Post updated by Lexi Rodrigo
How would you like to know EXACTLY what to say in your marketing messaging? To know EXACTLY what sort of blog post to write to generate lots of comments? To know EXACTLY what brand identity you need to have in order to inspire a large group of people and turn them into raving fans?
These are exactly the kinds of things you’ll know when you clearly understand your ideal customer or client.
It’s a critical piece of foundational marketing that you absolutely NEED to have. How do you get it? Good news: you can have it one hour from now just by following the steps in this post.
Getting Started: What Is a Customer Profile?
A customer profile, also known as a buyer persona or avatar, is a vividly-written description of one person who represents your ideal customer. This “ideal customer” can either be imaginary or based on a real person, and you describe this individual in great detail, from general demographic information (age, gender, occupation), to emotional factors (fears, hopes, dreams), to details about their intimate lives, such as what breakfast cereal they eat, which bands they listen to, and what guilty pleasure they indulge in.
Keep in mind that while your actual customers will be diverse, your customer profile gives you an easy shorthand to crystallize precisely who you are targeting, what challenges they experience, and how you will communicate with them.
The Problem with Speaking to a Target Market
Most of the time people go about identifying their niche the wrong way. Their first mistake? Defining their audience or target market.
Here are examples of target markets I pulled out of real business plans I received to review (some changes have been made to protect the innocent):
“Women, 27-39, single, educated, income of over $40,000 and who like eating chocolate.”
Now, if you are a chocolatier or an SEO specialist, you might be pretty proud of yourself, thinking you narrowed your focus from “everybody” to a subset of the market.
But have you, really?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any woman who doesn’t like chocolate!
And the second statement pretty much includes all young men with any sort of online business!
These descriptions of target markets are not specific enough. They describe a ton of people—too many people, in fact.
And the more people you try to speak to, the more diluted your message becomes, because you’re trying to appeal to pretty much everyone. And the more diluted your message, the more ineffective it becomes.
The problem? We tend to think “target market,” which implies a group of people.
Who You Should Be Addressing Instead
Instead, I’d like you to start thinking “customer profile,” which implies ONE person—the ONE person for whom you exist to serve with your product or service.
You don’t want to be lots of things to lots of people. You want to be inspirational to the RIGHT person—the ONE person. And if you inspire that ONE person and enough numbers of that ONE person, then you will dominate your niche.
Speaking to the ONE person means you never describe your audience as being: “women, 27-39, single, educated, income of over $40,000 and who like eating chocolate” ever again.
No ONE person is 27-38, anyway (except for my friend, Bess, whose age has been known to fluctuate in relation to the number of eligible bachelors in the room).
No, from now on, you’ll describe your audience like this:
“Jane. 30 years old. Bachelor’s degree in the Arts. Works in an account management job she doesn’t like and is currently scoping out a new career. Thinking about getting a Master’s degree. Single, having recently dumped a loser boyfriend. Has lots of friends she hangs with watching ‘Sex in the City’ and eating expensive ice cream. She drives a Honda, works out three times a week and goes to the spa about once a month.”
Now Jane is a real, living, breathing person, isn’t she? And isn’t it a lot easier to speak to her?
Only Talk to the ONE Target Customer
I can hear you protesting: “But if I talk to Jane, won’t I be leaving out other people?”
Yes, and no. You won’t be speaking directly to people who aren’t Jane. And that’s a good thing.
The idea of talking to only one person scares entrepreneurs because they think that’s the only person who will ever buy from them again. Good grief—not true at ALL!
Let me ask you something. Who buys Apple products? Who is Apple’s ONE person. Can you imagine him or her?
I bet you conjured up this image: Young, urbanite, hip, tech-savvy, trendy, on-the-go, about-the-town, forward-looking, and always pushing boundaries. Apple speaks to this persona, just watch one of their ads:
So if this is Apple’s ONE person, how do you explain the fact that I saw a charming grandmother enjoying her iPad at a local coffee shop?Clearly, even though Apple talks to ONE person, other people buy Apple products, too. And I’m sure we all know someone who is a rabid Apple fan but doesn’t fit the mold of Apple’s ONE person.
So what gives? Well, here’s the crux of the whole deal. The ONE person is never going to be the only one buying from you. It’s simply the only ONE you should be speaking to at all times.
And not just because it makes marketing a ton simpler.
When you direct your messaging to your ONE person, your message and consistency will inspire a whole bunch of others who either: (a) feel affinity with that ONE person, (b) aspire to be that ONE person, or (c) admire that ONE person—and then all these people will ALSO become your clients. Grandma wants to feel connected and modern. Let her!
So quit worrying about shutting everyone else out if you talk to the ONE person. You won’t. If anything, you will attract loads more people with your precise and clear brand.
Ready for some examples?
Ideal Customer Profile Examples
Example #1: Heather
Heather is a 26-year old single, female, solo entrepreneur with a graphic design business. She completed a graphic design degree at the local college. She is an expert designer, quite tech-savvy, but still learning the ropes when it comes to being an entrepreneur.
She’s energetic and spunky, and her energy and charisma usually land her the gigs. She makes $37,000 a year, but wants that to go over $45,000 next year. She dreams of eventually being able to charge top dollar for her work, but for now she knows she needs to develop her portfolio and to systemize her business a bit better.
She’s very worried that she’ll always be fighting to fill the pipeline with new clients. She works from her home office, the second bedroom of a condo she bought a couple of years ago. She works out at the gym three times a week to stay in shape, she used to be an athlete in high school. When she is not working, she enjoys go out to clubs with her friends and travelling.
Now that you’ve described Heather, everything you do, every blog post, every piece of marketing, every product, every branding decision should be examined through Heather’s eyes.
Will Heather like this? If the answer is yes, then you’re successfully sticking to your brand identity and talking to the right person. And she will recognize that and reward you with her business.
Example #2: Laura
Laura is a 45-year-old executive in a Fortune 500 company. She has a great salary and has experienced an upward trajectory throughout her career, but she feels like she has reached the upper limits of growth in her current position. This is causing her to feel unfulfilled and restless, despite the fact that people like and approve of her work. She is spending a lot of hours at the office and would love to spend more time with her family, but she needs an alternative income stream in order to be able to do that.
Laura is feeling a lot of turbulence around the fact that she’s just going through the motions at work, but she has two children who are about to hit their college years, so she needs to maintain her income. She wants something different and dreams of doing bigger things, but she’s nervous about navigating the process of either changing jobs or taking the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Deep down, Laura dreams of developing her hobby of calligraphy and hand lettering into a side business. She is extremely artistic and gifted at what she does, but she isn’t sure it can be turned into a big income generator. Still, she’s open to trying different ideas and pursuing growth in that area.
What kind of business might create a customer profile like Laura’s? Can you think of a product or service that might consider Laura an “ideal client”? Perhaps it is a career coach, a salary negotiation service, or a product in the personal development space. Or it might be someone who is helping others to turn their hobby into an income stream.
Example #3: Frank
Frank owns a million-dollar business, but he hasn’t been able to scale and break through an invisible barrier to double the company. Every time he tries to scale, things tend to fall apart. He fluctuates between $900,000 and $1.2 million, but he has stayed stagnant at that level for two years, despite growing to a million in revenue very fast.
Frank has never defined an actual organizational structure. He didn’t think his team needed one, as people were cooperative and he felt like structure would just impose a bunch of red tape on the day-to-day operations. However, all of the decision making in his business invariably comes back to him, and there’s not much of a company culture to speak of.
Frank feels stuck, because even though he has decent margins, he feels like the whole business is held together by duct tape and chicken wire. Every day feels hectic and exhausting. His goal is not to build a million dollar business and then relax. Instead, he wants to keep growing. He just can’t figure out what it takes.
Buyer Persona Template: Now it’s time to define YOUR one person!
Think about your ONE person. The one who you were thinking of when you started your business. The one for whom you developed your product or service.
We’ve got a customer persona template that you can use to get crystal clear on every detail about your one person.
Please leave a comment! Have you defined your ONE person? If not, will you right now? What did you learn from your ONE person exercise?