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Understanding the Customer Avatar

Getting clarity on Markets, Avatars and how they work…

“grey stripy suit, white shirt, gun… yep… you are the Avatar we were looking for”

Struggling to understand who your customer actually is?...and what motivates them?
Use this FREE Customer Avatar Worksheet to develop your marketing activities with a specific person in mind and ensure you know what to say and where to say it - Download it now!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… I studied for a degree in Marketing.

At the time I wasn’t sure it was the right career path for me but 25 or so years later, I’m still doing it, so something must have clicked!

Looking back at some of the subjects I studied, I’m really surprised at how things have changed.

The internet has completely changed the way that many businesses market themselves, and what I mostly do today (email marketing) didn’t even exist at the time.

I’m also surprised at some of the things I didn’t spend as much time on, or didn’t even cover at all, but which are fundamental in my mind to marketing today as anything else.

…and one of these things is the importance of the Customer Avatar.


The Fundies

Creating a Customer Avatar is something I see as fundamental to any marketing activity you do.

…and you don’t need an internet connection or email system to build one.

It’s one of what I call, “the Fundies”, and is something I talk about in depth here.

…but I often get asked to clarify what an Avatar actually is… and how it differs from target markets etc.

Sometimes you can easily confuse the two, and this can undermine the whole concept of the Avatar and its effectiveness.


Why is it so important?

Firstly, why do we need to know who we’re selling to?  How will this help our marketing?

I’ve always seen marketing communication as being all about 3 simple elements, dealt with in a specific order.

  1. Market – who are you speaking to?
  2. Message – what are you going to say to them?
  3. Media – where are you saying it?

The Market influences both the Message and the Media (and in that order!).

If you know your market is pensioners, then you know not to talk about the latest pop sensation and you know that they’re unlikely to be on Tik-Tok or whatever the latest buzzy social media is. If you decided it was a good idea… that’s putting your Media before your Market.

Start with the Media (which is what lots of people do) and you’re going about things the wrong way.

Start with the Message and it’s easy to say the wrong thing, because you haven’t considered who you’re actually speaking to.


About the Who

I remember a long time ago I read a profile of a marketing person and they were asked to describe what marketing was in one word.

Personally, for me the word is “Relevance“, and that’s why knowing who you want to speak to is so important, and informs what you say and where you say it.

By knowing who you’re speaking to, you will ensure what you say is relevant to them – and thus have a much better likelihood of stimulating an action.

Think about someone you’ve recently spoken to and what they said.  They might mention that they recently returned from a holiday.

Knowing that, how do you think that they’d react if you started talking about the weather, the latest sports scores, or even about what you’re doing…

…in comparison to you asking them about the holiday and being interested in their response.

As humans, we listen, react and adjust what we say based on what we hear naturally… and the Customer Avatar helps us play out that conversation in our head when we can’t actually be in front of a person.  


Defining The Avatar

From  a marketing point of view, there isn’t one standard definition of what a Customer Avatar is.

Personally, I see it as:

The detailed description of an individual who would purchase your product/service

So it’s not a way of “grouping” or “categorising” people, but rather focused on a single individual.

It’s..

  • Detailed – we’re not skimming the surface here, we’re focusing in on the specifics about an individual (but not too detailed… we don’t need to know their inside leg measurement or their Mother’s maiden name!
  • Individual – there’s no doubt that lots of marketing is focused on ‘sectors’ or ‘groups’ but the Customer Avatar is an individual person
  • Purchase  – it’s a bit pointless if we’re not looking at someone who could buy your products/services!

…and most importantly, you won’t just have one Avatar – I know of an IT company that has developed over 60 different avatars for different people who buy their services!

The Confusion with Avatars

OK, so now you’ve got a handle on why it’s so important to know your who, I want to address one of the bigger issues people have with the subject, and that’s how an Avatar “fits” with markets, specifically target markets.

To help you understand the difference, I want you to envision a sports stadium which is full of 100,000 randomly selected people.

Within the stadium there are likely to be some people who “could” be purchasers of your product/service, and some that aren’t.

Your job is to stand in the middle of the pitch with a megaphone and get someone in the stands to come down and be interested in buying a coat from your new coat shop.


The Potential Market

The first thing you need to do is split the crowd into those who “could” buy from you and those who couldn’t.

E.g. It could be that some of the crowd don’t speak your language – so they move into the “couldn’t” section.

Once you’ve got all of the people who “could” buy together – they are what I call your Potential Market.

Why would you waste effort using your megaphone on all the people who are never going to buy your product? (Yet some business owners still waste time and money on them).

…but the problem is that the size of the potential market is still pretty big, and getting someone to actually take an action is going to be almost impossible, because your message will be so bland and ‘non-relevant’.

And not only that, but you haven’t got the capacity to sell all them coats… so you need to narrow your focus even more.


Target Markets

Looking at all the people in the section of the crowd that are your potential market, you can see that there are likely to be certain groups in that crowd who are more likely to take action than others

These are your ‘target markets.’ – Groups of individuals who have specific characteristics that make them easier to market to, and more likely to buy more, pay more and love you more.

For example, in your hunt for individuals who could become customers of your coat shop, there are some people in the crowd who aren’t wearing a coat at all – they are a target market.

There’s another group of people who’ve got old and tatty looking coats  – they are a target market too.

…and there are some families, who’ll buy more than one coat at a time – they are a target market as well.

The purpose of finding target markets (and there will be more than one) is to allow you to ‘target’ your marketing message to them, and thus be more relevant, and consequently, they’ll be more likely to take an action (which is what marketing is all about).

Unfortunately, many marketers try and speak to all of their potential market at once, or even several of their target markets together… and thus again, the message is diluted.

You need to focus on one target market at a time – to ensure your message is going to land.

(That doesn’t mean that you can’t carry out a different activity in the future focusing on a different target market).

…but even with this, your message could still not resonate with your target market and not get them to take action.

…to get them to take an action and come down to the pitch to speak to you about coats, you need the power of the Customer Avatar.


The Power of the Avatar

Where the ‘potential’ market and the ‘target’ markets are about groups of people… to generate action you need to speak to individuals… and that’s what the Customer Avatar is there for.

A Customer Avatar is a personification of a specific target market.

It’s the creation of an actual person as a representation of a group – and by focusing on one person (as opposed to several) it’s much easier to get under their skin, and develop messaging that will prompt them to take an action – which, let’s be honest is what it’s all about.

If you can’t get them to take some form of action, what was the point!

Using the Customer Avatar helps you understand the motivations they’ve got, the challenges they have in their life (that you can solve), the barriers against actually taking action (which you need to overcome), and ultimately why they will or won’t buy your product.

When you create your Customer Avatar, try and be as detailed as you can, give them a name and a background – which will inform their attitudes and desires.

…and truly get under their skin – because that’s where the magic happens and you’re able to truly understand what motivates them.

To make life easier I’ve created a Customer Avatar worksheet to structure the questions for you.

The more time you spend on an Avatar, the more you’ll learn what to say to them (or not say) to get them to take action.

Using the stadium example, you could create the Avatar of a parent who wants to keep their child warm on the walk to school. You could use language focused on caring and protection.

Whereas you could just as easily pick an Avatar of someone who wants to be fashionable and use appropriate language and imagery there.

The power is in the specificity of the message.

Appealing to a smaller group of people allows you to be more specific – appealing to one individual allows you to be ‘hyper’ specific which will increase the chances it will generate an action.

In other words, in your crowd of 100,000, if you can speak to one person, you’ll easily get them to come down to the pitch.

…and chances are that some of the specific language you use will resonate with others and they’ll likely to take action too.

That’s the power of the Avatar and why it’s so important to the success of your marketing.


Wrapping up

So, to bring it all together…

  1. You can’t serve everybody, you don’t have the capacity nor do you want to.
  2. Your “Potential” market is still too big to cope with, even though they could purchase your products/services – and your message will not cut through either.
  3. Your “Target” markets help define the prospects who are more likely to take an action (and become your best customers), and your messages can be tailored for them, but your message is still not as specific as it could be.
  4. A Customer Avatar helps you speak to a specific person that represents a selected group of people and because the message is so specific it’ll cut through to their hearts and stimulate them to take action.

When you develop any marketing material, and decide what the message is, you must focus on the market first, and a specific Customer Avatar in particular – to get results.

It’s what we naturally do as humans when we communicate verbally on an individual basis – and so when we are marketing, we need to do the same.

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

Struggling to understand who your customer actually is?...and what motivates them?

Use this FREE Customer Avatar Worksheet to develop your marketing activities with a specific person in mind and ensure you know what to say and where to say it.

Download it now!

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