Until a bit over 2 years ago I had a real problem with the standard client avatar work available. Many many years ago, in my previous business, I did a beta test of an online coaching program and had my first introduction to writing my ideal client profile. I hated it! I had to name them, detail their demographics, outline their day, it was even suggested that I found a photo of them and print it out. Something felt wrong.
Here’s the thing. With a degree in psychology, I know that we are more than what we do. I understand that diagnoses and labels give us meaning and structure to our lives, it makes things easier. But labels are just that, they stick on top of a number of behaviours and/or symptoms which make up the labels.
So what's the problem with traditional client avatar work?
Standard client avatar work reduces people to a list of labels. I don’t know about you, but I’m more than the labels society puts on me. Yes I am a mother, daughter, sister, wife, graduate, business owner; but so are many other women I know. Does that mean that we are all the same? Does that mean that all of our behaviours are the same? No!
What about my other demographics? I am a woman in my 40s with two teenage children. I’m married. Does that mean that I behave the same as any/many/most married 40 year old Mum of 2 teens? No!
So why do marketing experts and business owners still believe that these client profiles based on labels work? At best they are generic, but how are they used and what lies behind them?
These avatars are used to help business owners with their marketing and messaging. They exist to help with what words to use, where to focus marketing efforts; but where does this come from? The business owner’s interpretation of the labels. And this interpretation comes from their lived experience and opinions of these labels. This interpretation comes from our biases. What if they’re wrong?!
So what happens when a business does a standard client avatar exercise and finds it doesn’t work, and I have had many business owners in tears because this is the case but they were lead to believe it would work and was crucial. Their marketing efforts are misguided, they don’t make the money they feel they should, they are demotivated, and some even close their businesses believing they were a failure.
All because they relied on labels rather than what sat behind them.
Deeper than the client avatar
So what sits behind the labels?
Behind the labels are the behaviours, the actions. What drives these behaviours and actions? Our motivators. What drives our motivators? Our culture, our education, our lived experience.
The old ‘nature vs nurture’ conundrum has puzzled scientist for decades. Why can identical twins raised in the same home behave so differently? Researchers ponder why two people experience the same event differently, even down to developing trauma as a result of the same event. It’s individual differences.
However, marketing believes that demographics and labels is enough of a definition for a client avatar… even though scientists have grappled with individual differences for decades.
A new type of client avatar
So how do we account for individual differences in our client avatar? Can we individualise and yet be able to speak to a group?
I believe the key is in defining what lies beneath the labels. Looking at the unique behaviours of that particular mother of teens you have in your client avatar. What motivates her? Look deeper into her behaviours than how she fills her day, that’s what she does. Look deeper into why she does it, why does she make a particular choice, where does that come from?
When businesses are able to define and speak to these deeper motivators, they connect to their audience at a deep interpersonal level. You speak to your ideal client in words they understand at their core because you are using words that drive them to take the action they do, make the choices they make. You connect to them as an individual not a set of faceless demographics.
That was what I felt was missing in the client avatar work I did those years ago. Connection. A connection at a deeper interpersonal level. A connection like we were sharing a moment where commonalities were found and friendships were made. A place from which strong connections grew. A place to build a long lasting and expanding connections. A place to communicate from. A point of connection from where I could motivate a client to action because I showed them that they were understood, that they could know me, like me, trust me and then they would work with me.