Your Ideal Customer Is a Myth

We talk about finding the “ideal” customer so often that it practically becomes a fetish. But that’s how you grow, right? You find more people like your ideal customers and get them to be your customers, too, right? What if that idea of an ideal customer is a myth, and chasing it is about as useful for growth as hunting Bigfoot?

We talk about finding the “ideal” customer so often that it practically becomes a fetish. But that’s how you grow, right? You find more people like your ideal customers and get them to be your customers, too, right? What if that idea of an ideal customer is a myth, and chasing it is about as useful for growth as hunting Bigfoot?

Looking for your ideal customer makes as much sense as hunting for Bigfoot and the Lochness Monster.
And your personas might be, too.

How to grow your business — specifically through “growth hacking” to expand as quickly as possible — was the topic on everyone’s mind at Growth Marketing Conference East in Brooklyn on May 4. And no doubt, many of them were thinking about exactly how to find more of their ideal customers.

But in the opening keynote, Derek Halpern, Founder/CEO of Social triggers, spun the idea of who marketers should be targeting for growth on its ear.

“How do you acquire new customers? Find new areas for growth,” said Halpern.

The Ideal Customer Struggle Is Real, and a Blunder

According to Halpern, most companies, especially early stage companies hoping to grow, try to acquire new customers by focusing on who they think of as their ideal customers. Then they fight for the people in that demographic/psychographic/targeted category.

The problem is, every company in your market thinks of these as their ideal customers, too, and they all want them.

So instead of growing dynamically, Halpern sees too many companies fighting over this known pool of customers.

  • They fight by targeting competitors customers, instead of bringing new customers to their market.
  • They focus on persuading other company’s customers to switch, often by spamming and hounding them with marketing messages.
  • They fight against cancellations to keep customers.
  • They fight for conversions through micro-optimization tactics that bring incremental improvement, but not the big shift you’re looking for.

Fighting is a slog. You struggle for every customer you get and every customer you try to keep. And then, Halpern said, growth marketers fight even harder! They announce New features, new messaging, new headlines … and soon they have dead customers “who are so jaded they’re just never going to buy anything from you again.”

And that’s the real problem with fetishizing “ideal” customers. They become exhausted customers, and they stop responding.

“When you’re fighting for customers who are being bombarded by 30 different companies,” explained Halpern, “it becomes very hard for you to acquire a new customer.”

That’s not growth hacking. That’s the opposite of growth hacking.

Where the Growth Is

According to Halpern, if you want to grow — if you’re trying to “hack” growth — you need to stop aiming for “ideal” customers.

In fact, the whole “idea of an ideal customer is a myth,” said Halpern. “You may have 50 different kinds of people who want what you sell for different reasons.”

Instead of fighting over the market all of your competitors know is there, you need to find those customers who need your products or services, but don’t know about them, or don’t know how they can help.

You need to target customer who don’t even realize they’re in your market, yet.

From a conventional, ideal-customer point of view, these customers are too far from the known sales funnel to be worth targeting. They’re indirect customers. They’re harder to find, and they seem like a longer shot to convert.

According to Halpern, most marketers ignore them because they’re so far from the sale. But once you have them interested, he said, they’re much easier to convince to buy.

“To them you’re the only solution,” said Halpern. “They’ve never heard of anything else.”

How to reach these indirect customers could be a blog post on its own. They don’t necessarily know you or your market, so your marketing has to be indirect — focusing on creating a market out of ignorant customers rather than convincing knowledgeable customers to buy from you instead of a competitor.

As Halpern put it: “The less they know, the more broad you go” in your marketing.

But if you’re looking for room to grow, broad is exactly the kind of market you need.

What do you think? Is your company slogging it out over those precious, “ideal” customers? Or are you creating your market through indirect marketing?

Growth Hacking for Direct Marketers

The term “growth hacking” first appeared about three years ago to describe generating sales using non-traditional channels at no cost, or low cost. At first, “growth hacking” was considered just another marketing buzz word that would fizz out over time. But it’s reportedly …

The term “growth hacking” first appeared about three years ago to describe generating sales using non-traditional channels at no cost, or low cost. At first, growth hacking was considered just another marketing buzz word that would fizz out over time. But it’s reportedly growing in use.

Wikipedia, the go-to place for definitions, probably sums it up best:

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hackers are marketers, engineers and product managers that specifically focus on building and engaging the user base of a business.

Another definition:

Growth hackers often focus on low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. using social media, viral marketing or targeted advertising instead of buying advertising through more traditional media.

Where do we see growth hacking most? Start-ups. The goal is to generate rapid growth in the early stage launch, and at the same time, make the growth sustainable and retain customers for the long-term. Another way you might think of growth hacking is to get earned media (no cost) instead of using paid media.

So how would a traditional direct mail marketer use no or low-cost growth hacking techniques? I think one application would be to integrate direct mail with digital channels using automated software platforms to create nurture marketing strategies.

  • Sync email contact with in-home direct mail delivery. Make sure you encourage anyone who comes to your website to opt-in to your email list.
  • Test multiple landing pages with email, and when you have multiple segments of customer email, test a variety of options.
  • Use Facebook sponsored posts or retargeting campaigns to serve ads to people matched from your email list or who have visited your website. Test a small budget that you’re comfortable spending daily.
  • Frequently generate new content your customers and prospects want to know about. The written word is good. Video recorded from a smartphone can be authentic.

Growth hacking might not be part of a traditional direct mail marketer’s vocabulary and approach, but thinking out-of-the-box with how you can sell for no or low cost digital channels might yield some profitable surprises.

(My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” )