How to define target audience: Step into your customer’s shoes

A couple of weeks ago I read a post where the author said “Screw the ideal avatar/persona model, it does not work anyway. How should creating a “fake person” help you?”

And while it was probably written by some very annoyed business owner who didn’t see the benefit of creating some imaginary person to represent their customers, it is a fairly well-known method that brand strategists & even copywriters use to create targeted content.

Find your niche the easy way

If used correctly, picturing this person when creating content can not only bring you closer to understanding who your customer really is, it can especially help you target your message directly to them.

So before you dismiss the method,  let me present my case before you make your own, educated decision. Because who knows, it could be this exact technique that you were missing when trying to figure out how to define your target audience.

Who is your target audience, really?

Isn’t this the most dreaded question out there? Yes, but it’s one of the first questions you need to answer when working with any designer, copywriter, or marketer…but more importantly it’s the question you should have answers for when starting a business or developing a product in the first place.

Sadly, most business owners have a very high-level answer to this question.

    • Mothers, 25-40 y.o., living in the USA
    • Men & Women, 35-55 y.o., worldwide
    • Kids
    • Pet owners
    • Everyone

More often than not, people focus on demographics; defining gender, age, location, sometimes hobbies and less often wealth. And while all this information is helpful when setting up a Facebook ad perhaps, they give you a very broad, unfocused & possibly misleading version of your audience.

These broad statistics are only helping you categorize your audience as a big group, making it very hard to imagine who you’re really trying to reach with your message/marketing efforts.

It’s important to be aware of the stats/analytics, to know the broad group/s your audience falls into, but what’s even more important is being able to really imagine the individual humans behind these stats.

Knowing basic demographic data is a good start, but gives you no indication of what kind of people are actually sitting behind the computer when making the purchase/clicking the inquiry button.

Which means anything you design, write, or publish is based mostly on plain guessing.

Let’s talk about the well-known brand that builds plastic construction toys.

Yes, LEGO.

Did you know that the company lost $400 million in 2003?

But, why?

Turns out their initial strategy to build all new toy designs didn’t really resonate with their target audience: kids. 

Learning from their mistake, instead of focusing just on demographic data, the company dug deeper and performed extensive user research to discover what the kids really wanted. 

The kids wanted to build. They didn’t want to play with pre-built action figures. So, Lego introduced a new campaign called “Imagine,” which reflected a new direction for them. The brand put together classic bricks and showed how they resemble more complex objects, imitating how kids use their imaginations while building with lego toys. 

With this new campaign, the company brought in $5.2 billion in revenue. 

Go beyond the demographics and understand your user. 

👉 What are their actual problems (pain points)?

One of the most important things you should focus on when developing a brand or product are the problems your customers are facing. In the marketing world, they are called “pain points”, and the goal is for you to provide a solution. Solving a problem and helping your consumers achieve their goals will help your company gain traction in the market. 

Think hard about the issues your ideal customer could be facing. However, make sure you note whether they are aware of them or not. Sometimes, even though we struggle with something we don’t necessarily realize it until someone tells us, so it’s important for you to be aware of what kind of pain points you are trying to solve and how.

👉 Understand your audience’s habits

You know the people you target have one thing in common. They want/need your services/products.

However, inside this big group are individuals who may be very different from each other. And while they may share some personality traits, the way they live, their beliefs or opinions, will never be the same.

Which is why it’s so important to know as much as possible about the things they DO have in common, like the problems they’re facing, their motivations, desires, purchasing habits & much more. 

Here’s an example of a brand selling organic protein bars, taking the first step to understand audience behavior.

Why is understanding your audience on a personal level important?

Understanding them as a group, but also as individuals helps you make smarter, educated decisions and helps you:

      • Design visuals that speak to them & create an emotional connection
      • Write copy that connects with them & speaks to their pain points, goals, and successes
      • Decide which social media platforms they are spending time on >> where your business should be present and active
      • Deliver and develop better products and services >> you’ll be able to anticipate their needs & concerns.

And that’s where your customer avatar/persona comes into play.

After you interview a member of your audience, you can design a customer avatar and use it as your starting point to build a successful brand. 

This is how it could look. Feel free to experiment with your own version. 


Defining your ideal customer starts with stepping into their proverbial shoes

When I work with my clients on Brand Clarity, one of the exercises we do is writing their Ideal & Worst possible customer/client persona.

How to find out the most about them?

1. Start with your current and/or past clients/customers

Look at the real interactions you’ve had with your clients/customers and think about who you really enjoyed working with and why. Were there any personality traits you really appreciated, or some that really frustrated you?

Your real life experiences aids brand clarity. It gives you a direction on what clients to work with in the future and how to weed out the ones you don’t want to work with. The clients you enjoyed working with likely had some common traits; maybe they were easygoing, open-minded and gave you creative freedom. The ones that you haven’t (ahem) loved working with, they may also have some things in common. It could be that they were demanding, inflexible and in a rush. By zeroing in on the traits of the clients with whom you had a positive experience and also by seeking to avoid the not-so-fun ones, you’ll have a clearer sense of who your ideal clients are.

2. Send out customer surveys

I firmly believe that what’s best for your customers is best for your business. To understand your customer needs, what can you do?

Ask them, simple 🙂

Prepare a questionnaire, but don’t be too general with the questions. Craft them in a way that helps them facilitate the correct answers.

Like Tony Robbins says: “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers..”

Offer some incentive in exchange for the feedback (gift card, discount, contest entry, etc.), anything you like that is within your branding budget. 

3. Read between the lines of customer feedback/testimonials

Once you receive your customer feedback, start transcribing it depending upon the questions you asked. The easiest way to do that is by either laying out a visual map or adding them to a google sheet to get a high-level view whenever required.

In an off-boarding call I had with a client, she shared that she didn’t know many of the terms that I had used during the project. I asked her whether she thought a glossary of helpful branding / technical terms would help, and she liked that idea. She probably never would have suggested that herself, but when I dug a bit deeper into how I could improve the experience of working with me, it seemed an obvious idea.

4. Stay unbiased

The worst mistake that brands do is assuming who their target audience is and what they need.

That’s the wrong approach. 

It’s easy to project ourselves into our audience and while sometimes there is a big overlap, it’s safer to assume you don’t know anything about them just yet.

Here’s how fast food giant Burger King failed by introducing low-calorie fries.

The brand wanted to make the chain healthier and compete with other restaurants with low-calorie options. But, the campaign tanked because the brand was unable to understand their target consumers and what they needed. 

Many people prefer eating at fast-food chains due to the affordability and not often due to the nutritional value. The customers didn’t know what “Satisfries” (healthy fries) were or why they should choose them over regular fries. Hence, the product was discontinued in less than a year of launching. 

I never create a design without understanding my users’ vision & audience first. Never jump right into designing without talking about the overall goals, customer problems, the solutions they provide and how you can visually connect the dots between what the customer sees & feels.

5. Learn about their life

Try finding out the most about their pain points by searching Google & social media for clues without straight asking the questions. Read through Facebook groups and Reddit to see what people discuss, how they talk, what problems they are talking about. 

This helps you deeply understand the vision and message you want to deliver and interprets your ideas efficiently. Identifying experiences and stories gives your brand an angle and helps in solving your customer’s problems. It’s like my client Rachel, who shares love for her city, Omaha with her audience. Her goal above everything else was to help local businesses become more successful and make the city a better place to live. So it’s for this reason we decided to build a heritage brand for her to celebrate love for Omaha and its people.

How to craft the customer avatar/s

Now, when you collect all the Demographic stats + Details about their problems, habits & life. You’re ready to craft a Customer Avatar that will help you with your marketing efforts going forward.

As you can see, we are not making up a random person to craft our visuals & copy for. Quite the opposite, we’re using the real information we learned to create a person who will be much more tangible and reachable for us, making it much easier to create any marketing materials and make any decision.

Imagine you’re writing a book, creating the main hero of the story.

Step 1: Decide if you need one or multiple avatars

Depending on the size of your audience group, it may be enough for you to craft one, or it may be more beneficial to create 2-3 different personas that represent various knowledge you have about your audience.

Step 2: Gender, age & name

When crafting the avatar, start with the demographic basics. Do you have a name for your client avatar? Try choosing one! You can even go as far as finding a good stock photo to go along with the avatar so you can truly visualize them as you create. 

Step 3: Write your ideal client/customer avatar

Apply everything you learned about your audience to write the Ideal client avatar

Write a “life story” of this person that summarizes the information collected and is important for your type of business.

      • How does their day look like
      • What they love doing
      • What do they believe in
      • What motivates them
      • What are they afraid of

Consider a company, “Elevate”, that helps small business owners to elevate their businesses by handling their branding and campaigning. 

Here is a customer avatar they created for one of their prospects.

Eric is a 35 years old, newly married, ambitious bakery owner from Michigan. He’s been working hard for the past 7 years to scale his business and make his bakery the most popular and trusted brand in town.

Eric is committed to quality and believes in spreading smiles through his fresh and yummy baked goods. He loves experimenting with new recipes to serve his varied customers.

The little free time he gets, he spends it on social media, promoting his products, and watching documentaries of successful baking businesses. 

He earns around $60,000 and $80,000 a year. Juggling between a newly married life, experimenting with new recipes, and managing a business, he doesn’t get time to ideate and innovate on new business ideas that could help him scale his business by introducing effective and fun campaigns to attract more customers. 

He fears that he will lose everything he created if he spares time out to work on branding. He also doesn’t want to be called a regular bakery owner all his life. 

Eric believes in taking calculated risks by investing in the business to give it a new direction. His strong will to build a thriving business shows his ambitious nature.

As he learns about “Elevate”, he thinks this could be an excellent way to help him build new systems and branding campaigns, giving him the confidence to embrace his newly married life without financial fears and a positive spark towards his dream of building a popular bakery without spending extra time. 


Step 4: Create with them in mind

Save this, print it, stick it to your wall…do whatever you can to make sure that no matter what you create in your business, you have these personas in mind. You are creating, writing for THEM.

Really imagine they are a real person with all those traits and life challenges you defined for them, and make sure that everything you create is speaking to them. This way, you create consistent content that is targeted to everything you really KNOW about your audience, not something you THINK you know.

Bonus tip:

The same as you created this Ideal client avatar, create the worst possible client avatar too. Take the same steps to step into shoes of a person who:
– is not at all interested in what you do
– someone who may react negatively to what you’re putting out there
– is not aligned with your beliefs or straight up dislike what you have to offer

While it’s uncomfortable to step into the shoes of such a person for sure, it can again give you more insight about who your ideal client really isn’t, and it will also prepare you for when a person like this really shows up.


Shouting it out from the rooftops, “Know your audience if you want to build a purposeful and successful brand.”

I cannot emphasize enough on how important it is to understand your users. Dive deeper into learning about their pain points, successes, routines, and motivations. This will help you deliver a pleasant experience for your customers and make them fall in love with your brand. 

For more tips on building a personality-driven brand that you’re dying to share with others, follow me on Instagram.

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How to define target audience: Step into your customer’s shoes

Zuzana Zapletal

Brand Strategist, Creative Designer & Recovering Perfectionist on a mission to help you become more confident about your brand.

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