The success of your content, copywriting, product development and storytelling are directly tied to how well you understand your target customer. If you don’t have a clear picture of their mind, fears, motivations, goals and problems, you won’t be able to serve them. Marketers use a tool called a “customer avatar” to map out the mindset of their customer and guide their messaging.
In this article I’ll show you everything you need to develop your own customer avatar. I’m going to show you how to go deeper with your customer research and create an avatar system that most entrepreneurs miss out on.
The Basic Ingredients Of A Great Customer Avatar
There are some foundational pieces of information that every customer avatar should include. These qualities help us picture a “real” person, not just a few bits of shallow demographic data. With these basic ingredients, you can map out a powerful message that speaks right to the heart of your audience and inspires action.
Wants and Aspirations
This is foundational for all of your messaging. You need to speak to their desire to get and keep their attention. This also helps you decide what kinds of products you should create for them.
The clearer and more specific you can get on their desires, the easier it will be to craft just the right story for them.
What big goals does your customer have with their business?
Imagine how your customer would complete this sentence: “Once I solve [the problem you help them with] I’ll finally be able to…” Or “If I could just get [X] then [Y] would be so much easier.”
Also consider higher order thinking. This anticipates the effects that happen over the long term. Most of us only think of the “first order” effects of our actions, but considering the downstream effects can help us tap into more and stronger desires.
Let’s consider higher order thinking for eating healthy for the first time:
First order – This food tastes gross. I’m not feeling it, but I’ll stick with it.
Second order – I’m feeling clearer and more energetic, and I figured out how to make kale not taste so gross when I cook it just right.
Third order – I’ve lost some weight, I’m feeling amazing and I finally have the confidence to ask that special someone out on a date.
Think about the higher order impacts of solving the problem you solve and you may find new desires and wants to solve that you didn’t notice before.
Frustrations and Fears
These are the opposite emotions, but they are often tied in closely with Wants and Aspirations. They both drive action and attention in your customer’s mind. People are much more loss-averse than they are willing to take risks and gain. Consider this story of how to build a monkey trap.
Native tribes used to catch monkeys by hollowing out a coconut and filling it with rice or other delicacies, then leaving it tethered to a tree for a monkey to find. A monkey would reach in and grab the desired delicacy and be trapped because the hole had been deliberately made just big enough for a flexible hand to enter but not for a closed fist to leave. In short order, the monkey went from getting his dinner to being someone else’s dinner.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you or your customers are any smarter than these poor monkeys when it comes to their problems, fears and frustrations. We’ll go a long way to keep from losing something we want.
What is your target audience afraid of losing, or afraid of not getting? Is what they’re holding onto helpful for them? Do you need to convince them to let go, or reassure them they won’t lose what they’re afraid to lose?
Are they afraid they will fail? What do they think will make them fail?
Key Purchasing Considerations
If you can anticipate the key purchasing considerations, then you can build the evidence to support those considerations right into your content, stories and copywriting. You can stop common objections before your audience even realizes they have them.
Think of all the reasons someone would give for not wanting your product. Think of all the questions they would need to have answered to make your product or service a no-brainer for them.
Does your target customer need permission from someone else to make this purchase? Can you equip them with the tools they need to convince the person who controls the money?
Or can they buy it themselves?
What other tools, people or services would your solution need to integrate or work with so they could use it easily?
Age – Knowing the age of your target market opens up many opportunities to relate to your audience. This sounds obvious, but most people don’t fully leverage the storytelling power that comes from knowing someone’s age. There are common trends, experiences and attitudes within different generations.
Here’s a great example. This video from Mike Vacanti is about fitness. The story you would tell about fitness to a 20-year-old would be wildly different that what you would say to a 60-year-old. Mike knew this and fully capitalized on an opportunity to tell a different story about fitness than the one you usually hear.
Location – The location of your target customer can also greatly impact how you reach them and how you tell your story. What you would say to a native New Yorker would be wildly different than someone from small-town Nebraska.
Marital Status – There are disparities between the mindsets of people who are is single, married or married with kids. This could impact their purchasing considerations, goals and fears.
Someone without kids may be much more risk-tolerant and fully focused on their business, while someone with a family may be more conservative and want to make sure they have time to spend with their kids.
Profession – The language a doctor uses to describe their work, fears and frustrations will be wildly different than that of a corporate real estate agent. Getting clear on the exact profession of your target customer can help you use language that is familiar to your audience.
Buyer’s Journey / Mindset
One of the biggest mistakes people make when creating a customer avatar is imagining them in a static situation. Demographics can only get us so far when we are trying to reach our customers. It gives us a good idea of where and how to target them, but it gives us an incomplete picture when deciding what story to tell them.
We also need to understand the current mindset of our audience. How much do they know about the problem you solve? Do they even know they have the problem you solve? Is this something they’re lightly researching, or is their hair on fire?
Imagine you’ve got a startup that sells customer success software. You’ve got a clear picture of your target audience demographics and an email list of 3 prospects (amazing!). They’re named Red, Blue and Green.
Red – Is in the early stages of a business but is getting lots of customers. Things are growing fast. But they’ve never even heard of “customer success” before.
Blue – Has been in business longer. They’ve made it through “The Dip,” as Seth Godin calls it. They know that they’ve been “churning” customers faster than they would like and are researching some strategies to fix it.
Green – Has been in business for a while too. They have a huge customer base and know the value of customer success. They’ve even read a few books and done a few experiments. They know customer success is their top priority and essential for their sustainability.
Each of these prospects requires a different message to reach them and speak to their desires. Each has a subtly different perspective that needs to be acknowledged and understood.
So how can we anticipate this in our customer avatar?
There’s a great framework called The Buyer’s Journey that outlines the 3 essential stages that transform a prospect into a customer. The three stages are: “Know”, “Like” and “Trust”.
- Know – Your customer needs to be aware you exist and what problem you solve.
- Like – They need to know why you’re different than everyone else that solves this problem.
- Trust – They need to know that you’re a good fit for the problem they have, and that you can deliver the result they want.
Take your customer research further by imagining your prospect in each of these stages and describing their situation. It also helps us answer questions that are valuable yet often overlooked when creating avatars:
- How does your audience know they have a problem?
- Why should they accept your help?
- Why should they trust themselves to succeed with you?
By building The Buyer’s Journey into your avatar you’ll be able to create much more effective stories and be able to string them together to carry them through each stage.
If you want to learn more about The Buyer’s Journey and what kind of content to create for each stage, check out “How To Create Content For Every Stage Of The Buyer’s Journey” It’s got an amazing infographic with dozens of different ideas for content to try for the various stages.
Build Multiple Avatars
A customer avatar is not meant to put all of your audience into one box. We don’t want to become like McDonalds, serving average meals to average people. We want our avatars to recognize the unique situation our audience is in. We want to create an experience that is personal and meaningful. This means that we may need to construct several avatars to address our audience.
“The competitive advantage today is to become the kind of student or teacher that sees the specialness of every single person that you’re able to engage with” – Seth Godin on the Akimbo Podcast 17:50
It’s good to start with just one avatar for your marketing, but in time you may find opportunity to create a variety of avatars that all serve unique purposes. Here’s a few ideas for how to build multiple avatars.
Audience Avatars vs. Customer Avatars
There’s a subtle difference between a customer avatar and an audience avatar. We picture a customer as someone who needs your product or service right now or soon. But when we picture our audience, we can be more broad in our targeting.
Here’s an example: Meryl Johnston of Bean Ninjas offers a bookkeeping service for entrepreneurs and businesses making more than 6 figures. But when she creates content, she targets bootstrappers in earlier stages of business. Why?
Meryl understands the long-game nature of content marketing; it might take 6 to 12 months of consuming content before someone is ready to buy from her. By creating content that’s relevant to bootstrappers, she builds trust from an early stage. By the time her audience fits her customer avatar, they’ve been consuming her content for months and have developed more of a relationship with her.
When building an audience avatar, consider the broader group you can reach with your message. Consider where your customer would be 6-12 months before they become your customer, and find ways to serve them there. Be open to attracting people in your audience who may never be perfect customers. Content marketing casts a broad net, and there are many ways your audience can be valuable to you other than directly buying products from you.
When I was just starting as a marketing consultant, I quickly learned to distinguish between two types of clients: the “win more” clients and the “defibrillate” clients. The win more clients were people who I was confident would succeed with or without me, but I could help them “win more.” The other clients needed me to “defibrillate” (like in the movies when a doctor yells “CLEAR!” and then electrocutes someone) their business. They needed my help to make the business work.
It didn’t take long to find that the “win more” clients were pleasant to work with, less stressful, more cooperative and easier to get good results for, while the “defibrillators” were very stressful, expected more for less money and were generally a pain. This is where a “negative avatar” could come in handy.
A negative avatar is a generalized representation of the persona that you don’t want as a customer. Having an understanding of the customer you don’t want to serve is as important as knowing which customer you do want. You can go through this entire exercise to identify clients you don’t want to serve or attract.
Think about what the difference would be in a message that attracted an ideal customer vs. a non-ideal customer. Could you use this to cut out bad messaging and focus exclusively on who you want to attract to your site, to disqualify and discourage bad customers who will end up costing you more in energy and revenue?
Go shallow first, then go deeper
Often, this avatar work never gets done. It can feel like homework that does not serve a valuable purpose. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to discover all the different bits of information outlined in this article, and it can take time to fully develop and refine an avatar.
Don’t let this happen! Go shallow, do the obvious and adjust as you go. Give yourself permission to adjust, change and add, but for me, the best thing was to act.
Special thanks to reader Chris Stanley for suggesting this tip!
Having a clear picture of your customer, your audience and even who you don’t want as a customer will help you streamline your content creation. This system will also empower you to make better decisions on what stories you’ll tell, what products you’ll create and the experience you want to create for your audience.
To make it easy for you to get started, I’ve created a “Customer Avatar Template” that’s easy to use and will guide your research. Download it below: