Seth Godin once said, “Everyone is not your customer.” And he’s not wrong. While your potential market may consist of everyone in theory, not everyone is your ideal customer. For small business owners, the idea of turning away customers can feel foolish. Why would you narrow down the pool of people who may want to support your business? The simple answer is, if you’re not targeting the right people for your product or service, you’ll never discover your sweet spot in the market.
Identifying your ideal customer is the first phase of developing your marketing strategy. Your products or services may be perfect for one type of person, completely inappropriate for another, and just so-so for the rest. The better you understand your target audience, the better you’ll be able to reach them with an attractive message and the smarter you can be in your marketing; it will save you time, money and stress. Here’s how to get started.
Compile demographic information
Just as not everyone’s your customer, not all demographic information is important. You’re looking for information that will help you best understand your customer: who they are, where they are, what they need, and how they feel.
You likely already know demographic terminology. Whenever you refer to someone’s address, age, income, education, family size or marital status, you’re talking demographics. In short, they’re objective, directly observable or informed characteristics that describe people (or organizations, if yours is a B2B company), such as:
- Employment status
- Marital status
- Family status
- Physical characteristics
If you market to businesses rather than individuals, you can certainly create a demographic model for your ideal business customer—but that can be challenging. Start with the demographic details for the business, then dig deeper: Consider who’s making the decisions inside it and create the model for that person. For example, if you’re in the construction industry, you may be working with general contractors and home builders. But inside, there’s an estimator or a purchasing agent. What are the commonalities between the people you regularly connect with? You’ll want to consider:
- Job title (of the person making the purchase decision)
- Department (if you sell to large organizations)
- Product line
- Size of business (sales, number of employees, etc.)
- Type of business (manufacturer, distributor, retailer, etc.)
- Location (headquarters and branches/operating locations)
- Geographic scope of the business (local, regional, national, international)
- Financial status of the business (revenues, profitability, leverage, etc.)
Compiling these details will help you create a multi-faceted picture of your current and prospective customers.
Decide which demographics are most critical to shape your customer persona, then start collecting information. This can take some time, so begin with preliminary information you have from what you can observe about your customers, to any data you’ve collected through your sales process, loyalty programs, point-of-sale transactions or simple observation. There are many different ways to gather demographic data, so start with what you have at your disposal. Just keep in mind that the more real information you have, the more likely it is that your marketing strategy will hit the mark.
Psychographics are the other major component of your ideal customer persona. They’re the non-measurable characteristics of your target market, such as values, attitudes and behaviors. Instead of “who they are” (demographics), psychographics are “how they think.” They include defining features like:
- Self perceptions: What’s their personal image and what are their values?
- External perceptions: How do they perceive the world, and what are their expectations of the businesses they deal with?
- Purchase motivations: What functional or emotional needs drive them to buy?
- Emotional associations: What experiences or perceptions are common for your target customer that create positive or negative emotions?
To create a psychographic profile, think about someone who fits the exact demographic model of your ideal customer. With that customer in mind, write a description of what you imagine about their personal characteristics—or use whatever information you’ve already gathered from surveys or questionnaires. Here are some questions to get you started:
- How would they summarize their social and economic status?
- What’s important to them in life?
- What are their preferred activities?
- What do your products and your business need to do for them?
- What emotional gratifications do they want that your products and business can satisfy or contribute to?
The goal is to understand how your ideal customer thinks, how they perceive both the world and themselves, and what drives their behavior. Plenty of resources are available to help you create psychographic profiles, but keep the focus on the characteristics relevant to your business and products.
Remember, you don’t need to know everything right now. If you focus on what you do well and who you should market to, you can deliver on your brand promise and send the right messages to the right people. So, start with what you know, and add to it as you incorporate more data collection methods into your marketing strategy.