Stakeholders, Audiences, Personas, and Users: Considering the People in Discovery and UX Design

Ralph Otto author photo
Ralph Otto Director of Product

Every agency does things differently, so let us first clarify the language we use to describe the different groups of people that might play a factor in a website redesign.

“Stakeholders” are people within your organization who may need some representation on the website. We group website visitors with similar needs as “audiences.” We create fictitious profiles called “personas” to gain alignment on what a typical member of each audience looks like. “Users” or “Visitors” are people who use the website when it is in a limited beta release or live.

Stakeholders

In our Discovery process, we include stakeholders from different departments to ensure we fully understand how the organization could best leverage the website. Often, corporate websites are centered around lead generation. However, internal needs often affect how the website comes together (e.g., resources for existing customers, handling customer service requests, legal compliance with accessibility and privacy, etc.). 

Still trying to figure it out? Here’s a little more about how we think about stakeholders and what we mean when discussing departmental priorities.

This is a gross oversimplification, but we use the information we gain in the Discovery process to form a Product Roadmap that outlines what we plan to do, the timeline/sequence of deliverables, and any future considerations we need to have in mind throughout our engagement. 

Audiences

Discovery is where we create and define audiences. Below is a presentation we did for a local chapter of the Legal Marketing Association that helps break down our approach to Discovery (relevant for all industries). This process is customized for each organization we work with. As you may imagine, marketing and brand documentation vary wildly between clients.

LMA Presentation – Maximizing Your Current Digital Assets

We always define audiences and needs because this determines the user experience we create. Our perspective is that, if reasonably possible, the website must serve each audience’s needs. We often see that many segments of a website’s target audience have overlapping requirements, so we can group their concerns efficiently and create features that provide value to multiple groups.

We can’t share actual client audience deliverables as this is almost always proprietary information, but below is a redacted portion of a discussion we led as part of Discovery to give you an idea of what we may discuss. The insight from this discussion allows us to define what the website needs to do to maximize utility for all audiences. 

Example Audience Discussion

Skipping the client proprietary audience definition, below is a presentation we did for Digital RVA highlighting a geotargeting tactic we used on a customer’s B2B audience and the results of that work.

Digital RVA Presentation – Improving B2B Sales Through Geo-targeted Content

Personas

*Whew* still with us? This may be controversial, but we don’t always do qualitative personas. Why? Personas require significant investment and don’t age well, requiring maintenance (i.e., they become outdated and thrown out). Personas are typically based on research, data, and analysis. They are precious in product development, but we have seen them overcomplicate and impede progress for website redesigns.

In our opinion, personas for marketing websites should help gain alignment and serve as a visualization of who we’re marketing to and what their priorities are. We tend to use proto-personas when needed. As we gain insights and get user feedback, the website personas change. Here’s one of our favorite articles from the Nielsen Norman Group that outlines the differences. Because these proto-personas don’t take very long to create, we don’t feel bad if we don’t maintain them or throw them away later.

Users

While we sometimes recommend doing user research during Discovery, we can often rely on our experience, studies already conducted, or industry insights to assist in forming our understanding of who the website is for. When we do user research, we use a combination of tactics depending on the engagement budget and the level of research needed to hone the project approach.

For simple user research, we often distribute user surveys and correlate the results against behavioral analytics like Google Analytics. When our clients have a good read on customers, stakeholder interviews can yield significant insights into user needs. These are low-effort and low-investment tools to collect information across a large group.

We combine tactics, including the broad research methods above, to understand more complex user challenges. We also conduct user interviews, speak with brand champions, examine industry data, and set up specific measurements in existing analytics.

For many clients, doing robust research is outside the budget and can delay the redesign process. We recommend leaning into simple user research methods to expedite the initial redesign and get the website in front of real users.

As mentioned, we lean on website users (a.k.a. visitors) to provide us with data that we use to improve the website over time. This is important because until the website is live, all of our work and research is an unproven hypothesis. Once the website is in front of real people, we can collect data through behavior analytics and customer feedback. This data is analyzed monthly, and tactical changes that drive business results are prioritized.

All the People

Hopefully, this helps you understand how to think about people during the Discovery process. This is an essential part of the website planning and strategy process and will be the foundation for the UX design process and what functionality is created in development.

Feel free to reach out with any questions. We’re happy to share more thoughts on website planning, strategy, and design. Say [email protected], give us a ring, or contact us.