Stop obsessing about your ideal customer!

When I speak to people about marketing, quite often one of the first things they want to talk about is who their ideal customer is. Whether they want advice on how to find their ideal customer or they’ve spent time considering it and are eager to share, there seems to be a focus on finding that one type of client that would be perfect for them. However, straight away I tell them that they could be losing clients by thinking that way.

I am highly trained in marketing and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very experienced marketers. Not once with anyone in the professional marketing world have I ever had a discussion about ‘ideal customers’. Instead, we talk about segmentation.

By thinking about just one type of ideal customer you are immediately closing your mind to other possibilities. Unless you have an incredibly niche product with very limited sales opportunities, then you’re going to want to sell to more than one type of person or business. The best sorts of marketing plans target two or three types of distinct customers. It gives you far more chance of success.

I find that when most people come up with their ideal customer, they’ve done it by focusing in on things quickly. I encourage the opposite. What you should do is list every customer type that you could possibly sell to first. Look at the whole of your market and then start to narrow down who is the best target. Evaluate each ‘segment’ objectively and then you will make sound decisions that will give you the best chance of success. Quite simply, without exploring every option, how could you ever know that you’ve made the right decision?

Example

A great way to highlight this is using a sweet shop example. If you owned a sweet shop, who would be your ideal client? You might think straight away that it’s children and focus your marketing on them. But as soon as you start to peel back the layers, it becomes obvious that it’s really not that simple.

For starters, children have no money of their own, or very little of it. But even if they have pocket money, it’s still ultimately the parents in charge. Children are unlikely to pop out to the local sweet shop without their parents’ permission. So perhaps you should market to the parents? They’re the ones buying, after all. But then you need to consider pester power. If the children don’t ask for it, will the parents buy it? However, even if the child wants it, if you haven’t worked on your brand and the parents don’t trust in your company, that could still have a negative impact.

You could also throw grandparents into the mix. And what about Christmas, Easter and other celebrations? How do they affect buying patterns?

Then there is the adult market. Retro sweets are very fashionable at the minute. So could you be marketing to adults with a sweet tooth? That could be hugely profitable.

There is no right or wrong here. You could market to all of these with great success. But marketing to loads of different segments can become confusing to your audience and takes a lot of time, money and effort. So what do you do?

What you need to do is explore all the options and then choose two or three segments that will give you the best chance of ROI. If you focus in straight away, you’re likely to make snap decisions. But if you take some time to explore all your options and you think about how to segment your marketing properly, you’ll never be in a position where you’ve missed an important opportunity, and you’ll also have the focus to know the way forward.

Marketing activity

When you have chosen your two or three segments, you then need to build activity around how you’re going to market to them. And the segments can be completely different. You could market to children under 10 at the same time as adults over 30 who love retro sweets, because you’d do it in very different ways.

A question I’m often asked is which marketing channel is best. My answer is always that it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. This is where the power of segmentation can help, as you now know exactly who you’re selling to and what you want to achieve. If you’re marketing to kids then you only need to think about the channels that those children will be looking at. The same for adults who like retro sweets. Where are they spending their time? You only need to market in the places that your chosen segments will be looking. Suddenly it’s not such a huge blank canvas. Now you can really start to focus.

Influencers

One of the most important elements that you lose when you don’t explore all your options is that you never consider influencers. This is something the notion of an ideal customer completely sidesteps. You might immediately think of celebrities here, but there could be much simpler ways to harness the power of influence.

Pester power is a prime example. And it can work for B2B. If you want that business to buy your products, then it might help if their customers were demanding it. It’s an extra layer of complexity that doesn’t always work, but done right it can make a massive impact. You don’t always have to market to the people that are actually buying from you. You can create demand in many different ways.

Next time you’re planning your marketing, take a few minutes to list down every type of customer you could sell to. Be imaginative and cover all bases. You never know, it might open up a new stream to your marketing that you’ve never considered before.

Lindsay Woodward
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Lindsay Woodward

Lindsay is a marketing strategist and skilled writer, with a proven track record of helping businesses to grow. She is also a CIM qualified Chartered Marketer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping to enhance brands and grow businesses. As a consultant, she works with companies that require marketing support. Whether it’s aiding an existing marketing team or looking after all the marketing for a company, she can develop a marketing strategy, produce a marketing plan and execute a range of activities as needed. In 2020 Lindsay was elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.