Your Customers are the only ones defining your success. It’s time to treat them as such.
Companies have a lot of systems in place to measure and predict performance. A lot. But the one thing that might stick out the most is the amount of intelligence an organization has on its ideal customers.
Customers, customers, customers.
Spend five minutes with a half-decent business consultant and that’s all they’ll talk about. Scroll for 30 seconds on Linkedin, scouting for marketing help, and you’ll get a lot of that too.
Why? Because your customers are everything. They can crush your business dreams in an instant, or bring you to full-on stardom in your field. That’s where any sound brand and business strategy starts and ends. At least, it should.
See, the problem with talking about a big concept over and over and over again is that it gets diluted over time. Field experts and thought-leaders (real ones at least) mobilize the masses first by sparking conversations around a theme. New entrants emerge and decide to share their opinion on the same topic, this time in their own words. Only, they barely digested the new findings before regurgitating them. Before you know it, the concept lost its original message. Its substance. Its roots.
The concept of the ideal customer is dangerously tip-toeing the line between two realms. One where it would be elevated to a strong standard. The other where it would see it bomb-dive into murky-and-distant-concept land.
In this essay, we will establish a common understanding of who the ideal customer can be, what they can do for your business, and how you can connect with them on a deeper level. All so you can finally enjoy the kind of growth and impact you deserve.
Not just walking moneybags
It should go without saying. Your ideal customers are not just walking moneybags. Except, too many entrepreneurs’ peepers turn into mighty dollar signs when they see a fine prospect walk by. It might not be obvious in the way they talk. It may even sound ludicrous based on what they preach online. But the truth usually shows its face when examining their actions.
Catering to anyone and everyone clearly signals strategic misalignment for any company. Just because you can say yes to anyone, doesn’t mean you should. Spending time on frivolous tasks that ultimately don’t bring much ROI is another indicator of weak leadership. How easy or difficult it is to initiate a conversation with a prospect and keep them interested is yet another way to measure the quality of a company’s customer knowledge.
The biggest sign a company looks at their customers and sees nothing but dollar bills though, is actually quite obvious. It’s all sitting in their file cabinet. Simple as that.
Take a look at the way they conducted market research for their business plan; how they built their customer profiles; and, most importantly, how they organized and what they ended up doing with those files.
A quick look at a company’s description of its audience is actually all you need to know about how it treats them. And if it all sounds like generic demographics and random fun facts, you’ve got a live one!
No human likes to be treated as a number. And customers are human too, you know. Going beyond the stereotypical demographics is the first step toward a brighter future for your company. Redemption starts by digging deep, asking questions, peeling layers off your customer’s identity, finding information, and turning it into insights.
Beyond the demographics, strong brands always look for two major elements when building a profile: emotions and perception.
The first qualifies people beyond the tangibles of who they are. It creates a stronger foundation for how the brand can connect on a deeper, more human level with its customers. The second is all about observing the current situation and constantly adapting to customer signals; cues for what really matters, and what doesn’t after all.
Looking beyond the demographics is the safest path for any brand to establish a better connection with their customers. It also happens to be the steadiest way to sustainable growth.
What have they done for you lately?
The amount of information a company has on its customers is the strongest indicator of how engaged it is in the pursuit of innovation. It also is the clearest measure of how serious an entrepreneur is about their company’s growth.
Why? Because customers —and customers only— dictate success. Their actions are the only things that count. Attract more of them, and you’ll make more money; get them to come back, and you’ll make more money; convince them to pay a premium for your products and services… and you’ll make more money.
Those are the three ways to sustainably and predictably grow a business. The entire strategy then rests on the amount of customer intelligence at your disposal. A low amount could very well mean slow death.
In most cases, poor customer knowledge simply means stagnant mediocrity for the company.
Ever felt a dreadful bore washing over the senses when interacting with a brand, reading its messaging, or “enjoying” its offering? Then you probably came into contact with a brand that doesn’t know enough about its ideal customers, doesn’t view them as anything but moneybags, or simply doesn’t care. Often, because it is in an industry where no one cares anyway —think first necessity stuff.
*PSA: admittedly, sometimes it can also mean that the brand doesn’t see you as an ideal customer. In which case, don’t take it personally and keep moving.
Now, money isn’t the end goal for every entrepreneur, but it sure helps to reach other common underlying goals: respect, accomplishment, belonging, and impact. To reach those goals, it is paramount to have a clear understanding of who your ideal customer is, what they’re looking for, how they want to get it, and why.
Show your ideal customers you know how they feel and think. Provide exactly what they ask for. They’ll return it tenfold. Not just with money, but with advocacy, evangelism, and goodwill.
Meaningful conversations always win the day
Any company’s goal is to be on a growth trajectory. For this, the idea is to improve on four key elements: awareness, relatability, likeability, and trust.
Expanding customer intelligence becomes priority number one. Brands that get it usually come close and personal with their audience. They actively listen on different communication channels. And they securely store feedback and relevant customer stories.
In plain English, to gain customer trust, good brands begin with customer research.
The next thing strong brands do is develop clear processes to organize the intel they collected. Finally, they frame the data into insights. Because raw data doesn’t mean anything if it’s not turned into actionable opportunities. Armed with new insights, the brand can go out and craft a plan to become better on multiple facets; a business with an offering, messaging, and positioning totally aligned with what its customers need.
When looking to build a differentiated brand, the most important thing to remember, though, is that meaningful conversations always win the day. They alone will bring clarity, understanding, and a breadth of new insights no other method will.
Humans crave connection, belonging, and meaning. We as a species need to feel like we matter. We need to feel very positively about something to spend our precious, hard-earned money on it. Remembering this already provides a good enough compass to know when a brand is good or bad.
The ultimate way to improve customer trust and their perceived value of a brand lies in one simple question: why?
Why should they care? Why does it matter? Why is it important?
Answering why with relevant reasoning each and every time ensures a brand will increase positive awareness. And finding meaningful causes for its actions is the surest way to improve relatability and, ultimately, trust.
If an organization has relevant, meaningful reasoning for how it positions itself and expresses said positioning verbally and visually to its customers, it is bound to win. But for that, sound customer research is essential. And meaningful conversations are paramount.
To look at your customers in a deeply human way, start with meaningful conversations.
Only then will you know how to frame a story that’s compelling. Only then can you reframe your thinking around their issues. Only then can you align your vision and purpose with theirs to create a positive attachment. All so they finally pick you over and over again.
Humanizing the target persona concept
When it comes to reframing our vision of the ideal customers, there are no better tools than conversations. They alone allow for more nuances, better understanding, and heartfelt compassion.
Yet, another critical concept still stands in the way: the target persona.
The target persona is a deeply flawed framework of the marketing industry. Sure, it created tremendous value and opportunities for a lot of companies and entrepreneurs alike. But it never fails to miss key elements. The overly-simplistic structure of the persona template alone helps understand why so many brands have one… yet still simmer in mediocrity.
One major flaw of the target audience concept is often that people are afraid to have it be longer than one page. Sure, you can fit a lot on one page. A case can actually be made that by sticking to one page, simplicity and clarity are enforced; two elements that are key to any sound brand strategy.
Unfortunately, keeping a customer persona to just one page can limit its impact. Just like not any industry is really the same, not every customer is the same. Nuances and layers are sometimes necessary to uncover hidden insights, especially when going beyond the stereotypical demographics.
Another flaw of the target persona is precisely that it only scratches the surface. More often than not, it just briefly describes some commonalities for who typical customers might be, where they might live, and what their favorite ice cream flavor is. Ugh.
Once again, the target persona falls short because it fails to analyze and report on the things that truly matter to finally know how to create a lasting connection, human-to-human. Namely: the desired outcomes or aims, the desired experience or journey, and the underlying motivations and drivers. All three elements should be considered equally important.
For a lot of businesses, though, the desired experience sticks out. The experience is where true differentiation and impact can happen. By evaluating the current industry landscape, and the hoops its customers have to go through, a strong brand is able to find ways to eliminate pains and maximize gains; a strategy that’s been proven to repeatedly deliver major breakthroughs and results.
To increase awareness, achieve better differentiation, and generate more ideal demand, humanizing their ideal customer research is a critical step any brand should take. Providing a more substantial overview of their audience’s deeply ingrained emotional drivers is the best way to achieve just that.
Your customers are waiting
When a company doesn’t connect with its customers past trivial demographics, it embarks on a boat with no sail. A vessel stranded in a sea of mediocrity. No strategic decision feels right. No tactic, content, or process aligns with a vision, because the vision does not expand beyond making more money. The customers are only seen as walking moneybags. And they feel it.
Strong brands connect with their audience as human beings first. They research who their ideal customers are beyond demographics. They frame their research and turn it into products, services, and stories with highly relevant meaning. They express themselves with their goals, their aspirations, and their flaws.
Reframing the target persona concept is essential to the pursuit of a bigger impact. For that, a brand needs to create a more human customer blueprint. One that encapsulates not only demographics but aspirations, goals, fears, emotions, behaviors, and motivations.
Customers are the only ones defining business success. A strong brand makes sure it always keeps that in mind.
If transformational growth and impact are the ultimate measures of business success, then starting to see customers as something else than moneybags is all that matters.