After you figure out your big idea and before the world is obsessed with your product, you have to find your customers. And in order to find your customers, you have to create customer profiles.
An ideal customer profile — or customer persona — is a way of defining and categorizing your customers so that you can: 1. shape your startup to their needs and; 2. market to them more effectively.
That’s the simple explanation. Now, per usual, let’s do a deep dive into the more complicated one.
Ideal customer profiles are important because without one, your startup is going to waste a lot of time trying to attract customers who are, at baseline, just not attracted to your product. They’re also the first step in defining your target market.
Think of it like online dating. If you post a profile that includes the one picture of you hiking, then you’re targeting people who like doing outdoorsy stuff. That’s great if you’re an outdoors type! But if you actually hate hiking or doing anything outdoors, then you’re going to go on a lot of disappointing dates. You’re going to waste money and time sifting through people who just aren’t a good match. You didn’t create an ideal profile, so you’re not reaching your ideal target audience.
The same goes for your customers. If you’re not exactly sure who they are, where they hang out, what their needs are, when you start marketing to them, then you’re going to waste a lot of time and money — two things that most startups don’t have in abundance.
The very first thing you need, before you even start to create a customer profile, is a clear definition of what your company is. That’s starting point number one. If you’ve gotten this far, we’re assuming you’ve already done that step. But if you haven’t,
The first step in creating an ideal customer profile is creating a consumer profile or persona. While a customer profile is looking at a group of people you can target, a consumer persona is the idealized personification of that group. In other words, it’s a fully fleshed out individual.
So figure out who that individual is. Ask yourself their: -Gender -Age -Location -Race or ethnicity -Job -Marital status -Parental status -Income -Hobbies -Education level
You can even figure out their hair color, height, and weight if you think it will give you a clearer vision of who they are! The idea is to create a fully formed person who will absolutely, 100 percent, without question buy your product.
Once you know all the personal info about your ideal consumer, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty with regards to your product and the market you exist within.
Ask: 1. What related products does X already use? 2. How much knowledge about those products does X already have? 3. What problems is X running into with their current products? 4. How could your product solve those problems? 5. Where does X hang out? Online? Offline? 6. What does X read? 7. What does X search for online?
Now that you’ve gathered all of that background info, it’s time to get a little more specific. In this section, you’re going to figure out what your user’s goals are — and how your product can help you meet them.
Ask: 1. What features might tip them over into purchasing your products? 2. What features might make them decide not to purchase your product? 3. What’s their biggest hesitation about trying your product? 4. How can you best engage them? 5. What specific language do they use to describe their problem? (This will help you write advertising and website copy later.)
In step 2, you asked where your customer hung out. Now we’re going to take an even deeper look at that question, so that you know exactly how to target them. The point of this section is to determine how, what, and why your ideal consumer interacts with the marketplace, in order to determine how they might interact with your product.
Ask: -What sites do they visit the most? -What search terms are they likely to use? (Do some verification here, too. Google AdWords is your friend.) -What kind of content do they share? -Which social media sites are they always on? -Which social media would they never touch?
Bonus tip: Make sure you have someone on your team who knows your ideal customer. If you aren’t your target customer – and, contrary to the popular myth, plenty of founders aren’t – make sure you have someone on your team who is.
Not only can that person with deep industry experience bring you insight about your audience, their pain points, and what’s meaningful to them – they also bring the contacts to match. And that can be invaluable when it comes to getting your foot in the door with would-be customers.
Once you have a clear vision of your ideal consumer, it’s time to expand into a broader target market. Your target market is a group or groups of consumers for whom a product or service is intended. Here’s how you figure it out:
Sometimes, defining your target market takes care of itself. If you’re building a B2B product for an ultra-specialized industry that only a handful of companies work in, your target market is that handful of companies.
Other times, the organizing principle that unites your target audience may be a little less clear. So how do you go about defining your target market in those cases? Your best bet is to utilize online tools, like social media and Google Analytics. Run A/B tests to on as many platforms as you can to determine who’s coming to your site organically. They’re a good place to start.
Another tried and true way to get to know who your target customers are and what matters to them: By talking to them.
In our age of big data and quantitative reasoning, we’ve all been trained to assume that data reigns supreme. But sometimes there really is no substitute for getting on a call, or even sitting across a table from them with a cup of coffee, and asking them what their pain points are. Qualitative research like this gets a bum rap in an environment that prizes data above all. But one-on-one conversations with your customers will get you something no quantitative survey can: real, deep psychological insight into your audience, their mindset, and what they want from you.
This brings us to the one major pitfall you absolutely want to avoid: Defining your target market without going outside of the insular brainstorming bubble of the team.
This is a trap we’ve seen startups fall in all too many times. Some founders become so fixated on who they want their target market to be, they forget to check and confirm that that’s who their target market actually is.
And more often than not, when you go that route, what you wind up with is not a target market at all. It’s a Frankenstein fever dream of a phantom creature that you think is your target market.
Trust us: Real target markets are way better than fantasy target markets. They’re a lot easier to sell to.
Once you’ve defined your target market, there’s only one thing left to do: Go get ‘em. From your product to your messaging to the way you introduce yourself at parties, focus everything you and your company do around your target market and the difference that you make in their lives.
If you’ve really done the work – if you’ve really pared your target market down to the lowest common denominator, the thing that unites them all and makes them all an ideal customer for your product – we’re willing to bet something amazing will happen.
We bet you’ll notice that a lot of things that used to feel really hard – like picking features or developing messaging or deciding – suddenly won’t feel so hard after all. Because once you’ve defined your target market – once you’ve planted your flag and said “this is who we are and this is who we’re for” – all of that other stuff falls into place.
Just like you, founder, your customer profile — or profiles — will play many roles in the lifespan of your startup. Here are three ways you can use it to keep your company and marketing on track.
The first and, arguably, most important thing a well-defined customer profile does for you? It helps you get ultra-focused on what you’re building and why.
The more well-defined your customer profile, the clearer your understanding of their problem – and the more directly you can calibrate your product to solve it.
Just as a well-defined customer profile and target market clarifies your thinking on the product side, it also brings clarity to your messaging, and how you go about explaining your value to your would-be customers.
The more narrowly you define who your customer profile and target market is, the more focused you can get with messaging to them, because you know exactly who they are, where they hang out, what they care about – and how your product fits in.
We understand the impulse to go broad with your marketing, believe us. But remember: brands that go big when it comes to reaching national and international target audiences through advertising pay dearly for that privilege.
That’s why even demographics we think of as being well-defined, like “men ages 18-64” may not be specific enough when it comes to keeping your marketing budgets in check.
Since you’re a startup, we’re willing to bet you’re not working with Mad Men-sized ad budgets. So keep whittling down your customer profile, and save your “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”-level creative ideas for when you’re ready for the big leagues.
It’s completely fine to develop more than one customer profile at once, as long as you meet two essential criteria:
You’re not overextending your team or your product in order to meet the needs of your target markets.
It’s important not to chase more markets just for the sake of chasing more markets. Each target market should correspond to a distinct audience – and your audiences should differ from each other in clear, easy-to-explain ways.
The first thing that should clue you into the fact that there might be something to the idea of getting specific with your customer profiles and target market? The fact that every company you know and love has done the exact same thing.
Even companies we think of as being everywhere today initially started with a much smaller, more focused audiences. For example:
As the completely factual, in no way dramatized nonfiction documentary The Social Network tells us, Facebook started as a social networking site specifically for students at Mark Zuckerberg’s alma mater, Harvard.
Initial customer profile: White, male, Harvard undergrad who has some trouble with socializing. (And/or just wants to rate the attractiveness of his female classmates.)
Then, it expanded to a handful of other colleges. Then, it expanded again to be open anyone with a .edu email address.
Finally, they opened Facebook to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address… three years after it launched. But you can see how their customer profile (which was basically just Mark Zuckerberg in avatar form) informed their initial launch and then how it evolved as the company grew.
Final target market: THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.
Like a lot of startups we could name, everyone’s favorite beleaguered ride-sharing giant launched in San Francisco in 2011. And they stayed there for a while, refining their product and service, before expanding into new cities.
Initial target market: Millennials with disposable income who were frustrated with the garbage taxis in San Francisco and wanted a better way to get around.
When they started expanding, they expanded fast, hitting 35 cities in a matter of months. But still, they started small – and they thought carefully about who they were going after every step of the way.
Final target market: THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.
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