The “Ideal Customer” Myth

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It’s easy to grow your farm or small business, right? Just define your ideal customer and find more like them. Well, today, I’ll put an end to this myth and explain why it’s not about your ideal customer, but rather it’s about YOU!

You know, it’s frustrating when we start a farm or any new business.

We hear things like, if you build it they will come. Experts advise us to simply define our ideal customer…our avatar, in modern speak, and we’re all set.

Simple as that.

Have you heard that before?

Here’s an example of what the process looks like to define an ideal customer. I’ll call mine—Jane. And…I think Jane works in advertising.

She has two kids and lives on the outskirts of a major city—let’s say, Dallas. Jane enjoys spending time with family, cooking from scratch and playing with her cats.

So far, sounds like a profile you might see on a dating site, but I like Jane, don’t you?

Let’s see what else we know about Jane.

She values organic, sustainable, locally sourced food that is non-GMO, and she detests factory farming. Don’t we all? So, naturally, her brand values are conservative and traditional with a strong need for integrity.

Great…that should help us with naming our business and products, as well as font and color selections, and all our copywriting.

Jane is AWESOME, right?

And this is what we’re told to do…to create an avatar like this.

But is that really sound advice?

On first glance, maybe it is. I mean, it sounds both simple and logical…just target people who are likely to buy from you. So, in theory, it’s one of those things that sounds sensible, so people keep repeating this advice you hear.

Don’t believe me?

Just Google “how to identify your ideal customer” and you’ll over 200 hundred million results on it.

But, despite being advice frequently dished out, there’s a big problem with this approach. And, actually, in my experience, there are five problems with this approach.

Here’s the first problem.

If you try to target an IDEAL customer with your branding, you EXCLUDE all others.

Sure, I suppose it’s great if you get lucky and nail your ideal customer and pick the right words/phrases/colors for your website.

But what if you’re off the mark?  You turn people off, never to return.

So, while it seems to make sense that you should talk about your customers first and their needs, if you have a farm business, I’m going to give you the opposite advice.

Start with talking about YOU.  Your vision, your mission—your reason. It may make you feel uncomfortable, but it’s much better to start off talking about YOU rather than a made-up ideal customer, and share your story.

Which leads me to the second problem.

You didn’t set out to serve an ideal customer, did you? You set out to create something YOU loved. I mean, why did you start your business?

Did you do it because you had some mythical dream customer in mind you wanted to serve?

Or was it because you wanted to do something YOU loved…something you were passionate about. And then share the result of that with WHOEVER wanted to support you.

Did Apple start this way, with a single dream customer in mind?  Amazon? Polyface? Paul and his family at Primal Pastures and Pasturebird? Did we start that way at Nature’s Harmony?

No, of course not, and you didn’t either…

Look, I know what it takes to start a business. It takes passion.

If you want to be successful, it takes much more than just passion, but it’s rare to see a business started that wasn’t fueled by passion.

And it’s that passion you need to put eloquently into words, because when you do it right, you’ll accomplish two important things.

The first is that your words will inspire and resonate with people. People who will care about your new business and will support you.

The second thing that well crafted words and images will accomplish is that they’ll cast a wide net. And, believe me, you’re going to need that wide net, at least until your operation has matured.

I’ll tell you why, as it segues into my third argument against worrying about your ideal customer.

Listen, I’ve started several businesses in my life.  Some sold services to B2B technology companies.  One provide marketing support services to large mutual funds and financial institutions. Others were food businesses, producing everything from gourmet fudge to grassfed beef and artisan cheese.

And pretty much every time, the customers who bought and supported the business were radically different from what I imagined at the outset. I mean, I used to believe the same advice you hear, both from marketing experts and so-called business strategists.

So I’d define my ideal customer and try to target them, only to find (obviously) that EVERYONE in my competitive landscape was targeting the same customers.

So, right away, I’d be in a slugfest with others competing for the same customers and using words and phrases that we all thought the customers wanted to hear.

And, no matter what business you’re in, you have competitors, believe me.

If you’re a farm, you compete with other farms, co-ops, farmers markets, grocery stores, Blue Apron, home gardening and cooking—you name it.

And, that ideal  consumer you’re targeting only has so many dollars to go around. And all those outlets I just named want those dollars just as much as you do.

So, how do you stand out?

You stand out by talking about yourself, as I said. Your story..your vision…what you’re doing and why that’s different.

There’s a lot of people—believe me, I know a lot of them myself—who listen to Joel Salatin or read his wonderful books and set-out to emulate what he’s doing.

And they flop, without understanding why.

Because, it isn’t just the Polyface farming model of layered enterprises that makes the farm successful, not by a long shot. It was Joel’s branding through his engaging and outspoken personality that differentiated his farm, earned him attention and attracted customers to him.

As I said, I don’t think he thought too much about who his ideal customer was.

He thought about what was wrong with industrial farming, what was right about his ecologically sound, layered approach to farming and shouted that from the roof top.

To ANYONE who would listen.

And, like Joel, I long ago learned to stop worrying about who my ideal customer was.

Instead, I  became proficient at communicating WHO WE WERE, what we were doing and WHY we were doing it, so that customers would find and support us.

So that’s reason number three, your customers will end up being different from what you imagine.

Let’s move on to reason number four, which is that you’re going to have MANY different types of customers.

Now, it would be nice if every customer was like my mythical ideal customer, Jane…marketing would be easy. But that’s not the real world.

Over time, you’re going to have many different TYPES of customers.

In the hi-tech world these are known as early adopters, early majority, late majority and so on, but the same thing applies to farming and local food. 

One minute a restaurant opens and is the hot new thing for early adopters. The next minute it’s out of business—unless it becomes very proficient at marketing and, of course, offers a great dining experience.

But that part should go without saying. Some customers want to be trendy. Some will take actions that their friends think are risky…like drinking raw milk for instance. For those risk takers, you don’t need to use words and tactics to convince them…they’re believers already.

But for later customers…the early majority on the other side of the chasm, you’ll need to modify your marketing tactics over time to effectively reach them.

In other words, the words, phrases and images that convert early adopters are radically different from later customers.

The point is that you won’t have a single ideal customer. So don’t look for one.

You’ll end up with many different types of customers.

Now, later, when you do have a sizable group of real, steady customers, THAT’S THE TIME to survey and use FB pixels to better understand them.

But that understanding won’t result in an avatar…a name and face. It will define a market segment.

Now, let’s move onto my final reason, number five.

And that is that I’ve never seen an “ideal customer” worksheet that wasn’t a wishlist that mirrored the beliefs of the person who created it.

Think about it. That’s what Jane was, right?

I mean, we like grass fed, so we figure she likes grassfed, right?

  • We like organic, she likes organic
  • We hate Monsanto, she hates Monsanto
  • We care about animal welfare, she cares about animal welfare

Maybe that’s true, and there are certainly people out there who share your values.

But that’s the point.

That’s why YOU should share YOUR values and communicate them clearly and passionately, rather than worrying about if Jane the ad executive is out there and how to reach her.

Because you’re not going to find Jane, so let’s not waste time looking for her.

Now, it is true that we want to carefully craft all our branding elements…the words we write, the colors we use and so on.

But I don’t want you to write words and use colors that you think the mythical Jane would respond to.

I want you to communicate your passion, values and beliefs, because it takes a lot of energy and money to hunt for customers.

So your goal is not to hunt for them. Your goal is to attract them.

To be a magnet for what you do in your market, so that customers seek you out.

In terms of how to do that, I dive much deeper into this topic and show you how to market your farm or small business inside the Small Farm Nation Academy.

It’s my online membership site with video courses, downloadable files such as business plans and worksheets, a rich member community and discounts on farm supplies, such as Coolbots, fencing from Premier 1 and even hatchery chicks.

But, to recap this episode, here are the five reasons why I think you’re wasting your time looking for an ideal customer.

  • Reason number 1 – By targeting a single ideal customer, you exclude all others.
  • Reason number 2 – You didn’t set out to target an ideal customer. You started because of YOUR passion.
  • Reason number 3 – The people who end up buying from you will be radically different from what you imagine at the outset.
  • Reason number 4 – All ideal customers look like wish lists, so they’re not real anyway.
  • Reason number 5 – You’re going to have many different types of customers over time, rather than a single ideal custom

I cover them in this episode and explain what you should do instead of trying to define a mythical ideal customer.

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