Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Their opinions, loyalty and emotionally driven purchasing decisions shape your organization’s ability to thrive (or fall behind). You must intimately understand your target customer’s worldviews, irrational fears, frustrations and deepest desires to create a profitable and purposeful enterprise. 

Yet the process of clearly defining your ideal customer can be an overwhelming exercise for even the savviest of startups and established brands. You may wholeheartedly believe that your product or service can benefit everyone – regardless of age, gender, background or socioeconomic status – but the reality is this: If you’re trying to sell to everyone, you’re selling to no one. For this reason, it’s imperative to get specific about who you’re trying to influence, then put yourself in their shoes to imagine life from their point of view. This will help ensure that your brand promise, messaging and marketing materials are strategically designed to capture your specific customer’s hearts and minds.   

If you’re struggling to define your ideal customer, try this four-step strategy on for size: 

Let your imagination run wild.

Think about the people you aspire to serve. What do they have in common? Consider the following attributes:

  • Age, gender, education, income, industry and occupation.
  • Worldviews, values, beliefs and daily routines.
  • Favorite tv shows, podcasts, movies, music, blogs, books and magazines.
  • Go-to sources for news, updates and information.
  • Hobbies, interests and lifestyle choices.
  • People (and organizations) they admire.
  • Brands they’re loyal to (and the reasons why).  

This is your opportunity to really dig deep and get specific about who would benefit from your product or service.  

Craft your ideal customer avatar.

Now, take those shared attributes and create a visual characterization to personify the customer mindset. Roll up your sleeves and get creative. Give him or her a name and describe his/her physical traits. You can even find an image online to help yourself visualize this person in your mind’s eye. 

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. 

Once you’ve given your customer a specific persona, imagine life through this lens. This requires true compassion, empathy and understanding. What emotions drive their purchasing decisions? What fears, worries or challenges keep them up at night? What are their personal triggers and stressors? What specific words and phrases do they use to describe their situation? What are their dreams and aspirations? What product or service do they wish exists to help solve a specific pain point?

Interview customers in real life. 

Finally, identify three to five people who epitomize your ideal customer and engage them in real, authentic conversation. Your goal is to ask the right questions and then listen intently to better understand their motivations (not to sell them anything). Potential questions could include: 

  • What does your typical day look life? 
  • What products do you use for [insert your service category]? 
  • What do you like about that brand? 
  • Why is that important to you? 
  • What are your main frustrations? 
  • What does this cost you in terms of lost time, money or aggravation? 
  • What’s a dream solution for you? 
  • What’s a key motivator for you to invest in this kind of product/service? 
  • What do you wish brands understood about you? 

This final step will help you understand the psychology of your ideal customer at every key touchpoint along their journey — before, during and after they’ve made a purchase – and consciously design an experience that surprises and delights them at every step along the way. Equipped with this intelligence, you can isolate, craft and customize a content strategy and customer experience that sparks intrigue, inspires allegiance and incites action.