Raise your hand if you've ever been told to create an ideal customer avatar (ICA).
Raise your hand if you really know what the hell your ICA actually needs and wants?
(eh, not really)
To be honest, I think avatars are kind of dumb.
If making up an imaginary person and creating a profile will help you understand what your ideal clients / customers want – then good for you.
But for most people – this makes no sense.
Why Defining Your Ideal Customer Is Holding You Back
If you want to sell your products and services to real live human beings, how is making up a fake persona really going to help you? I've never really been into make believe (unless you count reality tv, in which case I am really into that), so maybe that's where the disconnect is for me, but I KNOW I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Let me be clear though –
I do think it's important to have a target audience.
If you are trying to sell to everyone, you are probably selling to no one. And even if you think you are selling to a specific group of people (like “stay at home moms” / “creative entrepreneurs” / “dog owners”) – you should probably get MORE specific. Having a target audience will help you tremendously when it comes to your branding, your marketing strategy, your copy, and the products and services you offer.
If you're just starting out and you don't REALLY know who your ideal audience is – that's ok. But when you focus on attracting, relating, and selling to a target audience – everything is easier. And more effective.
So how do you figure out who your target audience is if you have no idea who they are?
#Realtalk – I have a hard time believing anyone when they say they have no idea at all. Maybe you're indecisive and don't want to commit to a particular group or maybe your business is so new that you don't want to turn away potential customers by focusing on a target audience – but the more specific your messaging is, the more relatable it is.
My honest advice?
Just start somewhere.
Pick one. You can always change it later.
That's the beauty of owning your own business. If you decide that you want to focus on creating brand identities for millenial food photographers and in a few months you realize you actually hate food photography because it makes you hungry ALL THE TIME, you can decide to change things up.
If you've been in a business for a while, you can probably identify the types of people you've enjoyed working with. Who are the clients that have turned into friends? Who can you relate to the best?
Not sure where to start? Start with yourself.
Personally, I want to work with people like myself.
Lipstick wearing entrepreneurs who left corporate life to do something more creative. They care about aesthetics, they value planning / systems, they want to build empires, and they also probably love puppies + Bravo tv. I “get” them – because I'm like them!
My target audience is similar to me, but not ME – so maybe you're “me” a few years ago – working a corporate job with a side hustle and hoping to turn it into a full time career. Maybe you're “me” several months ago (before I cracked the Instagram code and figured out how to rapidly grow a profitable following), and you want your pet to be insta-famous too. Or maybe you're “me” now, and have the same values / interests / audience, but your strengths are design + development whereas mine are marketing + sales.
Chances are, you probably want to work with people like yourself too. It just makes sense. And it also makes it easier to develop content that's helpful and relatable, because you can put yourself in your “former shoes” to think about the types of things that would have appealed to you before you got to where you are today.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Having a target audience will help you tremendously when it comes to your branding, your marketing strategy, your copy, and the products and services you offer. ” quote=”Having a target audience will help you tremendously when it comes to your branding, your marketing strategy, your copy, and the products and services you offer. “]
What if you don't want to work with people who are like you?
Well that's weird.
Kidding. It's probably more of an opposites attract type of situation, which makes sense too.
If you don't want to work with people who are like you – who are the types of people you naturally attract? Who are the people you hang out with? Who are the people who could most benefit from your products and services?
Your target audience should be composed of people you actually like that ALSO need your products and services.
If your target audience is not like you, but is like someone else you know (a friend, parent, sibling, etc.) then instead of creating an avatar to “represent” that person, actually spend time getting to know that person and their peers better so you can really understand what they need.
But what if I REALLY can't pick one person as my target customer?
I never said you should.
That's another thing that bothers me about the “ideal customer avatar” – most people teach you to create just one. So you make up one fake person with one fake set of needs and that's supposed to help you sell your products and services to a larger group of real life people.
I'm going to mess with your mind and tell you that it's ok to appeal to more than one person. Because the truth is, YOUR BUSINESS HAS TO APPEAL TO MORE THAN ONE PERSON, unless you plan on literally having one customer forever. Not all people are going to buy your products or choose to work with you for the same reason – they don't all have the exact same needs and they don't all want the exact same things. That would be really boring.
This is NOT an excuse to be all over the place when it comes to your marketing. You shouldn't try to appeal to everyone, and you should still try to get as specific as possible. But if you have a target audience made up of living, breathing people – it's much easier to find where those people hang out, get to know them, and create products and services that help them than to make up one, single avatar and try to find them in Neverland or wherever it is that avatars hang out.
I get it, but I'm still trying to figure things out…
Stop wasting time. Yes, you can figure things out along the way. Maybe you need to work with a few different types of people before you figure out who your target audience is. But don't let defining your target audience stop you from getting started or gaining momentum in your business.
LOVE this post, Elle! I was held up for a long time because I thought I needed to define a single, specific person before I even knew what the heck I was doing. Everything became so much easier once I gave up on that and just focused on a general audience. There’s a time and place for an avatar, but I definitely don’t think it’s something that people should be stressing themselves out over. Thanks for the great post!
This post is so spot on for me! Thank you for these nuggets! P.S. I also love Bravotv!
Great publish. I’m constantly trying to get people to understand that your website, your brand, your business … is ABSOLUTELY about Y-O-U. And there’s so much conflicting crap out there that gets away from that.
You nailed it here! And I’ll forgive your love of “reality” TV. :)
Great tips! Loving this so much!!
A really informative article! Love getting some insight on this topic, espeically for helping grow our cute wall decal company! Thanks alot.
Great tips, Elle!! This is so true! Thanks for sharing!
I love what you’re saying girl! I think we can get caught up in defining our audience/reader/customer, to the point we want things to be “perfect.”
But the thing is, the person we envision is never going to be exactly like our real audience. I like what you said about starting with yourself. that’s a great place to start.
I’m a big proponent of actually asking your audience what they want, instead of trying to make up with persona and amusing what they want.
Thanks for sharing your tips!
I started a bit backwards in my business and figured out my target market after working for a year… no shame in that! Sometimes, you have to just put your product or services out there and see what type of people they attract.
I heard this example before (and don’t ask me where! LOL): If you start off making cooking videos with the aim to sell family friendly recipes but you find out your target market is college aged guys, change your marketing strategy to fit that!
I agree and think it’s more important to be flexible then to create an ideal, fantasy version of your customer.
I so relate to this! I’ve been trying this exercise recently but I really just don’t think there’s ONE right person for a lot of businesses. Having a target market in general is definitely important though!
This is actually the best advice I’ve seen in such a long time.
That’s exactly how I started my platform: Focusing on myself. I wanted to create a place where a girl like me was looking for specific type of information.
Another point you made is to start somewhere. I think we all have an idea of where we thinking we want to be. We see the ideal business, client, life, etc. But things just don’t work out that way and this is where people quit. As an entrepreneur it’s important you start SOMEWHERE. As you pointed out, you can always make adjustments!