Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Six Personas for Online Behavior

In developing personas for my own use, I went on a search for generic ones that could be adapted, and am consolidating my notes from multiple sources here.  In comparing the lists I found, there seen to be six common kinds of generic persona (and a handful of one-offs that I’m not preserving).   They are:

The Socialite

Individuals who seek to interact with others via text communication.  This can be private communication via email or text, or group communication through message boards and public posts (blogs, social media, etc.) 

The socialite may communicate as their genuine self, in a quest to find like-minded people, or they may interact disingenuously.  When they do the latter, they present a fictional self, which may be their genuine self with a few enhancements (how they wish to be perceived rather than how they are) or an entirely fictional self.   It is not who they are, but how they want to be perceived, that governs what information they share.

Because of this, it is unwise to trust a socialite or believe in what he says, as one can not be sure how much of his online “self” is a valid representation.

The Professional

Individuals who are seeking employment – whether as a permanent employee or a hired service-provider – share information about themselves with a specific objective in mind (to secure income).

While it is possible for the professional to present false credentials, this is rarely done because the consequences of discovery can be dire – the loss of employment and a tainted reputation.   However, this does not mean the online persona is entirely accurate: while outright falsehoods are rare, it is common to present only positive information, possibly with some exaggeration, and suppress anything unflattering.

While the professional tends to be honest, this persona also tends to be self-serving: their purpose of interacting with others is to get something for themselves.   Specifically, the professional will not be interested in any interaction that does not have the potential to lead to employment, career advancement, or bolstering their professional credentials toward one of those goals.

The Financier

The financier interacts with banks and financial institutions, tending to be more transparent.  It is understood that these organizations have access to records to confirm any claim, so making false claims is of little use. 

And, as with the professional, the discovery of false claims can have devastating consequences, so the financier may be selective in providing information or exaggerate to some degree, but most are honest in their financial communications.   Exaggeration may occur, but to a lesser degree and with plausible deniability.

The exception is those financiers who communicate with other people rather than financial institutions.  Often, they tend to see finance as a competitive game, and believe that they can “win” by causing others to “lose.”   Hence the conversation among customers on financial sites is untrustworthy: some people are clearly attempting to mislead others for their own financial gain, or to harm others to "beat" them in what is perceived to be a contest.

The Citizen

The citizen is an individual who expresses political and religious beliefs.  They may be seeking like-minded individuals, or they may be attempting to promulgate their world-view for others to accept or, at the very least, to contribute to the causes they espouse.

Citizens tend to be very clandestine about their personal identities – holding “the wrong” opinions can be detrimental to their social interactions, including their employment.   A person may safely communicate their genuine ideas when hiding behind a false persona, and will seldom be entirely honest about political/religious matters when communicating under their genuine identity.

In terms of honesty, the citizen communicates the truth “as he sees it.”  He may be ill-informed or employee specious logic, but most citizens genuinely believe the things they say to others online - though it is possible to adopt the manner of the citizen in an attempt to defraud others.

Some sources suggest a "miscreant" type of persona, who poses as a citizen but does not honestly espouse the beliefs they promulgate.   They are simply trolls, who delight in creating conflict and drama and do not have any genuine interest.   My sense is that such people may be considered to be a subcategory of "socialite," though "anti-socialite" might be a better term.

The Patient

The patient is an individual who seeks self-help information online, usually of a medical or health nature.  When communicating with experts (medical institutions, health insurers, etc.) they are largely honest – but there may be some deception, either to hide unflattering information or to gain access to more than they are entitled.

The patient represents an embodiment of needs – those that give care to patients are acting in a different capacity when offering information and advice (the professional or the citizen personas, generally).

The patient is also goal-focused, like the financier: he is seeking help with a particular topic and is not interested in interactions that do not serve his needs.

Those who seek practical information of a non-medical nature (for example, someone who needs help or advice for repairing their computer, finding a service provider, etc.) also fall under the "patient" category - the defining characteristic is not the topic, but the need for advice and assistance.

The Consumer

When purchasing online, consumers generally interact with merchants, and do so in an honest manner in regard to their needs – because giving an accurate representation of need is critical to finding a solution that will address them – but they may not be as honest about their finances, as they wish to appear less capable to pay in order to pay less (or to avoid being overcharged, at best).

The consumer, like the patient, is a person in need – when advocating for products to other consumers, they are acting as a professional or a citizen, with the same cautions and limitations.   General advocacy tends to be more trustworthy, but is often tainted by narcissism – the advocate is often justifying his own decision regardless of the functional outcome rather than evaluating it objectively.

The customer is goal-focused: he is seeking help with a particular need and has little interest in interactions that do not lead to the solution of his needs.


This six personas relate more to behavior than to people – a single individual may act in different personas at different times depending on their needs and interests at the time.

It also occurs to me that there is a great deal of overlap in these personas, and that they might be better schematized according to goal – the underlying motive for which a person is seeking to interact with others.   So I may need to reconsider this altogether – but for now, this seems adequate and helpful.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Extrinsic Goals, Perpetual Dissatisfaction, and Sustainability

There is a clear difference in consumer expectations, or rather more of a division between intrinsic and extrinsic goals.  Some customers are focused on the intrinsic value of a product (the functional benefit derived from its use), whereas others are more concerned with the extrinsic value (the esteem that a person derives from being associated with a product).

It is a common mistake to suggest this is an evolution – as it is not. Preference for the intrinsic is prevalent amount the Silent Generation, Generation X, and the iGen whereas extrinsic is prevalent among Boomers and Millennial Generations – but even within the generations there are customers of both kinds, not to mention that each individual has a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic goals when approaching any purchasing decision.

It is plainly evident in advertising messages that some firms seek to associate their brands with the intrinsic value of their product, whereas others seek to associate with the extrinsic value.   I believe the latter to be a tactical benefit and a strategic mistake because extrinsic motivation does not support a sustainable competitive advantage and, in fact, creates a business model that is inherently unsustainable.

This is mainly because the extrinsic qualities of a brand are entirely beyond the maker’s control.   They may believe that they have command of the market, that their advertising dominates customer perception, but it does not: the market may hear the voice of the brand, but it often comes to its own conclusion.

Moreover, the intrinsic value of a brand is immutable, whereas the extrinsic is extremely mutable, and mutates in a manner that is entirely whimsical.   If a brand is popular because it is fashionable, it may find that it becomes unfashionable in an unpredictable and inexplicable manner – or at the very least new customers reject the brand because of its acceptance among old customers from whom they wish to dissociate themselves.

As a concrete example, considering the advertising campaign that proclaimed “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”   The market heard and rejected it, voting with their dollars that, in fact, yes it is my father’s Oldsmobile, and because I want to be perceived as being different from the older generation, it is not the vehicle for me.   And on that hill, the brand lost the battle.  It failed entirely to shift the extrinsic value of the brand to meet the expectations of the younger generations, and it died when its previous customer base left the market.

Not only is it impossible to predict the whims of the extrinsic market, but satisfying such demands can lead only to short-term success.    It is typically the younger generation, which is perceived as being capricious and fastidious, never satisfied and constantly complaining – but it is also true of older extrinsic customers, and it is because of a simple maxim, that “money cannot buy you happiness.”  The extrinsic goal may be achieved, but it is a limited and short-term success.

The extrinsic customer is seeking to become something he is not by associating himself to a specific brand.  But instead of the customer being perceived differently because of the brand, the brand is then perceived differently because of the customer.   That is, if working-class people buy a brand because it is associated with the wealthy, then they are not perceived as being wealthy – at least not in a sustainable manner.  Instead, the brand loses its glamor and is perceived as a working-class brand.

To go again to the automotive market, consider the mistake made by Mercedes-Benz in putting out an economy version of its marque.  The affordable C-class (and the extremely cheap A-class) did, for a time, make their blue-collar drivers feel like they had advanced their social status, but the wealthy then saw the brand as being more of a working-class vehicle, low-quality and cheap, and the Mercedes brand has correspondingly fallen from grace, and the maker had to launch a new brand to recapture the luxury market.  Though they may find commercial success in serving the mass markets, they may never again be regarded as a luxury brand.

Back to the point, the extrinsic customer who seeks to change his status by associating himself to the brand will be dissatisfied because the status of the brand will be diminished by his patronage.  In much the same way, a person who purchases a brand with the assumption that ownership will make him seem smart, clever, and sophisticated will still be the same stupid, dull, and vulgar person he was the day before he purchased it.  The ability of a brand to adjust perception is thus only temporary.

This considered, any appeal to the extrinsically motivated customer must be regarded as a happy accident, rather than a sustainable brand strategy.  And brands may ignore this to their own peril, as they will invariably  discover that the sustainability of their firm derives from the sustainability of their brand – it is unwise for long-term objectives to be pursued by means that are inherently temporary and capricious as fashion and those who follow it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Perception, Abstraction, and Brand Identity

One elementary quality that distinguishes the human mind from that of animals is in its ability to construct meaning.  Our perception and our memory are mechanisms by which we survive.  We do not react automatically by the superficial appearances of things – but instead we distinguish food from poison, threat from opportunity, and friend from foe by the use of our perception and memory

Our perception and memory are generally reliable – but at times they can lead us astray.   The greater the complexity of our situation, the more likely we will make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, by applying overly simplistic reasoning.   But it would be equally simplistic to assume that emotions overthrow the rules of logic.  Perception can be limited, and logic can be fallacious, but belief is inherently based on a rational process.

Abstract thinking can also tend to lead us astray – because an abstraction is based on a subjective assessment of what qualities are the most important.  Compare any sketch or drawing to the actual object, and you will quickly notice which features the artist considered to be significant and which he chose to ignore in creating his representation.

Abstractions are also not necessarily reductive – many can be additive.   Consider the tendency to anthroporphize things.   When we project thoughts and emotions onto animals, objects, organizations, and other non-human phenomena, we are adding to our beliefs based on things that are entirely imaginary.

In the same way, a “brand” was originally a mark burned onto an object to indicate its owner or maker.   The brand is a kind of mental abstraction – meant to represent something in minimal detail, in which we have ignored many of the actual qualities and added other attributes that are based on oru own imagination.

Brand exists in the mind of the customer, not the maker. Certainly, the maker wants customers to believe certain things about their brand and wishes to influence the way in which it is perceived.  But actual experience will override anything a brand had to say about itself.  A brand may claim to be high-quality, but our experience of it may suggest otherwise – as well as the reportage of others who claim to have experience.  

The maker is an external voice, suggesting what customers ought to think of his brand – but ultimately, customers decide for themselves, and they do so based on abstraction drawn from their limited and skewed perception.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

15 Decision-Making Flaws

In reading about customer behavior, I’ve put together a list of decision-making flaws.    Not much in the way of commentary here – just making a note of the list itself:
  • Ambiguity Aversion – Avoiding making decisions when the relevant information is unknown or uncertain
  • Anecdotal Evidence – Being persuaded by anecdotes that agree with beliefs, even when they are anecdotes of unusual situations
  • Availability Bias – Making a decision based on information that is readily available even if it is not the most relevant
  • Rules of Thumb – Applying simplistic rules to complex decisions, even when they do not apply
  • Status Quo Bias – Preferring the solution that causes the least change rather than a more effective alternative
  • Default Effects – Agreeing with what is suggested rather than considering other options
  • Self-Control – Seeking the easiest solution rather than the best
  • Procrastination – Refusing to decide or act when a situation is perceived as being too far in the future to matter
  • Hyperbolic Discounting – Grossly underestimating the negative or positive impact of events that are further in the future
  • Emotionalism – Choosing the option that has the most positive or least negative impact on the emotions during the decision-making process
  • Reference Dependence – Creating an arbitrary benchmark against which other alternatives must be weighed (without proving the validity of the benchmark)
  • Choice Bracketing – Making choices in isolation, ignoring the impact they have on other factors
  • Framing Effects – Limiting the consideration of a subject to the context in which it is framed
  • Choice Architecture – Constraining decisions to an arbitrary set of options
  • Cognitive Filtering – Making a quick decision and giving attention only to information that supports it
I don't expect this is comprehensive, just a listing of the ones that one author chose to mention, but it's a good start on a more extensive exploration of the topic.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Design as Conversation

I’m doing rather a lot of remote user testing these days – people use a site to view information about a proposed product and respond verbally to what they are shown and asked.   Most of the respondents follow a predictable pattern, reading a question, giving a brief answer, and moving on – but one of them took an unusual and rather interesting approach: she had a conversation with the product page.
“You say you are a [type of company] and that you want to talk to me about a new product called [product name].    I understand the kind of company you are and I do not know anything about the product.” 
 “You say that this product is supposed to [description of benefit].  I understand what you mean, and I think that what you’re offering is interesting to me because [her reason for being interested] but I am also suspicious about [certain aspects of the agreement].”
 “You say that [key selling point] and I’m not sure I believe you.   It sounds good, but right now it’s just a claim you’re making without proof.  I’ll be listening to hear if you provide any support for that claim later.”
She carried on throughout the test like this, “you say” the various information we presented on the product information page.  “I think” about what her reactions were.   It was very thorough, detailed, and useful.

I’d like to be able to coach others to do this, but my sense is it would be weird and artificial for them, and it might taint the results.   But I do think that this conversational model can be flipped to talk about the product and page design.   “We are telling the user [this], and we expect them to think [that]” – or for more interactive models, to say “We are asking the user [this] and we expect them to say [that]”

I’ll mediate on this a bit more later – for now I wanted to document the experience and its potential for use as a design method.