Canadian businesses are finally embracing the internet as a sales and marketing tool. One of the first things that may come as a surprise in the digital world, are the differences between online and offline shoppers. That naturally extends to the profiles of their ideal customers.
Many businesses focus on bringing visitors to their website, but traffic is useless without sales. To achieve maximum sales conversions at a reasonable customer acquisition cost, we have to focus on bringing in the right visitors. The process of identifying and finding those visitors can also inspire new ideas to further differentiate yourself online. Additionally, the information you gather will help to define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), which is also different for online stores.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of your online business, is to identify your ideal online customers (also known as an online Customer Avatar, Buyer/Customer Persona or Target Customer). These fictional characters represent and define your ideal target market’s typical characteristics. If you already own an offline business there will be similarities between your online customer avatar and your offline customer avatar, but they won’t be exactly the same.
Before online sales & marketing came into play, businesses created very general consumer profiles because they only had access to general targeting. For example, they could narrow down their target customer to stay-at-home moms and advertise in women’s magazines. If they had a local business, the only options were local newspapers or neighbourhood advertising.
One of the most powerful opportunities offered by online marketing, is how precisely we can hit niche and geographic target markets. To take full advantage of that, we have to know who our target market is.
Your target market can be entirely different online, including age, education level, location, and so on. Online shoppers also have unique concerns and objections that you can address. It isn’t necessarily what you sell, but how & where you sell it.
But how do you define and pinpoint your ideal online customer? Online information, of course.
What Do You Need to Know?
Start with basic demographics, behaviour and obvious conclusions. The ultimate goal will be to have enough info to engage and understand your ideal customer. With analysis, you’ll come to understand their sales objections, shopping habits, motivators, pain points, and lifestyle. Once you know all of that, you can attract, engage and convert them with targeted marketing campaigns.
You’ll probably have more than one customer avatar, which can be organized into categories or stand alone. For example, if you target different age groups, each age group can hang out in different places online, use different mobile devices, or have a higher income.
Global sales may require additional profiles as well. If you sell in countries outside of North America, take the time to refine your customer profile for each country you intend to serve. Language is only the beginning of what international engagement entails. Learn everything you can about unique cultures and how that impacts buying behaviour. The challenges faced by North American Parents can be very different than those faced by parents in China, for example. Even your niche and product demand will differ from country to country.
You’ll need to determine where your ideal customer persona hangs out online, from their favourite stores to their most frequently used social media networks. What blogs do they read? Do they frequent online forums, social media groups or private communities? What kind of content do they need & respond to? Is this person the most frequent buyer of products or services like yours in their household or business?
All of the answers to these questions will keep you from throwing money at your best guesses, drastically reducing your cost of customer acquisition. You can build in the wants, needs and expectations of the average digital consumer to create a complete customer avatar.
Where to Find Consumer Information
Online shopping behaviour can be more complicated and involved, but the answers and insights you seek are at your fingertips. Chances are, you already have (or can easily come up with) a general idea of who your ideal online customers will be. You may have narrowed down demographics (age, occupation, income, etc.) and their typical lifestyle. You probably have a general idea of how your product or service will benefit them.
Come up with a list of questions you’d like to ask them and proceed to find the answers. The questions you ask will vary according to your niche and the product or service you’re hoping to sell. As you build your digital customer avatar, you’ll be able to expand on each trait you identify and let current data guide you. There’s more to your ideal customer than a few data points and you need to find out more.
“Remember, a list of characteristics does not equal a persona,” writes Christina Newberry in How to Create a Buyer Persona. “A persona is a realistic description of a person who represents one segment of your customer base.”
1. You can learn more about your target consumers as a group with research tools and data sources. If you’ve identified your ideal customer as a female millennial who uses social media, you can probably find data about how that group behaves online. General data isn’t the most important part of your customer avatar, but it contributes to a solid base of knowledge. That’s why we often publish free reports about online shopping behaviour and social media use.
2. Social media insights are widely available and major networks offer data about your current followers.
3. Online communities, such as social media groups and discussion forums, can be an absolute treasure trove of consumer information. Some may even allow you to post polls and market research posts. You’ll learn about pain points, problems, goals and other useful information. Consider starting your own community that’s specifically designed to attract your target market.
4. The better ecommerce platforms provide essential data about your current customers. Additionally, they often publish reports that include general data from all of the businesses that use their platform.
5. If you have an affiliate program, the software or platform that you use to manage your program will provide sales data from your partners. Further analyze each of your top sales partners to enhance your customer avatar, observing things like the type of website they’re selling your products or services from and what kind of content is generating the most sales.
6. Your online customer support staff are an invaluable (and often untapped) source of information. They know all about the relevant problems and goals of your customers and leads. Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools can also provide valuable data and insights.
7. Search engines, keywords and analytics tools can provide a wealth of information about online behaviour, be it Canadian consumers or your own website traffic.
8. Online competitive intelligence can be as simple as checking out your competitors’ (or related) websites. For ideal customer profiles, I find the most useful information in their reviews and best-sellers. Don’t forget to check out their social media profiles to see what customers are tagging them about. See which posts are receiving the most engagement while you’re there. There are competitive intelligence tools available to help you dig deeper.
The more you sell, the more you can learn about what customers love or hate about your product. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they like and how they feel you could improve. How are they using your product or service? How frequently do they buy from you? All you have to do is ask.
It’s important to gather as much relevant data as possible, but it must be strictly focused on the information you need to generate sales. Otherwise, you’ll drown in a sea of data that is little more than a distraction from your goal. If you need some help getting started, try the Hubspot Buyer Persona Tool.
Once you have defined and pinpointed your ideal online customer, your goal is to reach & engage them.
- Focus on value. Base that value on benefits and how your product or service solves a problem for this specific group, or otherwise improves their life.
- Plan the customer experience around your ideal customer. Are they frugal? Feature deals & free shipping. Are they beginners? Feature an online user manual, FAQ’s, tutorials and bilingual customer support.
- Appealing to the Canadian market specifically will help to increase domestic online sales. A bilingual website and customer service, as well as prices in Canadian currency, for example, make you much more appealing to the many Canadians who prefer to shop domestically.
- You need to have a firm grip on what you’re selling and who you’re trying to sell it to, in order to precisely target the needs of your ideal customer. Each online ad should clearly target a single need that your product or service fulfills, in a way that is most likely to grab your ideal customer.
The Evolving Online Customer Profile
Like most aspects of online business, your customer avatar must be in a perpetual state of evolution. As you come to know your customers better, patterns and commonalities will emerge. You may discover that you attract a certain demographic, or your target market has a unique problem you’re able to solve. Whatever it is, constantly analyzing the data and listening to consumer feedback turns you into a moving target that’s tough for competitors to copy, all while solidifying customer loyalty.
When you view customers as individuals, you’ll be able to target, engage and ultimately make a sale. But that’s only the beginning of the power of these avatars. As you research and get to know your ideal customer, you’ll come up with ideas for new content, micro-niches, products and services to better serve them. Everything from the online shopping experience to customer support can be improved by a thorough understanding of your ideal customer. The time spent in getting to know them will reward you in a multitude of ways.
??? How well do you know your ideal online customers? Please comment below or discuss this and other online business topics in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.
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Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.
Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.