I confess that the most important marketing concept of all came to me accidentally. It’s quite simple and it revolves around one question. If you can answer it thoroughly, you’ll find yourself halfway to your ideal marketing strategy. The question: “Who is my ideal client?” Here’s the confession part.

When we started Technifold USA, I knew who would need our new products because of my job history and experience. In other words I had been my own ideal client. My technical background alerted me to the usefulness of these particular bindery solutions.

My experience showed me that the ‘who’ was a commercial printing company with an internal bindery operation that ran folding machines. But since we talk to people and not to businesses, I narrowed it down further. I knew that I was exactly the type of person who wanted this product, thus I figured that anyone who had a direct supervisory role in the bindery (my experience) would be a good prospect.

With this very specific picture of my ideal prospect, I set off to look for people just like me. It worked. It got the company rolling. I had hit on a vital marketing concept without realizing just how important it was.

It was not always so. In previous years as a manager for a small commercial printing company, my marketing strategy was a bit less specific. I used what Dan Kennedy calls the “Blind Archery” approach to marketing. You shoot your message randomly to a lot of people and hope to hit enough to make it worthwhile.

In all fairness, I did have a general profile in mind at that time. I was looking for small businesses within a certain radius of the print shop. The problem was that it wasn’t specific enough. I wasted time and marketing resources sending my message to too many of the wrong people at the wrong businesses. As someone once said, “The trouble with using experience as a guide is that the final exam often comes first and then the lesson.” In this case I failed the final exam first and figured out the marketing lesson much later.

Thank God for the wonderful clarity of hindsight. I didn’t want to repeat my failed experience so I decided to study marketing strategy and business on my own. The thing that stood out in everything I read and with everyone I spoke to was the importance of figuring out your ideal client.

John Jantsch, best selling author and small business consultant, says, “The trick is to discover what that ideal client looks like in the most specific way possible and then go about building an entire marketing strategy around attracting more of these ideal customers.” Only when you understand the “who” can you them create your message and decide which media to use to reach them.

So my second time around I knew I was at least on the right track. With a little refinement I found that knowing the “who” saved me a huge amount of time, money and frustration. I no longer spun my wheels with useless advertising and misguided sales tactics. Marketing strategy was easier now that I had a primary focus. When we made the Inc. 5000 list it confirmed the importance of “who.”

Here’s a marketing exercise which I guarantee will surprise you if you’ve never done it before. If your business is new, you can only do part one below. But you should do it anyway, and spend a lot of time discussing it.

1) Describe your ideal client as you envision them. For business-to-consumer, use demographic info such as age, male or female, location, income level, job function, type of business they work for, etc. If you are business-to-business, start with annual company sales, number of employees, industry or SIC classification, business structure and anything else relevant to creating your profile. Then be sure to add any personal demographic info as you might do with B2C.

2) Now pull a complete list of your customers and rank them in descending order by lifetime sales value. Next take the top 20% of this list. (If you have 100 customers, pull out the top 20.) These will be your ‘ideal’ clients.

3) Compare the folks on this list with your description of the ‘ideal’ client. My guess is that you’ll have quite a few “aha” moments that will get you thinking about who, exactly, your ideal customer really is.

Using the actual customer list along with your wish list, you can now paint a true picture of your ideal customer. Many mailing list providers offer services that provide you with demographic and behavioral profiling of your customer list if you really want to get in depth.

But unless you have tens of thousands of customers, a quick scan of your ideal customer list provides you with a lot of info. With that, you can create your first profile of your ideal client. You can even give them a name and create a drawing or photo to represent them. From this point forward, all of your marketing strategy should revolve around attracting exactly that person. Marketing your printing business suddenly got a lot easier.

Once you know precisely who you are looking for, it’s easier to find them and reach them. You can research what they read, what media they prefer, what trade associations and clubs they belong to, where they shop, how they buy, and more. With the amount of data available these days, you can quickly get into the mind of your ideal client to understand them better.

Let’s say you named your ideal customer “Bob.”

  • If you’re talking to an ad space sales person, you can ask yourself if Bob reads that publication. If not, your decision is easy.
  • If you’re writing a blog article and you don’t think it would help Bob, move to a topic he would care for.
  • Writing a sales letter or a proposal? What’s in it for Bob?
  • Thinking about exhibiting at a trade show or conference? Will Bob be there? Does he buy at the show or after the show?
  • Crafting an offer for your print or email newsletter? Ask yourself if Bob will be motivated to respond.

From now on your marketing life centers on Bob. Bob’s traits will change and evolve over time, along with your business. Yet you’ll find that the answer to the “who” question is a simple, elegant and necessary ingredient in creating your own powerful and unique marketing strategy.

And when you sit down with Bob at the dinner table in the evening, you can tell him how much easier your day was now that you’ve met him.

As always we welcome your comments and suggestions below.

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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.