Next level CRO: The Scenarios framework

Increasing conversion rates can become very hard. After basic usability improvements are done and the best practices are already applied, we need to do something more to keep increasing Converting visitors. "Quickwins" are OK for websites where the margin of improvement is massive. But if you are already an stablished payer... well, you know it´s tough.

To deliver an Intuitive and Persuasive experience to our visitors, we need data, we need web analytics, and we need research. And we need to combine them all together in techniques and frameworks like "Scenarios".

Using a CRO framework based on Scenarios may sound new to you. But It's not. 9 years ago Bryan Eisenberg  already wrote about them in a Forrester Report:

"Scenario design helps users achieve their goals. How do you plan scenarios? [...]. You design persuasive scenarios by turning the information you have on your users into personas."

Let's deep dive on how can we use this framework and how can it improve our conversion rates.

What are Scenarios?

Scenarios are in short:

"Plausible descriptions of future situations based on a coherent set of assumptions"

Kim Goodwin

A more detailed definition of Scenarios:

“A scenario is a short story about a specific user with a specific goal at your site. Scenarios are the questions, tasks, and stories that users bring to your Web site and that the Web site must satisfy. Scenarios are critical both for designing Web sites and for doing usability testing.  

Create Scenarios

In disciplines like Military, Business and Sport, strategists have been using Scenarios for decades, in order to be prepared for any possible plausible situation based on their knowledge. In UX, Web Design and CRO, that's not different.

Get started

To create Scenarios we need to have your website Personas identified.

You REALLY need them.

Doing CRO without using Personas or some-kind-of-personas-approach will led you to slow and small conversion rate increases.

If you don't have the resources, time or authority to create your website Personas, there are some other strategies that you can use (post coming soon). But for this post, let's assume that you already have the Personas defined for your website. If that's not the case, at least you should identify the main roles visiting your website, and dress them with all the research data you have available.

Important note: The role based approach won't work as well as Personas, but can help you to define basic scenarios. If you use the role-based approach, just don't call it Personas. They are not!

Creating Scenarios

The first thing we need to do  is answering the following questions about every Persona we have defined:

1 What is the Persona's deep motivation?

Understanding our Persona's motivation enables us to understand the Persona's decisions and behavior. Motivations are hard to identify and state, but something like "Being perceived as an expert in a topic by the quality of the contents shared" can be translated to "Acceptance". If you have hard times identifying your Persona's motivations, Dr Steven Reiss's 16 Basic desires can help you:

  1. Acceptance: the need for approval
  2. Beauty: the need for aesthetically appealing environment
  3. Curiosity: the need to understand
  4. Eating: strength of interest in food
  5. Expedience: motivation to take practical advantage of opportunities
  6. Family: the need to spend time with family
  7. Idealism: the need to improve society
  8. Interdependence: motivation to rely on others
  9. Order: the need to be organized
  10. Physical activity: the need for exercise
  11. Power: the need to lead, for influence of will
  12. Saving: the need to collect
  13. Social contact: the need for friends
  14. Status: the need for prestige
  15. Tranquility: the need to play it safe
  16. Vengeance: strength of competitive spirit

2 What is this Persona's main goal in our website?

We are not talking about "web analytics goals". Subscribing to a newsletter's is no one's goal. Being informed about news on a specific topic, is. A goal is the materialization of a motivation. Getting a present for your mother, finding a cheap marketing Online course, are examples of persona's goals. Again, some hints from the before mentioned Forrester report:


3 What tasks will our Persona perform to achieve the goals?

How many visits, how many devices, how many screens will the Persona use to achieve his goal? Defining the whole process  (User Journey) from the User's point of view (and not the designer's) will bring some light to the Multi screen chaos we are living today.


Source: Google Think Insights.

4 How will the Persona behave?

That's the crucial part. We need to understand the mental model of our Personas based on our research. (If you moved for the role-based profiles you'll miss the best part). We are trying to answer questions like:

  • Is this Persona using the internal search engine or is it browsing categories?
  • Does he call to the Customer Support?
  • Will the persona search again on Google or will bookmark our page?
  • Will he use the chat or he won't cause he believes there's no-one on the other side? (example of pattern extracted from user's interviews).

Once we define for each persona: Why, What, Which and How, It's time to put it all together in one or several Scenarios.

Example of Persona and Scenario: James

After tough research this is one of our 4 Personas for our Poker apparel e-commerce site:

James "Occasional player for fun of being with friends"

Picture from

James Sulivan, New York, is 26 and he works as graphic designer for a software company.

He never was very interested in the game of Poker itself, but he just loves spending the first thursday's evening of every month with his friends playing low stakes cash games.

They began doing this just two years ago, when he was invited by the colleagues of the new work. They are very into Poker, and they speak about a play in the WSOP TV show for hours. He's not, but he's learning just by listening to them. James believes that this is a luck game, and he's beaten many times before his friends being worst, because of luck.

James is quiet character and methodical. He always thinks before talking, and when he buys online he wants to be sure that he's getting the best quality and price possible, so he'd spend a little more if he's sure that that's what he needs.

Jame's Goals:

  • Be one of the group. Keep the minimum skills required to be part of the game.
  • Play for fun. He tries to keep the stakes low so he's not loosing money.
  • Have time for him and his co-workers out of the office and his girlfriend.
  • Learn with his own experience. He's sure that's the way to improve his skills.

That's our persona James, and that's the Scenario introduction:

James wants to be nice to their colleagues, and make a step ahead hosting one poker game. He's talked to his Girlfriend Lisa and she agreed, as long as he'd take care of the cleaning.

James wants to buy a poker set to host the game next month. The chips they usually use at Tom's place look great. He heard they are made of clay. He doesn't want to spend a lot of money, as he's not a Poker fan and he'll use them just with the work friends, but he's looking for some medium quality.

He'll need cards and a top as well, and he has no idea of where to begin with.

This is an introduction of the scenario that will detail how Jame's will search the web and scan our webpage to buy the best set for him. Is it going to happen in one visit? Will he check the website from other devices? Login in to the site is part of the scenario? Why he does what he does? Everything should be explained in the Scenario description.

Remember that the difference between Scenarios and Tasks or Use cases is that Scenarios include the motivations and emotions that drive Jame's actions. Behavioral economics skills are very important at this point to create a realistic Scenario. For instance, James has no idea of how much a Poker set costs, so fo him the anchor price is KEY to have him spending a higher AOV in our e-commerce.

Other possible Scenarios to develop for James would be:

  1. They decide to make a present to Tom, the "expert" player. They want to give him a nice set of Ceramic Poker chips. James acts as informal leader and decides to take care of it. What would he do?  How would the decide which one to buy?
  2. James decides to improve his skills and he's looking for a cheap beginners Poker book on Google.
  3. James receives his Poker set but it's not in good shape an decides to return it.

Back to our main Scenario, where Jame's is buying a set to host the game, thanks to the Scenario we know:

  • Why he wants a Poker set (clearly acceptance).
  • What he wants (to buy chips, cards and a top).
  • Which tasks he needs to accomplish: search in google, find out about chips, compare alternatives, buy, have it delivered. All the buying cycle unveiled.
  • How he'll make it. As he has no idea he'll need a lot of help from the website to know what is the best option for him.

You know what it means for us: Easy decissions on copy, hero shot, value proposal... lots fresh new  tests ahead!

The success of our Scenarios won't be achieved by having the best details on our personas, but by the tests we do based on that. This info will create REAL tests that will say if our scenario was right, or we failed in defining it.

Scenarios and CRO

How defining Scenarios affects to our Conversion Rate Optimization strategy?

We'll get 2 outputs of this Scenario.

  1. Requirements (new things that the website needs to do).
  2. Tests (things that already does but can be improved). The hypothesis behind the tests are explained in the Scenario description.

What we need to do at this point is to extract the requirements from the Scenario and transform them into  tests.

Let's create a simple table with Jame's example:

Keep doing this exercise for all the scenarios of your website Personas, until you have a pretty long list of requirements, functional elements and new things to test.

Now you just need to group them and pick the most important for your website.

Which are the ones that bring most value to you? Once you've identified the most important ones (web analytics will help you to find out), it's time to decide how to combine multiple persona's goals to fit in a page.

For example, a new and more detailed product description will not only help Jame's choosing a set of house game chips, but other persona's with different interests who also needs detailed information.

If you can't decide, focus on the most important (aka primary) persona first, and the most important goal. Our website must "persuade" as many visitors as possible, but having a primary persona can help you decide.

The next step would be prioritizing these tests, and deciding which new requirements will get in the development backlog. Prioritizing our optimization strategy is the Key for succeeding in CRO.

Scenario Conclusions

Working with Scenarios is complex at the beginning, and can look like a lot of work (mainly developing our Personas). It's true, it's not something you'll have solved in a morning (neither 2). But the benefits of using this framework are amazingly valuable.

Analyzing desegregated and isolated data like Keywords, Visits, Landing Pages or CTR's without having come context framework won't help us in the times of the Multi Screen world.

We need to see the full picture. The picture our user's see.

So... Did you reach the end of the post? What do you think about Scenarios and Personas? If you made it here, you have something to say FOR sure!

We do need your opinion to discuss!