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?