Sep 23 2008

Know Thy Audience Members. (That Means Thinking Like Them.)

We’ve heard this saying so often that it’s almost become cliché: know your audience. But instead of letting the words bounce off our eardrums and evaporate into the ether, let’s stop and consider what they mean.

I bet if I asked, you could describe your ideal customer. You’d probably rattle off the person’s sex, age, income, etc. But does that mean you really know your customer? No.

Yes, you know certain characteristics about this customer, this audience member. And don’t get me wrong—these characteristics are important. But you need to dig deeper. What does it mean if more of your customers are women than men? What does it mean if most of your customers fall into the 18- to 34-year-old bracket? What does it mean if the average income is 48K a year? These things don’t mean anything unless you dig deeper into an audience member’s psyche. You need to get inside their heads if you’re going to fulfill their needs.

How do you do this? Put yourself in their shoes—or go talk to people who are in their shoes. If you’re a 40-year-old male and your audience is mostly women in their 20s, then go talk to women in their 20s and find out what they’re thinking and find out what their needs are. Then figure out how you’ll fulfill those needs—both with the products and services you sell and HOW you present them on your site.

Case Study: How One Site Didn’t Fulfill My Needs

To illustrate, here’s a recent example from my life. A friend’s father passed away earlier this month, and I wanted to attend the wake. The obituary notice in the newspaper included a URL for the funeral home. I checked out the funeral home’s website because I needed directions—the funeral home was in a town that’s about 45 minutes away from my home, and it’s not a town I’m familiar with.

Now let’s consider the funeral home’s “audience.”

There are two audiences, really. You have those who’ll be looking for the services a funeral home provides. And then you have people like me—the ones who’ll be attending the wakes. (Both audiences could be considered good referral sources.)

Let’s talk about the second audience, since that’s the audience I’m in. What does the funeral home know about this audience? They know that this audience is filled with family, friends, and colleagues of the person who died and friends and colleagues of the other family members. I’d met my friend’s father a handful of times, but SHE was the reason I was going to her dad’s wake.

Wakes are not fun events. No one likes going to them. Whether it’s because you’re racked with grief or you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing, they tend to cause discomfort. So the funeral home knows (or should know) it’s dealing with a high-stress, high-grief audience (the level of this stress and grief fluctuates depending on the circumstances surrounding the person’s death, the level of closeness, etc).

How can the funeral home help diminish the stress and grief? By making the process of attending the wake and funeral as easy as possible. In other words, the funeral home needs to provide clear, easy-to-access information about dates, times, and directions.

Below is a screen shot of the navigation from the funeral home’s website.


So far, so good. The things that I’m most interested in are clearly labeled with “Service Times & Obituaries” and “Directions.” (And for the first audience, “Prearrangements” clearly meets those needs). But let’s keep going. I click on “Directions.” Here’s what greets me:


Notice the funeral home is located on Granite Ave. There’s a note that “Effective Immediately” the funeral home will be accessible only from Pierce Street. Uh-huh. This, I’m sure, is incredibly clear to the people who run the funeral home. But I have no idea where Pierce Street is in relation to Granite Ave. I’m assuming they must interconnect somehow, because how else could I access a building that sits on one street via another street?

Now read the directions. Are these directions written for someone who is under high-stress and high grief? No! These directions are likely to cause high stress and high grief. There’s no information on parking or how Pierce Street fits in with Granite Ave.

It’s not until I scroll to the very bottom of the page (and this wasn’t obvious, because below these directions that I’ve posted is a map and I figured that was it) that I see the OLD directions—meaning the ones that aren’t in effect anymore. That’s when I see how Pierce Street relates to this funeral home or where I’m supposed to park. The last line of the website explains the connection between Pierce Street and Granite Street.

But how many people missed this?

Yeah, I could go to MapQuest and get directions, but that’s adding another unnecessary step—and it certainly doesn’t take care of my needs, does it?

As for the actual directions, they were wrong. I drove them, and there was at least one instance where I was in a right-hand only lane. And guess what? Pierce Street is a one-way street. Nowhere do the directions state this. The parking lot was small, so people ended u parking illegally (including me). So what should the funeral home have done differently?

The owners should have put themselves in MY shoes. Meaning, they should have asked people what information they’re looking for when they go to a funeral home website. I bet you most people would want the same info I want: dates, times, and directions. After ensuring that they always had clear dates and times on their site, they should have turned to the directions. The owners or employees should have gotten in a car and driven TO the funeral home from points north and south of Boston. They should have carefully documented mileage/odometer readings, what lanes people should be in, and the fact that Pierce Street is one way. They should have included clear directions as to where to park if the lot was full. And to truly be helpful, they should have included directions on how to access major highways upon leaving the parking lot (since you can’t easily retrace your steps, due to the one-way street).

The experience was tough enough without the stress these directions caused. I wouldn’t recommend this funeral home to anyone because it’s so “difficult” to get to (in my eyes, but remember, customer perception is YOUR reality). Is that the image this funeral home wants to convey? I doubt it.

What You Can Do To Better Know Your Audience–And Their Needs

So how does this relate to your e-commerce site? You need to start thinking about your audience—not only who they are, but what their needs are.

The best way to do this is to create a small “focus” group. Get a few of the people who make up your audience in a room. Allow them access to laptops or computers. Have them call up your website. Now do any number of the following:

  1. Ask them to find and “buy” a specific product. The goal here is to see how easy it is for your audience to navigate your site when looking for something specific.
  2. Ask them where they’d go or look for the answers to a specific question.
  3. Ask them what they’d do if they came up with error messages during the checkout process.
  4. If you have a site that requires a username and password, ask them what they’d do if they forgot their password. And then have them go through the process.

Obviously, this isn’t a complete list—come up with a list of questions and tasks that you think your typical customer should be able to easily answer or perform on your site. Then test your assumptions. Fix whatever isn’t clear to your customers (even if it seems clear to you).

Unlike the funeral home, your site probably doesn’t hold your audience captive. I had no choice but to figure out how to get to this funeral home. Your audience isn’t captive. It’s just as easy for them to say, “Forget this,” and head to your competitor’s site.

Don’t lose out simply because you didn’t take the time to really fulfill your customers’ needs.

Blue Acorn


Sep 23 2008

Good points! I have to remember this when I’m blogging and eventually have products on my site.

Because of the subject matter, I have to be careful with certain words and terminology I use. Whenever I use an unfamiliar word, I have to remember to either briefly define it or hyperlink it to a website that explains what it means.

Sep 27 2008

Knowing your right target audience is always crucial to achieved the best in any business however it becomes more important when you have a online service.

Aug 26 2010

Hey Robyn – I really found this enlightening. I do think that sometimes we either do not give a moments consideration to what the audience is thinking and feeling and more upon simply writing or designing our sites as we see fit. The example of the funeral home was a good one and illustrates the point very well. If nothing else, stop and think about the audience when designing and writing for your website and you will will be rewarded with many more satisfied visitors.

Aug 26 2010

Thanks, Jenny, for your kind comments. 🙂


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