Customer Avatar: Personifying your customer

This post is part of the Digital Deepak Internship Program. You can know more about it at Digital Deepak – a very popular website on everything Digital Marketing.

The second class of the Internship Program was a natural progression after finding the niche, we wanted to focus on. The focus was on understanding the customer in that niche. The way Deepak urged us to do that is by describing our customer in as much detail as possible. It’s a very intriguing process. You see, to describe our customer we obviously need to understand him/her first. And to understand, we need to talk to the person. But how? What if we do not have a customer right now and just starting off? And that’s where it gets very interesting.

In this post, I’ll explain my understanding of the process of personifying our customer and answer the common questions people have. Let’s get started! 🙂


Customer Avatar

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

From Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child.

Let’s use Kipling’s famous poem snippet to explain the process of creating a Customer Avatar. (also called Buyer Persona, Customer Persona etc.)

What is a Customer Avatar?

A Customer Avatar is basically a personification of your largest customer segment. You give it a name, a character. You describe the customer avatar so extensively that it almost takes a life of its own. If you have multiple segments of customers, you may have more than one customer avatar. It is not recommended to go beyond 3-4 customer avatars. But that’s a subjective call.

Why do we need one?

Well you see, it is imperative for any business to know their customers well. And if everyone is your customer then no one is your customer. Which means in any business, we need to narrow down on who exactly are we targetting. And this is an excruciatingly repetitive and dynamic process.

But once you get an idea of your customer via this process, it gets very easy to finetune your strategy, product, messaging and literally everything to that customer. And it bears high rewards every time. So, it is worth the effort.

When do we need one?

The best time is even before you begin the process of creating your product or service. Why? Because unless you know your customer well, how would you know their exact pain-points? So the best time is now!

The idea is to know fully well who you are targeting. What are their fears, dreams, problems? What solutions have they tried? How do they live their lives? what are their hobbies? and so on. Basically the more you know about them, the better.

How do we build a Customer Avatar?

Ah! Now, this is where it gets even more interesting. 🙂 But before we talk about that, let’s reiterate our end goal. Our goal is to describe our primary customer in as much detail as possible. In order to do that, we have to go through two steps: One, identify our main target customer segment and two, talk to them extensively to know more about them.

The first part i.e. identify our main target segment is easier if you are already in business. You would intuitively know who forms the largest customer base for you. Talking to customers is called Primary Market Research. It is the most reliable way of knowing your customer.

But if you are not yet in business, then you are basically finding your niche segment and guessing who your customer should be. We covered how to find your niche a bit in the last blog post. But we’ll cover that some more of identifying your target customer in some time.

The second part i.e. talking to your customers, can be done through multiple processes. We basically need to know what to ask, how to ask and how to arrive at conclusions from the data captured. Let’s tackle them one by one.

What to ask?

We need to first form the set of questions that’ll help us understand them better. Most of them should be open-ended questions. This is so that we get them to talk without creating boundaries. We often get surprising data points from them.

I suggest creating two sections of questions. One, standard demographic questions like age, gender, occupation etc. And second, specific to the aspect you are trying to know about. For eg. when you are starting off, you are more interested in knowing their pain points specific to your interest area and the solutions they tried. Then you may not have questions on their hobbies for now.

So form the questions based on your objective. Since you cannot keep asking infinite no. of questions, be very efficient in the questions you select to ask.

How to ask the questions?

Choose the medium that is most comfortable for your target audience. If they are teenagers – WhatsApp or online surveys may be a good idea. If they are elderly people, face to face interviews may be the most efficient.

How to draw conclusions from the data?

So this is the most important and often error-prone part. There are three things we need to remember here.

One, we are drawing conclusions from a sample and no sampling is perfect. Which means no conclusions will remain cast in stone. And that is why it is an iterative process. Talking to customers never cease.

Two, we need to be careful not to impose our assumptions or gut feel into the conclusions we draw. Some effect of our biases is inevitable. Idea is to keep it to the minimum and go by what the data says. If the data feels counter-intuitive, take more samples and prove it.

Three, if there are some questions where it seems impossible to find commonalities and draw any conclusion – skip it. Do not force yourself to draw conclusions. Such results only mean that more data is needed to draw conclusions.

Where do we find these customers?

Find one prospective customer and then ask them where you can find more people like them. Note where they hang out – online and offline. Join forums and meeting areas to facilitate more conversations with your target segment.

Who do we choose as our target segment?

Now we come back to our question on finding our niche. This question is more relevant for people who are yet to start selling and have real customers.

Here we have a two-purpose approach. We are not only trying to understand our prospective customer but also calibrating our target base based on gathered data. Because we may end up finding a more lucrative and interesting customer base or a pain-point while researching on our customer base.

Secondary market research comes handy here. The way to go about it is to start with a niche and a target customer base. We then start researching available data to understand what our customer is searching for, what problems is he trying to solve etc. There are many ways of doing it. This video summarises some of the best ways to do it:

A very good video on how to do market research for a new product/service.

Some good resources on Customer Avatar

While understanding about Customer Avatars, a session by Kamna Jain – an intern from Digital Deepak’s Internship Program helped me a lot. She also shared a few good links that I found very useful. Here are the top three:

  1. A medium post on Customer Avatar
  2. Sanjay Shenoy on Customer Avatar
  3. Hubspot’s tool to create your Customer Avatar

My Customer Avatar

My last two weeks of research, analysis, and contemplation helped me boil down to a niche – SEO services for startups in India.

I spoke to people in my co-working space, my network and other people in the 2nd degree of connections. The questions I asked revolved around how they spent their day, what were the biggest problems they faced and how they were tackling them. I relied mainly on phone calls and interviews since I was physically close to them and it was quick. My sample size is still small and I will continue to gather more data.

I then took out these inputs to build a Customer Avatar. I used HubSpot’s tool to build a diagram below. It doesn’t capture all conclusions but does capture the main essence.

My customer avatar – Mr. Suresh

I got some interesting insights like most of them were into Tech and very keen on SEO. Many had their own product. Most were struggling to grow revenues.

Conclusion

Building and refining your customer avatar is a continuous process. It is an excellent way to understand your target segment. So, spending time on it is definitely worth it.

Until next time,

Shyam

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