I have been fascinated with proper categorization and order as far back as memory allows. While categorization of physical items, devices and possessions is important, the categorization of ideas is critical to human progress.
We talk about music as baroque or romantic and art as impressionistic or abstract. We talk of tasks on a scale of time, the ever-present categorization mechanism. Categorization is key because it allows us to look at things in context. And classification is particularly important when we discuss our customers.
Companies devise user personas with interest- and preference-based categories to understand who their customers are. This simple but powerful mechanism has been used since the 1980s, allowing companies to build a mental picture of their target audience’s personality.
Product managers must connect the dots between a persona’s needs and the product features that best meet those unique needs. For instance, a fashion retail firm may refer to two user personas: Tanya and Skylar. Tanya is a bargain hunter. Price is most important to her, ahead of selection, status or convenience. Meanwhile, Skylar is a busy career woman who cares more about convenience than price.
If you head an ecommerce marketplace, Tanya’s opinions will carry more weight for features such as the clearance section, coupons and sales. Skylar is more likely to be a good representative for features like “buy online, pick up in store.”
To connect the dots effectively, you must have a strong understanding of your personas. And to do that, you must talk to your customers. Luckily, with the advent of social media, access to customers and associated analytics have increased in number, quality, influence and importance. However, it’s important to keep two key things in mind when you start listening to your customers.
We listen to real people, not abstract personas
While personas are immeasurably helpful, it is critical to remember that personas appear on a scale or range, but real users are a more absolute value. As Chart 1 shows, not all customers represent the persona as closely or accurately.
If we assume we are correct in discovering and identifying our user persona, we see that Joan Baez and Knopfler closely embody our user base. Despite subtle differences in how they use and perceive the product, they are strongly aligned. To a degree, Emmylou is also aligned to the general trend, but her opinions must be strongly analyzed before they are incorporated. Her opinions may not represent the core market, but they have value when trying to understand the outliers. Finally, we have Cohen. While his opinions may have value for some product managers, listening to him could navigate your feature roadmap away from your unique selling proposition.
Everyone has a platform, but not everyone has influence
Social media provides everyone with a pedestal and a voice, but not every voice has influence. The complexity of human networks and relationships often means that some voices are more shared, liked and retweeted than others. According to a recent article in Content Marketing, 64 percent of all articles received less than 20 shares across all networks, and 1 percent of the articles got 30 percent of all shares. The takeaway? Some voices are influencers, others are listeners. And there’s extra value in listening to key influencers.
Once we realize these two things, we realize that all customers should not be listened to equally. We can build a table to help us plot each voice and the relative importance and weight it should carry within the organization and our product plans.
Opinion Makers and Ideal Persona.These users are essential to our products. They are capable of generating new features and improving the quality of existing ones. Their input helps determine new features for our product roadmaps. Through their outsized influence on the community, they are also key to others forming an opinion about the perceived quality of our product.
Active Fans and Ideal Persona OR Opinion Makers and Close to Ideal Persona. These two groups are critical to the product’s success and require close attention because of their complexity. The Opinion Makers who are not ideal personas may request features that veer us away from our unique selling proposition and the appeal to the core group. Active Fans offer their opinions less frequently but share more information with others; they influence prioritization of our product/feature roadmap. And although they may not generate ideas, they help us gauge which of the Opinion Makers’ ideas resonate.
Active Fans and Close to Ideal Persona OR Opinion Makers and Somewhat Ideal Persona OR Bystanders Who Are Ideal Persona. These groups occupy a medium priority when it comes to listening to the voice of the customers. They are a good gauge of feature-set prioritization but occupy a supporting position to our earlier groups. The feature set, critiques and ideas generated by this group may or may not be applicable to the product, and their shares may not talk of the core appeal. Focus on looking for off-notes, criticisms and complaints from this group.
Active Fans and Somewhat Ideal Persona OR Bystanders Who Are Somewhat or Close to Ideal Persona. It is ironic that most of the actual buyers belong to the medium- and low-priority groups. After all, hierarchically, most people are Bystanders, not Influencers. These low-priority users have a low output when it comes to generating new content about our products; they are more likely to be the audience for such content. Even if some content is generated, it is unlikely to influence the masses.
Knowing your customers is critical; knowing which of your customers’ voices to value the most is key to keeping your product and roadmap prioritized and profitable.