Would You Rather Know What Customers Do or Why They Do It?

It was like Groundhog Day. I had the same conversation over and over and over again. I was at the Shop.org Summit in New York. It was a record breaking crowd, over 2200 attendees. I talked to a whole bunch of those online retailers and everyone was saying basically the same thing ...

"I want to know what my customers are doing on my website. I'm finding more and more ways to gather data. I have my SEO firm giving me reports, I have competitive intelligence groups giving me reports, I have my web analytics team giving me reports, I have in house research teams giving me reports. But how do I analyze all that data and turn it into customer insight that is actionable. How can I use all this data to increase my sales?"

There's more ....

I have more data than I know what to do with, but when we try to do things to increase sales, the first thing we do is go out and get even more data. Is the problem we don't have enough data or we don't have the right data?

Everyone in management gets these rich, detailed web analytics reports every week - but what no one is willing to admit is, no one reads them. I mean, what the heck are all those numbers anyway?

These are questions many seasoned online retailers are asking. You may be asking the same questions yourself. What data will give me the best insight into my customers? Which data is most useful? And how can I take that data and turn it into increased sales?

All valid questions, but here's the problem ... while this data tells you what your customers are doing, it doesn't tell you why they are doing it.

What "what" can do for you

Take keywords. You can measure just about everything - what keywords are driving traffic to your site, what keywords convert better than others, what keywords are driving traffic to your competitors sites. But what's less obvious - or not apparent at all - is why the visitor typed that keyword into a search engine? What is that visitor's intent? If you knew the intent behind the keyword, you'd have a much better chance of converting that visitor. If you knew why visitors were typing a word in - instead of just what they were typing in - you'd be much better equipped to give them what they're looking for.

You can measure what visitors are doing on your site. You can make changes and do A/B tests to improve performance. You can test to see if a visitor is more likely to click on offer A or offer B, but you can't test why the visitor is clicking on offer A or offer B.

You can see if there are pages on your website with high abandonment rates. You can make changes to try to improve those pages. But while you can test what visitors do on that page, you often don't know why they are doing it.

Have you ever created a webpage, or a promotion, or an email campaign, or added new functionality that you just knew was going to be a big hit with your customers - but it didn't work? Doesn't that make you crazy? You were sure this was the right thing. Everything about it made sense. Why the heck didn't it work? You can test different variations, but while you know what happened, you may never know why.

What a kick in the pants.

Personas get you to "why"

So, instead of focusing so much on what their customers are doing, why aren't more people focusing on why their customers are doing what they're doing?

Think you can't find out? Think the "why" is too hard to measure?

I have one word for you. Personas.

In order to create personas, you will have to make perhaps the most concerted and in depth effort you've ever made to truly understand your customers. But the result will be representations of your customer base that you can use to model persuasive systems that address the why of customer behavior. Those systems are also known as ... Persuasion Architecture.

With personas, you can gain insight into keyword intent - why is that persona typing in that keyword and what specifically are they looking for? With that knowledge you can build stronger PPC campaigns with better messaging, more relevant landing pages, and, thus, higher conversion rates.

With wireframing, you can actually map out not only what needs to be on a page, but why it needs to be on the page. And by planning scenarios, you provide persuasive pathways that answer your visitors' questions and provide persuasive momentum, driving them towards the action you want them to take.

Isn't planning these pathways, then testing them, a better idea than just saying "well, let's see what they do then test it"?

If you know why someone wants to buy something, what their specific needs and deeper motivations are, do you think that would help you write more persuasive copy?

I'm not slamming data. SEO, Web Analytics, competitive intelligence - all of that is important information you need to know. But with Persuasion Architecture, you have a better framework to analyze that data and turn that information into actionable ideas that will increase sales.

So please, get out of this Groundhog Day circle of "what are my customers doing"? Break out and start asking "why are my customers doing what they're doing?" You might just find it leads to a new day with different and better results.

Volume 141: 10/15/06

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