Ever wonder how your favorite brands seem to release products you can’t get enough of time after time? How do they understand your sense of humor and aesthetics so well that you find yourself sharing their social media posts over and over again? As it turns out, identifying your ideal customer is a science and one that your favorite brands have probably mastered. Somewhere in their marketing files, a person just like you is represented in a customer profile.
Every business, whether it’s a billion-dollar company or a company that only has a few bucks in the bank, should completely understand its target market, and customer profiles are basically like the Spark Notes version of it. These profiles use real consumer data to detail a specific target customer, which helps improve sales and marketing strategies.
You don’t need to be a market research pro to create your own customer profile. You just need to know which data is most important and which questions to ask. It can be as simple as you make it.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A customer profile is a description of a specific type of customer or set of customers and usually includes information like demographics, geographics or psychographics.
Target Market vs. Target Audience
Before diving into customer profiles, it’s important to understand the difference between a target market and a target audience. In the world of marketing and sales, you may have heard these terms, and they’re very similar concepts with some tiny differences. Basically, a target market is a group of your ideal customers — the people you hope will buy your products. This group is bound by certain traits like age, region, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, education and more.
A target audience is a little bit different because these aren’t the people who are necessarily buying new products (though they can be actual customers too). These are the people who you hope will buy into your company culture, but similarly, they are also split up by traits like age, religion, socioeconomic background and ethnicity. A target audience is the group of people you want connecting with and sharing your brand’s messages, products and services. Think of them as influencers: The more they share your products, posts and content, the more target audience members they’ll reel in from their personal networks.
Where Does a Customer Profile Come In?
In order to effectively reach a target market or target audience with your marketing campaigns, you’ll need to create a customer profile. This helps you get into the mind of your target customers and understand what kind of marketing strategy would be most effective. So, what exactly is it?
At the heart of it, a customer profile is a highly detailed description of your target audience. Like buyer personas, it’s an outline of a customer (or type of customer) whom you’re hoping will purchase your product, only it’s based on real data rather than fiction. This type of profile generally helps shape marketing plans, sales pitches and even new products, services and features. Your ideal customer profile should have detailed information on things like demographics, psychographics, buying behavior, customer service interactions and more.
Why Use a Customer Profile?
It’s true that small-business owners are likely to waste about 50% of their marketing budget on lead generation that goes absolutely nowhere. You can bring a horse to water, but if that horse isn’t thirsty, it isn’t going to drink. In other words, you’re already at a loss if you’re catering social media campaigns and content marketing to someone who likely won’t ever buy your product. A clear customer profile gives you insight on the buying behaviors of your most promising potential customers, which can help you craft the most cost-effective marketing plan.
Customer profiling doesn’t just help marketing teams — it helps the sales team too. Think of it this way: If your sales team is chasing 100 leads, how do they know where to put the most effort? A solid customer profile will let them know which leads are worth nurturing and which are probably a waste of time, and time is money.
Beyond that, having a clear picture of your ideal consumers makes it easier to find new leads. For example, running a targeted Facebook ad is much more effective when catered to an ideal potential customer rather than the world in general. If you know your customers, you can also exacerbate their pain points, making it seem like they need your product or services to immediately solve their problem. It’s all about strategically pressing buttons, which eventually can lead to customer loyalty because you’re focusing on serving the people who need what you’re offering the most.
To Whom Are You Marketing?
Before you get started building a customer profile, you need to identify a problem that your company should solve. This will help you make the information in your customer profile actionable and identify whom you're targeting in the first place. Once you do this, you can examine exactly whom you’re trying to reach. This includes:
- Existing customers
- New customers
- Past customers
- Businesses (if you’re a B2B company)
- Individual consumers (if you’re a C2C company)
The most effective way to use customer profiles is to create more than one for each of your ideal customer types. Most businesses aren't just marketing to one specific type of person, and even if they are, there will be variation within your consumer profiles. For example, your ideal consumers may all be in a specific age range but live in different areas, and you may find it more effective to target these consumers by region. Alternatively, all your consumers may live in a specific region, but you may offer products at different price points to consumers in different income brackets.
Create a Profile Using Market Segmentation
Consumer profiles are successful because they split customers or potential customers into groups you can easily quantify. These are generally segregated by:
- Demographics: This is age range, race, gender, ethnicity, household composition and city or region of residence. B2B companies will also look at things like company culture, company size and number of employees.
- Socioeconomic background: This includes income, job title, education level and neighborhood.
- Psychographics: This is more about people’s behavior, like their specific personality, lifestyle, likes and dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, opinions and voting behavior.
- Generation: Are they millennials, boomers, Gen Z, etc.? Generations generally have different likes, dislikes, beliefs and lifestyles, so this is important.
- Geography: Are they living in a rural, suburban or urban environment?
- Geodemographics: This is a combination of demographics and geography.
- Benefits: Consumers are looking for a similar bottom line. What is this bottom line?
You may wish to hire a market research firm to help you with segmenting your ideal consumers, but you can also do it on your own. Market research firms use a number of different systems to help classify target customer bases, and the information is only a quick web search away. These methods include (but are not limited to):
- ABC1: This strategy groups target consumers by their jobs and potential income. At one end of the scale is A, which represents senior-level or high-level managers, administrators or professionals. At the other end is E, which represents those completely dependent on public support. B, C1, C2 and D workers fall in between.
- ACORN: This is a geodemographic segmentation system primarily used in the U.K. It uses census data to split consumers based on income, education, ethnicity, etc. but also associates those people with a postcode. This works because people in specific neighborhoods generally have some of the same qualities.
- ESRI community tapestry: This system is used in the U.S. and divides neighborhoods into different life modes and urbanization groups. Life modes are further divided into more than 60 market segments.
Some businesses require a more in-depth market segmentation, while other businesses can succeed with a broad demographic. It depends on the industry, the services and the products.
Collect Your Data via Analytics
Social and web analytics will give you some major insight on the types of customers who are already purchasing your products and responding well to your brand messaging. Identifying your best customers can help you decide whom to target in a customer profile. In your analytics, check out:
- Age: What age range is engaging with your brand the most? What about the least?
- Gender: Does one gender dominate engagement?
- Location: Are most consumers in a specific state, country or continent?
- Device: Are they mobile or desktop users?
Whether you’re looking at Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics or your newsletter’s analytics, you should be able to see information on which types of consumers engaged the most, clicked the most links, purchased products or stayed on your website the longest. This is important because, for example, if you find out that the majority of your customers are baby boomers, you’ll probably have less success using millennial-driven marketing strategies like meme humor.
Collect Data via Customer Surveys
Another great way to create a meaningful customer profile is to collect data right from your customers. You can do this in a number of different ways, but one of the best ways to collect this type of data is to get your customers to fill out a profile when they sign up for your email list or loyalty programs. Typically, you can pull information like demographics, location, age, race and gender, and consumers are more than happy to oblige. You may also wish to include optional questions like, “How did you find out about our company?” or “How was your customer service experience?”
Another way companies collect data for customer profiling is by incentivizing surveys. Customers may be hesitant to fill out a survey unless they’re given an incentive, like getting entered into a raffle or receiving a discount. We see this often with customer service surveys (raise your hand if you’ve rated your experience at Dunkin’ Donuts for a free doughnut). Surveys can get away with asking more in-depth questions regarding tastes and lifestyle because they're optional.
Analyze the Customer Journey
A consumer profile won’t be very effective when it comes to shaping a marketing plan or sales strategy if you don’t understand the customer journey. You should analyze what steps the people represented by your customer profile will have to go through before they spend their first dollar on your business. Ask yourself questions like:
- Where is X consumer finding my business?
- What will motivate a consumer to seek out my business?
- On what platform is X consumer most likely to interact?
- What messaging appeals to X consumer?
- What benefits do they need to make a purchase?
- What cost will be prohibitive?
- What will make X customer return to my business?
Make sure you can clearly visualize a customer’s journey because this will help you transform your customer profile into something actionable. Forward this information to your sales and marketing team so they can apply it to their current strategies or use it to shape a brand-new strategy.
Continued Evaluation Is Important
Consumer profiles aren’t a one-and-done thing. Even if your target market doesn’t change, tastes, wants and needs eventually do. You should continually be evaluating different customers, checking in after customer service interactions and pulling data from analytics. This helps you discover new trends, new problems and new solutions that will give you a competitive advantage.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.