April 20, 2017
Editor's note: This was first posted on July 7, 2016. It's being
republished today in honor of Get to Know Your Customers Day,
which is observed annually on the third Thursday of each quarter. It's
a day to reach out to your patrons and get to know them better.
Do you remember your childhood imaginary friend? Chances are you
had one. A 2004 study by University of Washington and University of
Oregon psychologists found that by age seven, 65 percent of children
have had an imaginary friend. It could have been a teddy bear you
rather uncreatively named Teddy and carried on conversations with, or
an invisible playmate called Theodore who understood you completely
and always wanted to play the games you wanted to play. Weren’t
those highly successful playdates?
They were real to us, too. Oh, we weren’t so psychologically damaged
to actually believe they existed temporally. But they were real in our
minds. We had sword fights together. Roped cows. Hosted a tea party
in our finest gowns. They were our best friends.
We are no longer children, but we adults still need our imaginary friends. As business people, our mature imaginary friends need to be more structured then when we were children. Then, we didn’t have to create imaginary friends. They just came to us. Our minds were wild and free. As adults, we must tap into that wildness and freedom with a purpose. That purpose is to focus your message.
Call them Ideal Clients. Call them Customer Avatars. Call them Buyer Personas. What they really are are imaginary friends for adults. If you talk to them, they will help you to succeed in whatever business you’re in, just as they helped us to succeed in play during our youth.
It doesn’t matter if you’re selling shoes, decks, or graphic design, you must start with knowing your audience’s wants and needs before you can create the message that brings you business. Your imaginary friend is that one person whose wants and needs you know so well you can discuss it with them. Who you can bounce ideas off of to see if they like it or not. Like you did as a child, but this time with a structured purpose.
It’s not only for entrepreneurs. Anyone who is reaching out to others on a mass level needs to create an Ideal Client. Associations would create an Ideal Member. Writers would create an Ideal Reader. Politicians would create an Ideal Constituent.
I like the term Ideal Avatar because it encompasses all those concepts and puts your imaginary friend in a worshiped position, as your clients should be.
Merriam-Webster defines an avatar as the incarnation of a Hindu deity in human form, or the embodiment of a concept or philosophy, often in a person.
When you create your Ideal Avatar you are creating a deity, an incarnation of your perfect client in human form, the embodiment of a concept of who your Buyer Persona is in the philosophy of a person.
This is not a new concept. Software engineer Alan Cooper introduced personas to the world in his 1998 book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. But Cooper began unconsciously creating personas in 1983. He tells of taking a walk around a golf course during his lunch breaks, talking to an imaginary friend loosely based on a project manager who would be using the software he was developing.
“As I walked, I would engage myself in a dialogue, play-acting a project manager, loosely based on Kathy, requesting functions and behavior from my program,” Cooper wrote in a 2008 blog. “I often found myself deep in those dialogues, speaking aloud, and gesturing with my arms. Some of the golfers were taken aback by my unexpected presence and unusual behavior, but that didn’t bother me because I found that this play-acting technique was remarkably effective for cutting through complex design questions of functionality and interaction, allowing me to clearly see what was necessary and unnecessary and, more importantly, to differentiate between what was used frequently and what was needed only infrequently.”
Cooper’s first conscious personas came about when he became an entrepreneur. Unable to get engineers to tell him what they wanted created, he went to the customers and asked them what they needed. His interviews uncovered three distinct users, which Cooper decided to name Chuck, Cynthia, and Rob.
“These three were the first true, Goal-Directed, personas.”
The key phrase here is “Goal-Directed.” What do they need so you know how to provide it? That’s your goal.
And, your imaginary friend can tell you. You only have to ask.
Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.