Why the “Ideal Customer Avatar” Is Hurting Your Marketing

The ideal customer avatar. Your target market. A niche (rhymes with sheesh, learn how to say ‘niche’ already). Whichever term you’ve been using, I’m going to ask you to stop.

I did a mini-training on this in Instagram Stories a couple years ago and to date I’ve never gotten more feedback on anything as I have on this training. I know it hit a mark. And here’s why: the ICA term is super confusing. This whole ideal client avatar thing sets you up to feel like you are less than. It’s pushing you to feel you don’t know what to do in your business.

There are so many things in marketing and business that I feel this way about. They’re not that hard. People tell you that they’re hard. And then you starting thinking, “Wow, this is really hard. I need to hire someone to fix this.”

Using a jargon-y term like “ideal customer avatar” creates an elite class

Don’t believe me? Go watch Mad Men again, this time from the perspective of a marketer.

The entire point of using a fancy term to describe something that isn’t hard is to set oneself apart. To create value, because surely “they most know something I do not know.”

The ICA is one of these things. It’s confusing because there’s a lot of marketing and branding jargon thrown around when people talk about it. Also, because there’s so much weight in this topic. And all the experts both make it sound really important–and simultaneously do nothing to break it down for you in a way that feels approachable.

So let’s break down that confusion. I’m not going to be the expert that doesn’t tell you how to fix it, I’m going to tell you piece by piece, why it matters, how to apply it to your own business, and then what to do with it once you’ve got it down.

Remove “avatar” from your client dictionary

First, I prefer not to talk about the subject in terms like an avatar, as it feels unapproachable. So depending on who you are, and what your background is, you either think an avatar is a picture you choose for your Netflix profile character or that fantastical world of Pandora.

Now, you might see me use the phrase, ideal client, when I’m teaching out there in the interwebs, even though it’s not my favorite term. Why? I’m meeting my students where they’re at. If that’s the term they’re familiar with, it’s what I’ll see, it’s what I’ll use until they’re in my world. Here we are in this more intimate setting of my blog and I’ve got more than your passing attention, unlike when you’re scrolling through Instagram. So we can talk about this in my terms, which is your best client.

So let’s throw out target market. Let’s throw out that niching down idea. Let’s throw out the ideal customer avatar.

Who is your best client?

Let’s just call them your best client. Why?

  1. You can define it, no dictionary needed
  2. It reminds you you’re choosing who to speak to

You know what the word best means you know what the word client means, so we’re not setting up a bunch of jargon around the subject. All you need to know about them is that they’re your best client.

Your best client is the person for whom you can most easily and efficiently solve their particular problem.

Your best client is the person that you can serve best not serve well not serve decently but serve best. They have a particular problem and you have a particular skill set that perfectly solves that problem. Yes, I went a little Liam Neeson there, it’s okay. But unlike our buddy Liam, the best client scenario goes a step further, because your particular set of skills aren’t going to make you a nightmare for people, but an absolute dream. Because not only do your knowledge and skills solve the exact pain point they’re experiencing, you do so in a way that matches their personality or their energy or vibe or whichever way you want to describe this.

Let’s jump forward a bit and then I’m going to give you some concrete examples here. If you’ve niched down correctly, and you’re showing up online consistently, this best client will find you easily. The content you’re putting out there is attracting them with ease, you’re filling your latest program or course without any struggle.

If however, you’re still speaking to a broad market, you’re in the opposite situation. Your last course launch was a flop, you’re probably struggling to show up consistently for your business because you’re not sure what to say. Or when you do finally post, you get crickets in response and you’re feeling like why should you bother posting again.

That best client gives you one of the tools to show up. When you know who you can best serve, you know what to say to them.

At this point, you just need a system for organizing your content and posting regularly. Check out theshowupsystem.com for that. If you need help with generating content ideas, organizing the ones you have, or repurposing content you’ve put out in the past, the Show Up System will tell you how to do all of that.

Examples of putting a “Best Client” into action instead of an ideal customer avatar

Back to our ideal client avatar, to talk to you through let’s go to a concrete example. Let’s say you’re a life coach who helps women in their 30s get control of their lives and find themselves again, in that post-divorce space. Conventional wisdom says you’ve got yourself your ideal client avatar, a woman in her 30s, post-divorce. Conventional wisdom also says that now that you’ve chosen your avatar or niche or target market, you should only cater to them.

There are two problems that are going to come up pretty quickly in your business. And you’re going to experience them if this is all that you’ve done with that ideal client avatar.

In this scenario, let’s say you have:

  • a framework that moves your clients through mindset adjustments regarding who they are in the world–that you’ve built through past client work and you know has to be done in a certain order
  • you create a program or course around your framework so you can guide more women through the process to thrive after divorce

Problem #1

You’re going to find women that have a wide range of capacities. Either emotional, financial, what have you–a wide range of mindsets, and definitely a wide range of personalities in that woman and 30s post-divorce group. Let’s say Cheryl is 35, she’s got three kids, and after a 12-year marriage, she’s really just struggling, she’s going back to work, she’s managing three kids, and feeling like she’s less than after the marriage failure. She knows she needs to take care of herself. So she seeks you out. But since she’s so short on time, she wants to skip a few weeks of your program and you know, just get to the good stuff. Or better yet, not even take your program and “Can’t I just hire you for a VIP day and get a quick fix and back to my life?”

Tanya, on the other hand, is also 35 with a few kids. And no, she needs to take care of herself first oxygen mask style, she seeks you out and immediately enrolls in your program.

So which one is your best client? Technically, they’re both your ideal avatar. And well, they both want to give you money. So are they both your best client? I think we both know the answer’s no. Tanya, yes, but Cheryl? No.

Problem #2

There are women who aren’t in their 30s, whom you know you can also help, but you followed the expert’s advice and market to women in their 30s. And now in the last week, a 57-year-old and a 26-year-old both reached out and asked if you can help them. They’re wondering if your program might be a good fit for them.

So again, they’re technically not your ideal client. This is where your best client comes in. Both of these women can absolutely be your best client, if you determine you can truly help them. You’ll want to ask some clarifying questions, of course. And through that, maybe you decide you can’t best serve the 26-year-old because she doesn’t have kids and her life is just too different from your typical client. Maybe you decide that doesn’t matter and your framework crosses age boundaries, and you can absolutely help her. You get to say yes or no.

Does this mean I don’t need a niche at all?

So let’s take a pause here for a minute. Because you might be thinking, it sounds like you’re saying I don’t need a niche at all. Let me be very clear: you do need a niche.

Every time you make a business decision, you should be asking if it will serve your best client. Every time you design a new product or service, you should be thinking of how your best client will respond to it. Is it something they think they need, not just something you know will help them, for example. And most definitely, every time you sit down to write a Facebook or Instagram post, you should be writing to your best client.

Just know that’s the best client may have variations. She might be 35, like Cheryl or Tanya, or she might be 57 or 26. She might have four kids or maybe just one. A lot of this is going to depend on your specialty and how rigid your services are.

If your service truly only works for women in their 30s by all means use that as a boundary. But if one of these 57 or 26-year-old women is so close in mindset and life quality to that 35-year-old, there’s no reason you can’t serve her.

Shoulder clients stand beside best clients

I call these shoulder clients as they are clients that might not fit the ideal customer avatar perfectly but you can still help them. They’re a shoulder-width away from your best client. There’s no reason you have to say no to them if you don’t want to.

Here’s what I recommend:

don draper quote
  1. Write out who your best client is.
  2. Spend some time “stalking” them online.

There are plenty of ways to do market research. Some people will tell you to go do 10 customer calls, get on the phone or Zoom with a bunch of people, ask them a bunch of really intimate questions–and there is a time and a place for that (largely when you’re designing your first program). But for this exercise, you don’t need to do that.

What you will want to do is spend some time seeking them out online. Who are they following? Where are they going to eat? Do they even eat out? Are they ordering water at every restaurant or always ordering a drink? What brand of clothing do they favor? are they wearing comfortable shoes or stylish shoes, which Netflix show will they binge next? Or are they not even watching Netflix or not even watching TV?

I want to point out, I didn’t ask their basic, census-type demographics. I asked you to watch their life choices. Conventional demographics don’t matter as much as you probably have thought, what matters is how they think. And when you know what drink is sitting on the desk beside their laptop and you mention that same drink in an email–they notice.

Create a Best Client profile

Once you’re done at that socking, sit down in front of your computer or journal and write a few pages out as if you were that person drop into their consciousness. Think the way they think, what are they thinking?

  • What drives them to be better?
  • What keeps them tossing and turning at night?
  • What makes their eyes glaze over during the day?
  • When they get on the phone or text with their best friend what are they saying?
  • Last time they talked with their mom, what were they saying? Is it all superficial? is a deep?
  • Do they have a close relationship with their parents? Or their best friends? Or are they more surface level?

These are the kinds of things you want to know about your best client. This is how you get those, “How did you know what I was thinking?” responses, because all of this best client stuff–it leads to a great brand message.

A great brand message will allow your best client to feel understood by you. You’ll notice I didn’t say they understand you. But rather they feel understood by you. This is the key, friends, everything I’ve ever talked about on social media, my podcast, etc. comes down to this one thing. Know, like and trust, it all leads to them feeling understood by you, not making them figure out who you are.

This is how you build that know, like, and trust factor

All of marketing is just getting your brand message out there by packaging up products to serve this one idea. Your best client wants to feel understood by you. And to take it to another level they want you to believe in them, too.

Back to our divorce coach, they want you to believe in them that they can have a new glorious life in a very different world from the one that they are used to. That’s why they’re coming to you. When I say things like you need to know your best client’s pain points so well that when you speak about them, they literally feel like you’re ripping words out of their head. That’s because this is how they will feel understood by you.

When people feel understood by you, they forge a connection, a bond, with you. You see this online when they casually throw out that she’s my virtual BFF phrase.

You don’t need to worry about your ideal client avatar. I mean, if you can’t sit down and write out those journaling pages I mentioned before, then by all means, give your best client an actual avatar. Give her the name Jane and decide she’s a 20-year-old career gal who just discovered her poor gut health is the cause of her skin problems. There’s nothing wrong with using an avatar if it helps you to write your marketing message out and get it out there. If having an actual avatar for your best client allows you to show up consistently for your business online, by all means, use the avatar.

But don’t let that term stop you from getting out there. Having an idea of who you can best serve, writing to exactly that person in a passionate way, and then helping them–that is all you need to do.

Do you need help with your best client and how to best reach them? The Biz GPS Intensive is your next right step. Think of it as a 30,000-foot view over your business, your offers and services, your content and more–and mapping a 6+ month marketing plan from it all.

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