Personas—profiles that represent your brand's customers—are an indispensable part of a well-designed brand marketing strategy.
Product managers, e-commerce specialists, and marketing professionals all rely on personas to target specific customer groups. They filter decisions about product development, Web outreach, and brand management through customer personas to gain a better understanding of how potential actions affect their customers.
Because of the proliferation of data sources, companies today have more information than ever to build customer personas and gain fresh insights into customer preferences and motivations. Although much of the emphasis on Big Data focuses on quantitative research, qualitative research is an essential component in creating more accurate, realistic portraits of target customers.
Here are three ways qualitative research informs the persona-building process and how marketers can use qualitative data to make better decisions.
1. Using qualitative data to make human-centered decisions
In the absence of qualitative data, marketers are merely guessing at how real people perceive products and services, and receive brand messages.
Marketers have always constructed personas using the best information they have, but without qualitative data, that typically results in manufactured representations that lack the heart and soul of a persona based on qualitative data.
For example, video-recorded research can reveal incredible insights into the cognitive funnel associated with e-commerce. Rather than just analyze quantitative site performance metrics, companies can gain deeper understanding by conducting qualitative research by recording consumers as they engage on sites, identifying what portion of the page they focus on, and noting their responses to messages.
That type of qualitative research helps companies make sure their site effectively facilitates the customer journey by presenting items in the correct order, which can improve sales tenfold.
2. Getting at the truth behind customer behavior with qualitative research
As savvy marketers know, sometimes survey results don't dovetail with actual consumer behavior. Participants may provide answers to survey questions to project a certain image that isn't borne out by their subsequent buying activities.
To get the true story, qualitative research allows marketers to assess both words and deeds, enabling deeper insights into what lies beneath the surface.
Video recording can provide context that illuminates buying behavior and identifies bottlenecks in the purchasing process.
For instance, say an e-commerce operation experiences cart abandonment that reflects customer frustration. Without deep qualitative analysis, it's difficult to pinpoint process breakdowns because of the many steps involved in making a purchase.
Video recording removes the mystery in a way a survey can't. Rather than just analyzing what customers say, qualitative research via video recording enables the company to evaluate each interface, capturing the entire process to build context and allow accurate analysis of what went wrong.
3. Discovering new personas with qualitative research
Qualitative research often reveals unexpected insights. It's not uncommon for a company to begin a research project with one objective in mind and end up with a discovery the team hadn't planned on—the revelation of a new persona or a fresh set of consumer needs that the team hadn't anticipated. This type of discovery can be a huge advantage for the company.
Analysis of quantitative data that measures events and activities brings one facet of the user experience into focus, but it's an incomplete picture. Qualitative research reveals motivations that enable marketers to create more detailed personas and define new ones that allow marketers to better target potential customers. By moving beyond the pre-defined use case with qualitative data, marketers can more accurately segment potential customer groups and build more effective marketing strategies.
In the Big Data era, there are more tools than ever to find and gather customer information. But as marketers compile and analyze data that reveals new insights about what customers do, they must not lose sight of who customers are.
Qualitative research can reveal the "real person" behind the performance metrics, providing unprecedented insights into consumer psychology and validating hunches based on quantitative data findings.
Customer personas aren't just for marketing. If the company is built around providing the best products and services on the market to meet customer needs, everyone must understand the customer, from account management to product development.
The sharper the customer persona, the better equipped the company will be make sound decisions on marketing strategies, product roadmaps, and virtually every outward-facing activity.
That's why qualitative research is so important. Quantitative data provides critical information on performance, but qualitative research delivers insights that help marketers make human-centered decisions, understand why their customers take certain actions, and more tightly target their audience.
With qualitative research, marketers can move beyond the blurry, two-dimensional image generated by quantitative metrics, discovering rich details that bring targeted customer groups more sharply into focus and revealing new personas. In this way, qualitative research helps marketing and operations teams gain a better understanding of their audience—and make critical business decisions from firmer ground.
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