Defining Your Ideal Customer When You Don’t Know Her: A Case Study

When I started Casey D. Sibley Art + Design, I didn't really have an ideal customer in mind. I started selling art and experimenting with new products out of a simple desire to be more creative and see if I could make extra money on the side of my full time career.

Over time, the things I enjoyed making started finding people that loved them. It took a few years to find those people and they were different than who I originally thought might be interested in the things I was making.

I’d read blog posts and listened to podcasts all about defining my target customer, but it didn't really sink in until I started dreaming of writing this blog.

While Casey D. Sibley Art + Design started as an outlet for my creativity, the Leap Repeat blog developed from a desire to share something valuable with others. Having to define a user for each of these models opened my mind to the different ways to find and speak to the right people for my brands.

The biggest lesson: it's much easier to market a product or service if you start out knowing who your users are.

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Finding enthusiastic readers for this blog has been a cake walk compared to finding loyal customers for my product business. I've had people tell me, fairly early on in the blogging journey, that the things I am writing speak directly to them. It took much longer to tap into the same enthusiasm for my product business.

Below is an outline of the biggest revelations I've had while defining ideal customers for two product models.

1. Imagine a person that your product or service would be the most useful for (hint: they're probably not someone just like you).

Okay, so this one can be hard to answer if you started a business that is purely passion-based, i.e. all about you.

When I started Casey D. Sibley Art + Design (formerly Casey Dee Art), I was making things for the pure excitement of making them. I think I hoped that someone young-ish and fashion forward would love my brand--basically the type of woman that I aspire to be!

It turns out that my ideal customer for my products is a little older than myself and has young kids...oh, and more disposable income. She’s much more practical than what I imagined. I wrestled with this a lot in beginning because she wasn't just like me and I felt a little fraudulent marketing to her. But everything I created seemed to resonate with her. I reached a point where I could pick her out of a crowd at craft fairs and retail shows, because she always walked up to my booth. 

Once I accepted that she was not me and I started researching her market, understanding why she was interested in my products made a lot of sense. I create bright, colorful, and bold artwork for functional accessories...perfect for a mom on the go. And my artwork is very suitable to modern children's products and decor. It made sense that that a modern momma would like my abstract, funky patterns on large totes and fun catchall storage bins for the home.

With this blog on the other hand, I knew exactly who I wanted to speak to from the start.  

She is working in a professional career and entertaining the idea of growing a full time creative business around her passions. She struggles sometimes to find the courage to go all in with her business ideas because she wants to maintain her professional status and is afraid to compromise that by failing. She picked a stable career for herself that feels like a bad fit. She knows that she can do big things, but she's not sure yet what those things are and is desperate to figure it out and create a thriving livelihood around what she loves. She's sick and tired of being sick and tired of the career status quo and wants to be her own boss.

All of this information guides my decisions when creating products and blog posts. It helps me stay on brand and create things that will help each user of my products.

2. You can find her through trial and error, or you can make her up.

Trial and error is how I found my ideal customer for Casey D. Sibley Art + Design. I didn’t have a solid plan of action for the products I wanted to make. I wanted to see what would happen if I made pretty things and sold them. I wanted to do what I wanted, and sometimes that meant that I wasn’t following a trend just because it was popular. I was following my joy!

Over time I figured out where my ideal customer hangs out online, what types of magazines she reads, and where she shops (and where she definitely doesn’t shop). This process took years of opening up to all sorts of opportunities, and I became really good at figuring out which ones were a good fit for my business and my customer.

For the LeapRepeat Blog, I totally made her up. Well, sorta.

This blog also started as a passion project. But I immediately had an ideal reader in mind. I remember how much fear used to rule my decisions, even when I considered myself a strong and fearless person. I wanted to speak to myself five years ago, and let her know that everything was going to be just fine as long as she was doing things that made her happy.

I also know her in real life, in varying forms, because I am friends with her. I’ve met so many talented women who are starting or want to start businesses. Some of them have a hard time saying out loud exactly what they want because they aren’t sure yet what it means. Or how it will change their identity. 

My ideal reader for this blog is a mash up of myself and other women I have met while growing Casey D. Sibley Art + Design.

Even if you aren’t talking to another version of yourself or someone that you already know, you can make up a person that makes sense for what you want to pursue in your business. I promise they exist somewhere. 

3. Ask her who she is.

If you haven’t started using some form of surveys in your business, you are missing out on some awesome information about your customers. 

Whether you have an email list or not, you can start asking your customers questions about who they are, where they came from, and which of your products they love. People love to tell you what they think, which also provides a great opportunity for testing new products. 

Don't have customers yet? Ask anyone that seems remotely interested in what you are doing. Ask people before they join your email list. Ask them before they buy a product. Ask them after!

I’ve had surveys on my Facebook page, I’ve asked questions on Instagram, and I have sent surveys directly to my email list (some of you reading have filled out a survey for this blog! Thank you!). I've even surveyed my closest friends and family about what they think my strengths are.

You can also talk to the people that have been repeat customers in the past. Develop a report with your biggest fans. I have one shop that orders from me almost every month. One day, I sent the owners an email to ask about their customers because my fabric buckets were more popular there than anywhere else. And they gave me a little deeper insight into their customer and the demographic of the area they live in. 

All you have to do is ask.

4. There will be overlap with other customer types, but speak directly to her.

It's tempting to try to reach many people with one product. This can get frustrating by muddling the product and message. When you get laser focused on this one perfect customer, you can target your message so that it reaches her loud and clear.

This way, you are reaching a specific group of like-minded people that love what you do, rather than a broad group of people that are indifferent about your product (the latter tend to be people that need a low price to convert them to customers—not what you want!).

If you’ve been reading my ideal customer profile for Leap Repeat and thought, yes! That’s me! Then you are exactly who I’ve been writing for, intentionally. Most of my content resonates on a deep level with you. You want more. You would pay me for really great content if it would help you get closer to the life of your dreams. You share my work and tell me how much you enjoy it.

If you read the profile and thought, yeah, no that’s not really me. Then you are not my ideal customer, BUT you share something with her and will likely find some useful things here for yourself. You may not buy from me if I ever launch an ebook or ecourse, but you might enjoy the free content I put on the blog and that's totally cool with me. I might even get on your nerves at some point, but you are curious enough to come over and have a look from time to time at what I'm doing.

There will be overlap with other customers. There will be people who embody some, but not all, of the characteristics you have assigned to your ideal customer. Maybe these other customers aspire to be more like your ideal customer. 

The point is to speak directly to the perfect person that will fall in love with your work, have a customer that you can tailor products for, and still enjoy what you are creating over time.

You might be shocked when she actually shows up, exactly the way you imagined her, and tells you how much she loves what you do.

What are ways that you have found to be useful for defining your ideal customer? What are things that you struggle with? Let us know in the comments! 

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