Today we're discussing Ideal Customer Avatars, or ICAs. I'm sure you've heard this concept before, as it's taught a lot in the entrepreneurial space.
But before you close out this blog post, this is not your typical ICA discussion.
I have a huge problem with the specific way that this concept is often taught to entrepreneurs. So in this post, I want to offer an extremely simple and clarifying alternative -- so that you can actually get what the Ideal Customer Avatar is trying to get you, which is clarity about whom you serve. This is a way to look at ICAs that I teach in my program, Crickets to Customers, and it always blows people's minds!
Here's a sneak peek at what you can expect in this episode, along with timestamps if you'd like to skip around:
Why the ICA is important [03:06]
Why traditional exercises miss the mark [06:11]
My "One Person" test [09:21]
Troubleshooting your ICA [18:30]
What to do next with this information [22:20]
Why the Ideal Customer Avatar is important
It helps you understand who you're trying to serve
The reason that this ICA exercise has been beaten into the ground is because it's intended to help you understand who it is that you're trying to serve.
A business, at its core, consists of 2 things: having something for sale, and having people handing over their hard-earned money to buy said product or service. So when you think about your ideal customer, you're looking at half of the equation.
You pass every business decision through this filter
The ICA is a really important filter for making all sorts of your business decisions. You can look at your avatar and ask yourself, "What do they need from me? What do they need to hear next? What are they excited about? Where are they?"
This way, you can easily decide what services you're going to create next, what you'll talk about on your podcast -- really anything you do in your business on a daily basis.
I'm betting that whether you're just getting started or you're further along in business, you've asked yourself questions like, "What the heck should I be creating? What in the world should I be talking about?"
So whereas I'm in total agreement that the answer to these questions lies with figuring out who you are serving (your ideal customer), a lot of times the exercises that are taught to create your ICA tend to suck.
Why traditional ICA exercises miss the mark
Given that the ICA is such an important concept, it's talked about a lot in entrepreneurial circles. And there's the most popular way it's taught, which is basically telling you to dream up a person.
"This is Susan, she's 37 years old, she has a labradoodle, and she orders a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks."
I have a few problems with this exercise that I'm going to lay out, before teaching you a much simpler way for answering your questions of "what to create."
They are too hypothetical
So you know some things about Susan -- now what? Susan isn't real, since this is all hypothetical. You aren't actually gaining any real insight. Making up a person in your head doesn't get validated against anything else. For all you know, this kind of person doesn't exist.
When you are doing customer research and getting closer to your customers so you can better understand them and who they really are in the wild, you gain insights to better align your products, services, and messages with them.
But if we're sitting here making it all up on a piece of paper, it's not actually taking us any closer to true insights. Making up a person doesn't have any guarantee that it's going to be anywhere near reality.
It's hard to know anything about the "ideal customer" you choose
The second problem is related to the first, and that is that it's too hard to actually know anything about the person you're making up. Let's say you're trying to pick a niche or along the lines of demographics -- your customer is aged 30-45, or 60-75, they're female, and they're into crafting.
Once you know this information, are you any closer to actually knowing much about them? Do you know how to speak to them? Do you know what they need?
I would argue that having demographics and niche is not in itself all that helpful, it doesn't really tell you what you need to go and do.
There's a way simpler way to go about this, which is what we're going to talk about next!
"The idea is once you carve out this person, this archetype, this Susan character, you kind of start to head down the path of making up who Susan is, what she likes, what are her interests… but you can already see the problem here, right? Susan isn't real, this is hypothetical, it's actually not giving you any real insight. Because you're just making it up inside of your own head. It's not validated against anything else."
My "One Person" test
Before we get started, I should say that if you want to go deeper into this method, you should head on over to CourageAndClarity.com/workshop to get the FREE six-step go from crickets to customers workshop that you can take on demand (meaning that you don't have to wait for me to show up, you can do it at your own pace).
So let's throw out the idea of hypothetical avatars, worksheets, demographics, and age brackets. We don't need all that. Here's what you do:
Think of one person that you know -- someone that you've actually met in real life -- that you believe you can help.
I don't necessarily mean someone who would pay you as a client, we're not talking about who you can go out and work with right now and collect money from.
This person is at the beginning of a journey, or struggling with the thing you know about. Let's say you have expertise in how to eat healthy even in the juggle of the craziness of becoming a new parent. That's something you know a lot about, and are passionate about figuring out how to make crazy simple and healthy meals for busy moms and dads. So then I want you to think about someone you know and met: could be a coworker, friend, family member, cousin, etc, someone who has just had a baby for the first time. And you've gotten the impression that they are struggling to adjust to that new normal.
You're essentially helping people go from Point A to Point B -- so that person you're thinking about should be someone who is at Point A right now. Write their name down. Congratulations! This is your new ideal customer avatar.
So why is this way so much more powerful?
It gets you out of the hypothetical and into the real
We are talking about a real human being, instead of someone we completely made up in our head. This is "real life," so you can look at that person and ask yourself, "What are they going through right now? What does their life look like? What are they struggling with? What questions do they have? What does the beginning of the journey look like for them? What do they like? Where are they trying to go?"
From here, you can move onto other questions, like their other interests, where they hang out, all that good stuff.
It's proof of a customer base
If you can think of at least one person, it's a good sign that there are other people in the same situation and about to go through that journey that you are an expert in. In fact, if you told me you couldn't think of a single person who you've ever met who fits these conditions, I would actually say that that may be a red flag and a possible indication that there weren't enough of a customer base for you to help.
You can envision their journey
Getting concrete about a real person will also help you envision their journey -- and a heck of a lot easier! You'll get a much clearer idea of their story, arc, and customer journey. What will their transformation actually look like?
You can start to pull out what they need to do first to get started, what content might be helpful for them to meet them where they're at right now.
You can get really specific in your messaging
So now all of those big, nebulous questions you had about what you should be doing are illuminated based on real data. When you sit down to create a podcast episode, or you outline your first package, you can imagine that you are speaking to your one person. Weirdly enough, you'll find that you know exactly what to say!
When you imagine that you're talking to just one person, you can get deep into it because you know their situation really specifically and you relate to it.
"Think of one person that you know, someone that you've actually met in real life that you believe you could help. This is a person who is at the beginning of a journey, or struggling with a thing that you know about -- plain and simple."
Troubleshooting your ICA
If picking your one person is really straightforward and you got it, you can take it and run with it. And if you're having a bit of trouble with it, in this next section I'll cover 3 of the most common questions you might have about using this method.
"I'm not sure who the "best" person to pick is."
What if you have multiple people you're considering for your One Person, and you're not sure which way to go? Here's simple hack: if I gave you the opportunity to clone one person 1,000 times, and they get to be your audience -- who would you pick?
It could be someone whose attitude you love, maybe a client you've worked with before and you would love to work with 1,000 of him or her. Maybe it's someone you haven't worked with yet, but you've had great conversations with them and there's something about their energy.
"Can my one person be me?"
A lot of people ask me if their one person could be themselves, perhaps from 1, 2, 3, or 10 years ago. Could you think about yourself when you were just getting started on this journey?
The short answer is, "no."
The longer answer is, one of the principles of really good customer research is getting out of your own head. The key is getting intimately familiar with how your ideal customers tick. You have your own hypotheses about how people work, but almost every time what people actually want is going to be slightly different from what we think they would want. So we can't fully trust only our own experiences to inform the entire customer journey.
That being said, you can certainly draw upon your own experience, but I don't want that to be your only compass.
"Can I have two types of people?"
If you're still really struggling with having two different types of "one person"s, maybe you feel like you could go in two totally different directions with two completely different problems, I would tell you to pick just one for now. Which one would you clone first?
It's too hard to have multiple targets in the beginning, so you really want to just isolate one and work with just one type of person.
Once that's common and feeling good, you can always think about adding a second "one person" as well.
What do to next with your Ideal Customer Avatar information
So you have a name and a "one person" -- now what? What are you supposed to do with this information?
The first question I want you to ask yourself is, why did this person come to mind? Why do you think they are the one our of all the people you've ever met? Write down their qualities, conditions, and circumstances. What would make them ideal to be in your audience?
Next, imagine you're sitting in a coffee shop with them, just having a conversation (not pitching them or trying to get their business). What do they tell you that they're struggling with? And what would you tell them to do first, where to start, what the first step is? The smaller the action step, the better, because it's actionable. And quick wins are really important for building up our confidence.
So now you've got an idea for a blog post, a podcast episode, a freebie, a newsletter -- anything!
The reason that you're here is because you have some expertise and experience, and the very next best step for you is to figure out what to do with that one next step for your person.
So ideal customer avatars be damned, go with the one person and see how much progress you can make!
Links and resources:
6 Steps to Go From Crickets to Customers — Click here to get this FREE on-demand workshop