You know that old gag where the husband gives his wife a bowling ball for her birthday? Or the much-reviled (but sadly true) stereotype of the overzealous soccer parents who are one outburst away from joining the game themselves? Each of these are classic examples of what happens when you make the mistake of thinking that something meant for someone else is all about you.
You’ve probably seen this happen plenty at work, too. I call it “client narcissism.” It manifests itself in many ways, but here’s an easy one: your client, a retailer, is spending weeks working out the details of the “About Us” section of their website, which they insist should be the second option in the main navigation. Instinctively, you sense that prioritizing that kind of inside information is off-point, but you don’t exactly know how to clue your client in. You could be blunt:
“Sorry, but tell the Vice President of such-and-such that the customers probably care just as little about who he is as he does about the sneakers his company sells.”
Right, try that one out if you’re comfortable with shedding a client or two. But if you want to keep your client—or better yet, continue to develop your consultative position with them—you’re definitely going to need to try something a bit more subtle and strategic.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that strategic approach is actually an opportunity to teach your client about web personas. Steve Mulder, author of The User is Always Right, defines a web persona as a “realistic personality profile that represents a significant group of your website’s users.” Even though creating consumer personas has been a common marketing practice for decades—with which your client may even have direct experience—applying the same principles to website planning tends to be overlooked. But without going through the process of web persona development, your client is much more prone to making guesses (at best) or assumptions (at worst) about who their prospects are. In most cases, their guesses/assumptions will really look more like them than anyone else. Creating web personas, whether they are specific, general, or behavioral, prevents us from mistakenly building websites for ourselves rather than those we want to serve.