How to Use Storyboards to Enrich Buyer Personas and Improve the E-Commerce Customer Experience

Make no mistake about it – representing customers in e-commerce marketing planning is hard. There’s a lot to consider. For example, what are their objectives? What are their biases and preferences? What are their typical journeys through your website? Where do they source product information and who influences their purchase decision? These are just a few of the questions you need to continually ask.

So it’s likely that at one point or another, you’ve used a “proxy” or a “pencil sketch” of your target buyers. Whether it’s “Amy” the customer, or the “panicked mom” archetype, buyer personas can be an incredibly useful distillation of a mass of data points, which in their raw form are overwhelming and don’t contribute to action or critical decision making.

But what’s being left out?

Do your personas include intentions? Do they capture the reason behind the action? The mindset? If you’ve invested heavily in understanding your customers, the answer might be yes. But have you considered your customer’s situation, or their location, or all of the things competing for their attention?

This might sound like a discussion about e-commerce user experience (UX) design, which is often left to those unicorns who can not only talk with a customer in an effective way, but also design and code! That said, there’s actually more value to be derived from such questions, beyond what a UX designer would use for their projects.

Taking a deep look at a customer, at exactly who they are, what their intentions are, and where they are, can contribute to better campaign design and execution, and better results. This is true whether you’re preparing email marketing, push notifications, personalization campaigns, discount coupons, product merchandising, or seasonal offers.

So what?

Because mobile is a primary channel for a large portion of customers and is involved in up to 90% of purchases, it’s important to consider the physical environment the customer is in when he interacts with your website, email promotion, or app.

The power of storyboards in e-commerce strategy

That might be old news – if your organization has tied the ROI of customer research together with lifetime customer value. If not, then the above is a great starting point. For organizations in this situation, embracing the use of storyboards can be a powerful next step, and perhaps a leapfrog opportunity to create even better, more relevant customer campaigns.

Storyboards have been used in a variety of contexts – from Hollywood and corporate video production to creative development and website design. The twist here is that storyboards are not used for what the customer sees or interacts with, but as a means to illustrate the customer situation as they interact with your marketing, emails, website, or app.

This might seem like the kind of thing to do when you have nothing left to do but stop and think for a second about how your whole team could benefit from visualizing the customer and their world.

When you consider that 65 percent of the total population are visual learners, and that marketers tend to be more skewed towards this medium, you’ve got a strong argument for creating customer storyboards to accompany your persona descriptions.

Don’t just illustrate a single customer scenario. Look at opportunities to illustrate their search behavior, their interaction with your email marketing and other promotions, and their browsing behavior – among other things.

Let’s get started already

Aim to compile three to five storyboards as a starting point, and solicit some feedback from other people on your team. For example, do the visuals ring true? Are they different from what other people imagined when thinking of customers? Do the illustrations depict the demographics of the customer? Collect feedback and improve your storyboards by factoring in this feedback. Once you have your set of three to five storyboards, test run them for a month, and then survey people who have been using them. Make sure you look for ways to deploy them in obvious, accessible places, and use some creativity – on the wall, in the team kitchen, in the bathroom! Make sure the team sees these storyboards a few times a day.

For long-term success, aim to refresh storyboards regularly, and build out a collection that illustrates your customers and the scenarios that represent all their interactions with your company. Don’t forget customer service interactions, and even those offline moments when they’re not connected to your website or app – package delivery, unboxing, sharing with friends, returning items, etc.

And for extra icing on the cake, think about how you can verify your storyboards with real user data – aggregate surveys, customer profiles from orders, analytics, and any other source you have available, in order to create data-backed, visual scenarios. Your development team might also be interested, once they see how impactful these have been on the marketing team.