Defining Your Customer Avatar: Who is your Ideal Client?


Ryan Battles  •   Entrepreneurship

Defining Your Customer Avatar

In the past few weeks I’ve been writing about getting to know your audience and finding their pain points to form the foundation of your marketing efforts. This week I’ll describe assembling that data into an avatar, or creating a character with a story, with needs and desires.

The importance of defining a customer avatar is that it helps answer questions concerning your products. With a customer avatar, you can have a point of reference to answer the following questions

  • Where should you advertise to maximize exposure to your ideal customer?
  • What types of advertisements typically effect your ideal customer?
  • What vocabulary and tone should you use in your marketing efforts?
  • What story should your marketing content be telling?

These questions and more can be answered by doing some research on your target audience, and adding in a little imagination to tell a story.

A Poor Example

In the next two examples I will be referring to an avatar for my financial planning app for freelancers, Harpoon. Here is an example of an avatar that lacks detail, and therefore, effectiveness:

Our ideal customer uses our product to gain control of their finances. They want to be better freelancers, so our tool is useful for helping them gain control of their income and expenses.

This example is too high-level, and actually sounds a bit like marketing-speak. We’re not talking about a mission statement here, but an actual story…of a specific individual.

A Better Example

Having a specific individual avatar starts with providing a name. You’ll even want a photo or cartoon likeness to go along with the avatar so you can picture them. You’ll need to be able to ask yourself:

  • What would Dan the Designer want to hear in this message?
  • Where is Penelope the Programmer spending time online this week?
  • How does Carl the Copywriter perceive our product?

Here is a more detailed example of an avatar that I’ve worked out for Harpoon:

Adam is a 28 year old freelance graphic designer from Michigan. He spends about 4 hours a week reading blog posts and following links on Twitter, and that is where he discovered a link that pointed to Harpoon.

Adam makes between $60,000 and $80,000 a year as a designer, yet feels like he doesn’t really have a good grasp on how much he is going to make in the next year, so he’s not sure if he should hustle for more work, or tell his wife: “Yes, we can easily take that vacation this summer”.

Adam spent 4 years working for a large agency in town, when he realized that he could do better on his own. He has been freelancing for 2 years now, and is interested in learning about honing his business skills as well as his design skills.

He’s been married for 4 years, and is starting to think seriously about having kids. One of his concerns about having kids is having a good grip on his family’s finances, and feeling a sense of control over how things are going with his freelancing income.

As he learns about Harpoon, he is thinking that this could be the tool that helps him to gain the needed control over his finances, giving him the confidence to embrace fatherhood without financial fears.

His wife is excited that they can take that vacation without Adam worrying about how much it all costs and his lost work income.

Why an Avatar and not Just Some Stats?

Statistics are valuable when getting to know your audience as a whole, but forming an individual avatar helps to keep the stats from becoming stale in your decision-making. An avatar can be imagined, you can even ask rhetorical questions of your avatar to help you make better decisions.

Another danger with simply relying upon stats, or bullet points for your target audience, is that you can be tempted to have too broad of an audience. How many failed companies have “everybody” as their target audience? When you target everyone, you attract no-one.

What About Multiple Avatars?

Multiple avatars are perfectly okay. In fact, most businesses will have more than one ideal customer. That’s fine. The problem comes when you have 20 or 30 “ideal” customers, then you’ll really have a hard time focusing your market efforts towards any specific group.

If you do end up with more than a handful of avatars, perhaps you should ask yourself if you have saturated any one of these target markets. If you have, that’s great. If you haven’t, then your efforts might be better spent going deeper into one or two target markets then spreading a wider net.

Effort is wasted when you spread a wide net trying to attract customers. The more you can target a well-defined audience, the greater success rate you will experience.

Where to Start When Defining an Avatar

  1. List out their demographic and psychographic traits. Brain dump as much information as you can think of from the research you’ve done so far.
  2. Give this person a name, and grab a photo online. You can grab an actual human avatar from uifaces.com or build one yourself using any number of online avatar builders, such as Mad Men Yourself and Face Your Manga.
  3. Design a dossier. You can download the sample that I’ve created in Pages at the bottom of this post, or create your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it helps to have a 1-page printout that you can reference when brainstorming with your avatar.
  4. Write a story as your ideal customer avatar. Imagine that you are them, journaling about discovering and using your product. What did they do before using your app? What are they thinking while using your app? What are they really trying to accomplish with your app? What do they do after your app? When will they come back to your app?

That last step is a pretty interesting one, as it forces you to think through the actual channels that you use to advertise and methods for retaining customers. Perhaps in this exercise you’ll discover something that you’re doing that doesn’t quite match up with how your ideal customer really behaves, or you’ll discover a tactic that you aren’t yet using.

Key Takeaways

  • An avatar is a fictitious character that represents your ideal customer
  • You may have more than one avatar
  • Be specific about the story of your avatar, the more details the better
  • Use your avatar to brainstorm marketing avenues
  • Write a story as your ideal avatar, a brainstorming exercise that may provide key insights.

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