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How to create customer profiles, with examples

Creating customer profiles gives brands a deep understanding of their customers' needs and results in more successful marketing strategies. Here are the steps to get started.

Crafting an effective customer journey is challenging but exciting, requiring creativity, focus and a deep understanding of the customer's needs and behaviors. That deep understanding is central to the task, and its starting point is the customer profile.

When we say customer profile, we aren't talking about a profile of an individual customer. The term actually means customer type -- a template of a customer that is representative of a group of customers. The customer profile is a goal-centered representation that helps the marketing and sales teams zero in on what a typical customer who matches the profile will respond to, such as what channels will reach them, what content will attract them and what touchpoints will be most critical.

Customer profiling differs from other strategies built around customer characteristics. Unlike generic demographics or market segmentation, differences in geography or socioeconomic status don't necessarily factor into a customer profile. Customers can be widely dispersed in age, location and income and still be represented by the same profile -- online buyers of jazz music, for instance, or shoppers seeking affordable home electronics.

Marketing efforts that build on customer profiles are much more likely to reach and resonate with the target customer. Additionally, those marketing efforts will be more efficient, require less time and investment to implement and will result in greater dexterity in crafting customer journeys. Here are some guidelines for creating effective customer profiles.

1. Understand your target market

Whatever the product or service you're trying to promote, understanding your target market means adopting the buyer's point of view. That point of view has many ingredients, and it's important to carefully consider each one.

Finding that target customer starts with settling on the target market -- the product's destination. The latter will determine the former and emerges from the answers to the following questions.

What market does the product best serve?

Positioning a product in the correct market is critical to its success. That's not always easy to determine, though, as many products and services can often fit into a range of potential markets. When determining the best market, you should consider several factors:

  • What products currently compete in that market?
  • What are the barriers, and how would your company address them?
  • How broad is the market in terms of demographics?

Answering these questions will help pin down the best target market.

Marketing efforts that build on customer profiles are much more likely to reach and resonate with the target customer.

What does the typical customer in that market look like?

This also isn't always easy to determine. In many marketing scenarios, "typical" can be difficult to define because a market consists of a considerable range of diverse buyers. In any case, the driving question in examining the customers in a specific market is "What do these people have in common that might spur their interest in this product?" Even in a diverse population, that question can usually be answered with some accuracy.

What is it about existing products in the market that customers find appealing?

Often, a great deal of progress in defining a market can emerge from analyzing the features of products already in that market that generate appeal. This can generate insights into how customers in that market think.

2. Create or review your customer journey map

The customer journey map -- the touchpoints between the customers and your company as they move toward what they want -- is a slow-motion capture of the customer's behavior, defining their preferences, priorities, likes and dislikes in the interaction and potential responses. The map clarifies the customer's needs and goals and surfaces potential challenges to address as CX teams refine the journey map.

A customer journey map doesn't need to be completed before a campaign launches and a customer profile is deployed to support it. As a list of touchpoints, it's subject to change and evolution.

3. Determine your target demographics

Identifying the best customers is a start, but you should also explore their demographics to generate a profile that defines them well. Since they might be a diverse group, some demographics could be easier to define than others. Is there an apparent age range? Can the typical customer afford the product? Is gender a factor in product interest? Do they have other common factors by which they group -- for example, an interest in sports? Collecting and analyzing these demographics will improve the eventual profile.

4. Look at customer feedback

You can only learn some things about the target customer by asking them. Feedback on a range of data points -- satisfaction, the likelihood of buying again, likes and dislikes and peripheral interests -- can all bolster the customer profile. You can use many survey methods and mechanisms to gather this information, and it's valuable enough that it should be incentivized, for example, with the offer of coupons. Surveys should be an ongoing best practice, regardless of whether you're trying to create a customer profile.

5. Create customer personas

A customer profile describes the type of buyer you should be trying to sell to. There is also the buyer persona: a fictional portrait of who is buying from your brand based on analysis of demographics, behaviors and motivations. Typically, a company that uses this tool will have several of them, as a single customer persona seldom characterizes an entire customer base.

This persona is a complement to the customer profile. Since any marketing effort aims to bring new customers into the fold with existing ones, there will be some continuity between customer profiles and personas as one converts to the other. The take-home point is that continuity can provide insights, while the disparity between them could foreshadow challenges.

6. Update customer personas

Customer profiles can refine marketing strategy and are transitory; new ones based on old ones will emerge, and others will change as markets evolve. Customer personas remain a key reference once the customer journey is underway and will likewise evolve. This is part of why customer surveys should be perpetual: They bring in additional data for analysis and keep personas up to date.

You should also constantly refresh other inputs to the persona, such as buying history, content preferences, affiliations and attitudes. You can often glean the latter two from social media monitoring. Diligence in this area will keep the profile/persona dynamic stable.

Examples of customer profiles

Customer profiles often follow a specific template, as shown in the following examples.

A chart depicting three different examples of customer profiles.
Customer profiles provide organizations guidance on the habits and interests of their customers, which helps inform business decisions

The profile of a suburban online shopper shows a good match between the retailer's goal and a well-targeted market. The customer profile depicts shoppers with a wide range of product needs, ample money and a lifestyle that would motivate them toward online shopping convenience. That lifestyle lends itself to effective content targeting, and the customer is easily accessible via multiple channels.

The profile of a spouse-to-be depicts a solid match between niche service providers and a very niche market. Though the segment of the general population that gets married is large and varied, only a subset of those customers is getting married for the first time. That demographic is easily defined.

Within that demographic, an even narrower set of potential customers would be interested in farming out the planning and execution of the wedding. They would be young but able to afford the extravagance. Well-off and healthy, they would be easy to attract with strong, targeted content.

The last customer profile of a college student is a strong match for an online retailer seeking to offer affordable products to a wide market segment without a lot of spending money. College students come in all shapes and sizes, but budget-conscious ones are more likely to buy online and less likely to care about what brand is cool. Once again, the profile makes selecting effective content to attract this type of customer easy.

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