visitor will do, right up to the best possible action. This can be the toughest part of knowing the room. A call to action is legitimate only if two basic rules are met:

The call to action addresses a need of one or more personas.

and

Answering that call to action means a persona does something you want them to do.

Morgan’s Bikes: Ready… Action!

Now Morgan thinks about which steps in the conversation offer an opportunity for her to provide something that keeps the conversation going. When in this process might her company help the potential customer and, at the same time, make sure this person keeps Morgan’s Bikes in mind? In her case, the obvious points for this are when someone might seek advice from others, when they are configuring their Road Special, and after they buy. At each of these steps, Morgan can provide tools to help the customer. So, she revises her workflow, adding calls to action as follows:

  1. Hear about the Road Special on the web, in print, or from a friend.
  2. Arrive at web site.
  3. Read about the Road Special on the overview page.
  4. If I like it, read the technical specifications and/or the testimonials.
  5. Check on the price.
  6. Leave the web site. Think it over, talk to my friends, maybe ask a local shop about the bike and what they’ve heard. Check for reviews on the web.
    Action: E-mail a friend.
  7. Come back to the web site. Dig deeper — read the specifications if I haven’t already. Learn about custom options.
    Action: Contact Morgan’s Custom Bikes.
  8. Think about the configuration I’d really want.
    Action: Register, save configuration, and e-mail a friend.
  9. Find out how to order. Leave the web site.
  10. Go to my local shop and place an order.
    Action: Find a dealer, send configuration to them from site.
  11. Get my bike. Ride it. Love it!
    Buy a Road Special
  12. A little later, consider upgrades — what else can I do to make my bike cooler? Can I get a jersey/T-shirt/other stuff to show I own a Road Special? Action: Join the Road Special Club. Opt in for newsletter.

Morgan has found six basic calls to action:

These calls to action also present opportunities to measure audience response. We’ll talk more about that when we discuss “Observe and Adjust” in chapter 8.

These steps can show up anywhere on the site. “E-mail a friend” should probably be available on every page, as should the e-mail newsletter sign-up.

The most important thing to note, though, is that “Buy a Road Special” is only one of five possible outcomes that can help Morgan’s company. For example, if visitors contact dealers, this is good for the company even if those visitors don’t buy. Why? Because dealers are another audience for her.

If potential customers contact dealers, those dealers learn that there’s possible demand for her product, and are that much more likely to recommend her product to other customers or to call her on their own.

By figuring out these calls to action, Morgan now knows there are some tools she needs to include on her site:

Let’s try this exercise again, with a different audience. Morgan really has at least two audiences — while she wants consumers to buy her bikes, her real goal is to get local shops to sell her bikes en masse. She maps out a shop owner workflow, and includes calls to action:

Step Call to Action Site Feature
1 Learn about the Road Special from a customer, magazine, trade show, or the internet.
2 Go to the web site to learn more.
3 Check out possible options and configurations.
4 Decide whether I would like this bike or not. Can I sell it to my customers and feel good about it? Contact other dealers for references. Get permission from current dealers to give our their contact information.
5 Figure out: Is there demand? If not, can I create demand for this bike? Check search data — are cyclists searching for dealers in my area? Ask prospective dealers to register on the site. Provide a link to customer search data so they can see demand.
6 Find how to become a reseller — what programs does Morgan’s offer me? Contact Morgan’s with questions, and register for dealership information. Provide contact form. Also provide dealer registration form online.
7 Now I’m a dealer. I want to do the best job selling this product. Keep in touch with Morgan’s. Provide an opt-in e-mail newsletter for all registered dealers.

Note that this time Morgan used a more organized format, with the workflow steps on the left, the call to action in the middle, and the site feature needed to answer that call to action on the right. This format is one of my favorites.

So, Morgan now knows with whom she’s trying to converse. She’s sketched out how they will likely want to converse. And she’s identified where this communication offers opportunities to move the conversation forward. Time to make sure her web site will be dressed appropriately.

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