It’s the question every entrepreneur hates answering: “Who is your ideal audience?”
Perhaps it's the word "ideal" that really gets to us. We don't live in an ideal world, so who could possibly have an ideal audience? Are they some sort of over-Photoshopped-yet-faceless niche you're supposed to have coffee with?
Or maybe it's not the word "ideal" that gets us irritated at all. Maybe we hate talking about "our audience" because it feels so nebulous. Or maybe we don't like being put into boxes—and asking our audience to fit the same. Or perhaps we’re just totally overwhelmed by the variety of clients and have trouble prioritizing whom we most want to serve.
All of these possibilities are likely. You no doubt have experienced more than one.
But regardless of the source of our audience-identification pain, there's one sentiment we share in common.
It's hard to identify who our audience truly is.
We may try to avoid doing so at all costs, preferring to glide along in the beautiful delusion that "our brand serves everyone."
We may give it the old college try, but ultimately find ourselves sliding back into amorphous generalities. "Our people" are out there somewhere, and that's all that really matters. Right?
In the process, we overlook the most important audience of all.
You see—there’s an old saying that comes to mind here. (Actually, it’s not so old at all. Wayne Dyer made it famous, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the first to ever have uttered the phrase.)
To understand who you'll most likely attract, you've got to take a long look at who you already are.
The first audience for your brand, your product, or your services . . . is you.
Because chances are, who you are says a whole lot about who your “ideal client” is. (Or should be.)
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Lisa, that's a cop-out. Makes a cute article premise, but seriously? I've got millions of dollars on the line here. Or at least next month's electric bill. I need to figure out my audience demographic or psychographic fast! You've got to do me better than this. Have you seen the number of articles on the internet already devoted to finding your audience?"
Yes, I have.
That's why I'm asking you to STOP and look at this a whole different way.
Think about it for a second.
Before there was ever a first client, a first project, or a first success story, there was you. Perhaps you’re a plucky solopreneur who had a dream. Or a smart, strategic manager who rallied a team of doers toward a common vision. Maybe you’re a big company with years of history behind you.
Regardless of where you are now, you existed long before the business did.
Your business is an extension of who you are.
Before you can sell your vision to anyone else, you’ve got to sell it to yourself—and by extension, to your employees (if you have them).
You and your internal team are always the first audience for your brand.
So when you're trying to sort out your audience, start with yourself.
Here’s why it matters:
1) Clarity of message depends on it.
Before you can help anyone else get clear on what you offer, you’ve got to get clear on your vision for yourself . If you go into meetings with a fuzzy vision and mixed messages internally, it will come out in how you pitch yourself to clients. Your first clue will be the hesitance you feel inside your own soul, and the sense that "someone else" is speaking with your mouth.
The next clue will be the looks on the faces of those around you. The confusion or hesitancy registered there is nothing more than a mirror of the chaos going on within you. Clarifying your mission for yourself won’t guarantee it’s (yet) clear for your external audience—but it’s a crucial first step in that direction.
You can’t have outward clarity, truly, without inward clarity. Sure, you can put together words that sound good . . . but everyone will naturally sense when it’s not truly aligned with who you are. Which brings us to Point #2.
2) Energy of sales depends on it.
Pitching—and selling—your services is about so much more than what you say. There’s this whole nebulous matter of energy: the vibe that people sense when you’re with them. If you are not totally on board with your own message energetically, or aren’t clear about it yourself, make no mistake: your prospective client or employer will sense that energy. And the dissonance will affect their decision.
Creating a brand message that persuades you as the business owner is the first step toward exuding the kind of positive, centered, and belief-filled energy that will naturally attract customers to you, and positively persuade those who are already considering your services.
Remember, you can go in to the pitch with a cohesive message—but if you’re not 100% convinced yourself, it will show. You are the very first brand fan you’ll ever have.
So make yourself your own best fan.
This is about pivoting your focus from all those endless audience analysis exercises that marketers give you, to turn the gaze inward. How do you figure out who you really are, so you know exactly who you’ll attract to you?
More than that … how do you shift who you are, if you find out it’s not really whom you want to be attracting?
Well, first things first.
Spend a little bit of time getting to know yourself.
This may sound like double-talk, but it’s not.
What makes you tick? Who do you like working with? What makes a project successful in your eyes? What do you love doing outside of work, and how do those hobbies influence what you do on the clock, or how you approach your tasks?
Once you've asked and answered the questions, step back and look at the picture that's forming.
If you were analyzing “yourself” as a representative sample of your audience, what would you discover? Who is this person an what does s/he care about?
The answer may not have anything to do with what kind of coffee you drink. (Or it might.) This is a valid typical insight that's sought through traditional audience discovery methods. But the trick here is not to look at the answer but what it really means.
The insight behind any behavior, or any habit, is not about the answer per se. It is more about what that behavior says about your life attitude and the way you approach the world.
For example—I recently worked with a client who has been a pro athlete in the past and still looks at his business through a very sports-oriented lens. We identified that his ideal client is probably someone within his industry who also shares this “driver” approach to life.
Whereas many of his potential clients are lackadaisical and lassez-faire, just trying to scrape by with enough work to earn a paycheck, his "ideal" client has a marathon runner's mentality and spends a lot of time tracking personal development. S/he carries this winner attitude into his/her work.
This “softer” bit of data has nothing to do with coffee consumption—but it was a big "ah ha" that will impact how we speak to his industry. The driver personality client will respond very differently to the right message than the less motivated. And we identified that some of his client frustration to date has been related to trying (fruitlessly) to motivate those who are, quite frankly, not already motivated intrinsically to succeed.
That insight came first from himself and his own life.
Once you’ve analyzed yourself, ask yourself, “Do I want to work with me?”
Remember, as Wayne Dyer says, “You don’t attract what you want. You attract who you are.” So, now that you have a better idea of who you are . . . would you want to work with you?
If the answer is "no," what are the qualities, behaviors, or beliefs you need to shift in yourself in order to match the kind of client you really want to serve?
For example, I recently realized that I unconsciously devalue my role in the process of customer transformation. As a result, I was attracting clients who devalued themselves and their role, in this same way. It was no wonder, then, that they were very hesitant to invest financially in their own success . . . which meant I could not, either.
Coincidence? I think not. And you can bet I took steps to correct my own mindset. Because while I can't change my prospects' mindsets . . . I sure could change myself and the kind of energy I put into the world.
Once you know who you are, you can decide whom you want to become.
And then, of course, you can be more of what you want to attract.
You’ll be amazed that when start working systematically to be your own “ideal client type,” you’ll start attracting those kind of clients.
Because at the end of the day, YOU are the most critical, foundational member of your audience. If you are not mentally and emotionally "on board" with your own vision, direction, and the results of your work, no one else will be either.
Even if you manage to fool them (or yourself) for awhile, the charade won’t last for long.
Your own insecurity will come shining through.
Insecurity, as it turns out, is just as infectious as confidence.
So as you move forward with your brand discovery, brand storytelling and (most importantly) audience analysis—don’t forget to start with yourself.
You are the first fan of your brand.
You’ll attract not whom you want, but who you are actually are.
Be the audience you want to serve, and the rest will fall into place.
Until next time, speak freely.
Who are you as an audience member? How would you describe yourself as a fan of your brand? Comment below.
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