There is a lot of fluff out there at the moment about creating different  ideal customer avatars or personas to represent your different target markets, but as a small business owner it can be incredibly confusing and difficult to put together avatars that are meaningful. When you’re trying to write a blog, or craft a marketing message it is much easier to have someone in mind that you’re writing for. There is a lot of subconscious information that your brain automatically picks up and processes when you meet someone that just isn’t there when you create a fictitious profile. Unless you have a very vivid imagination it is difficult to write passionately for a John or Jane Doe (even if you do have demographic, social and psychological information available). However, it is equally difficult to write passionately for no-one.

Understand your Target Customer’s Problem or Need

There are two levels that you need to understand about your target customer. The first is how the customers think about their problem that you are solving, what words to they use to describe their problem? For example, with a personal trainer, is your customer thinking about having someone to write exercise plans for them, or are they looking for someone to help them get to their ideal fitness level? The first description may describe one of the main activities you do when you provide your service, but the second description is oriented around the customer’s goals or underlying need rather than the specific activities that you may undertake to achieve that goal.
Then Go Deep, Deep Into Their Feelings

The second level to understand is the underlying emotions and feelings. The wants and desires that your customer has, and how they relate to your business. In the personal training example, the wants and desires may be to feel confident in their swimmers, or to be able to keep up with their kids. It may be a desire to age gracefully, or to become pain free. Understanding this really does require you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes, or have some very deep and meaningful conversations with your customers or friends who are similar to your ideal customer.

This Is Easier To Do If You’re Face-to-Face

So, how do we find our target customer, understand those two layers and write engaging content that speaks to them? The best way is to get to know your customers. As in, actually, personally, get to know them! I know it is easy to sit behind a computer and search forums and Facebook Groups, but it is no where near as effective as spending time with people in person. This can be as simple as inviting them out for a coffee or inviting them to be part of a strategy session for your business.

I have had great fun inviting two customers (who were also friends of mine) over for a morning tea and strategy session where we discussed different aspects of our marketing and how they felt about it.

It gave me great insight as to how our branding was perceived by others and my customers felt very engaged and involved with our business. If you do something like this make sure you have more than one customer type represented. In my case I had two very different customers included and they had different perspectives that they shared.

From this strategy session I was able to write blogs and marketing copy with my two customers in mind. I remember reading once that Warren Buffet writes his annual shareholder letter with his sisters in mind so he can pitch it at the right level for his shareholders. It is really so much easier to write to someone you know than an avatar! It’s also important to note that your business and your customers are likely to change and refine over time. It’s a good idea to regularly touch base with your best customers so that your brand stays relevant to them.
But Don’t Mix Apples and Oranges

You may have more than one target customer, for example if you own a gym you might be targeting a number of different local profiles.

In this case you don’t want to over-generalise and come up with a single representation of your ideal customer, you will need two (or more) ideal customer profiles. Your local area research may reveal a lot of young families and students, so you’re targeting parents as well as students (obviously two very different marketing messages and targeting strategies). In this case you would need to have multiple strategy sessions to understand your two target customer types in depth. This approach should then filter through all of your marketing efforts.
Online Research to Understand Customer Profiles Still Has A Place

I mentioned earlier that you could search forums and Facebook Groups to get an idea of how your customers are describing their problems. This is a great place to start, and could be good preparation for your strategy session. You can find forums around topics that are relevant to your business, and see how people talk about their problems or what they’re looking for. Look at the exact wording and phraseology that they use, and write them down. The more you can reflect how your customer is feeling and talking the more your brand will resonate with them.

Tip: Search the word forum with your key topic on Google to find forums in your niche.