Building Buyer Personas for Banking Websites

Here are six critical questions financial institutions need to ask when crafting a more personalized online experience.

Today’s consumers demand a more personalized experience from their financial institution. Whether in person at the branch or online, consumers want to be in charge of their financial choices and monetary transactions. Instead of being “marketed at” and “sold to,” consumers want to be engaged by their financial institution. In response, many financial institutions have smartly eschewed the traditional “product push” approach and are finding ways to satisfy consumers’ specific needs and expectations at the most opportune times.

The Financial Brand’s Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions for 2014 says progressive financial institutions are increasingly exploring website personalization — how to deliver a more tailored online experience through activity-based marketing. Website personalization can be a complex topic, combining strategic acumen with sophisticated content management technologies. It all starts with buyer personas.

What Is a ‘Buyer Persona?’

Buyer personas serve as the building blocks of your personalization strategy, establishing representative profiles that banks and credit unions can use to target online consumers with greater precision. Personas are user profiles that model consumer behavior and product interaction based on individual attitudes, goals, needs and motivations. Personas define archetypical characters based on who is likely interact with a product, service or software based on a range of factors including demographics and socioeconomics. To maximize the online user experience, personas can be leveraged in both the design of a site as well as in planning what type of content is served.

For financial institutions, personas identify key audiences that visit your banking site, broken down into unique market segments. Each segment is represented by a prototypical consumer — a persona who exemplifies that each segment’s wants, needs, priorities and expectations. The characteristics defining each personas are most often revealed through a combination of market research and actual consumer data. You’ve got to find out at what real people are doing and thinking in the real world. Only then will you be able to draw educated assumptions and weave consumers’ criteria into persona profiles.

( Read More: 6 Steps to Personalizing Bank & Credit Union Websites )

How Personas Shape Your Online Strategy

Personas can serve a key role in the creation of an institution’s online strategy, so they should be established very early on in a website redesign initiative because they help provide direction and scope for so many of the project stakeholders — from C-level leadership to copywriters, designers and developers. In essence, personas force everyone to attack the fundamental question: “Who are we building this site for?” And there isn’t just one single answer. Establishing three to five primary personas will serve as a solid starting point for most financial institutions’ website personalization strategy.

For designers and writers, these personas give the creative team vital information about the site audiences, which is crucial in creating a wireframing and design strategy, as well as crafting website content. Developers, using a content management system (CMS) that supports website personalization, should be able to build a site that supports a wide range of personalized experiences — from headlines and banners, to prompts for related- and recently-viewed items.

6 Ways to Define Buyer Personas

For banks and credit unions, personas are used to identify groups of users critical to success — both existing and potential future relationships. Through internal meetings and agency consultations, critical questions must be answered in order to carefully customize the financial institution’s buyer personas.

1. How do we define the financial institution’s current primary audiences? Strategists must segment audiences based on all available consumer information and input.

2. Which target markets do the financial institution wish to go after? Just because you might be able to break down and define a dozen different user groups doesn’t mean you necessarily care about all of them equally. There is probably a particular age range that represents a strong growth opportunity for the financial institution, such as Millennials. Or perhaps there’s some other cross-section of society that you need to woo. The more specific, the better.

3. What can we learn about people’s likes, dislikes, needs and desires from consumer research, data and interviews? You need to utilize all the tools at your disposal to shed light on what your key audiences expect. For example, the right data might reveal that a key offering such as mobile banking is being overlooked — how can the content be more personalized?

4. What do existing site analytics and form data indicate about the financial institution’s consumers? A deeper dive into your web data can reveal usage patterns and predictable behaviors helpful in crafting personas, mapping out site activities and delivering pertinent content. You really need sophisticated conversion and event tracking solutions to pull this off — a limited set of basic web analytic tools isn’t going to get it done.

5. Which services should be promoted and served according to user personas? It’s important to match your content to your personas and plan content development accordingly. For example, a persona centering on the flourishing family might be looking for educational information on the site about tips for saving for college versus diving directly into specific savings plans.

6. How can website content that meet users’ needs feel tailored, personalized and timely? It’s important to adjust your messages to something of value to each persona. Each audience wants to feel that your institution understands their unique needs. For instance, a persona modeled around a middle-class small business owner might trigger a promotion for one-on-one small business loans consultation, especially if the user visits the small business loans page on the site.

Profiling Financial Consumers With Online Buyer Personas

All of these strategic considerations come into play when plotting and planning your financial institution’s buyer personas. As you plan for your next website redesign, it’s important to understand the value, complexity and process of strategic persona development, the additional resources you might need to turn strategy into reality, and, of course, careful selection of a content management system that will support your institution’s personalization needs long-term. As with most technology-based strategic solutions, an iterative, “walk before you run” approach is recommended, so that you can evaluate what’s working for your institution’s buyer personas, as they apply to your website personalization. The result is an institution site that better caters to audience’s intent, ideally resulting in better conversions and interaction with your brand.


Chris Rinaldi is a Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury CT that has built hundreds of bank and credit union websites. To discuss your digital strategy needs with ZAG, call 860.633.4818 or send an email.

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