Info You Can Use: Discovering Your Ideal Customer

Last June I came across a useful article by Sarah Arrow about identifying your ideal customer. According to her, there is are a very narrow profiles which constitute a business’ ideal customer then the people who are secondary customers who influence your ideal customer. Her article is mostly aimed at writing different blog posts for the ideal and secondary customers, but it is just as easy to substitute “ads” or “social media updates” for blog post.

In the non-profit world there are many constituencies we serve: audiences, boards, government officials, students, parents, performers, ethnic groups, etc. In performance based arts, we talk a lot about diversifying our audiences to attract a wide range of people. There are also very limited resources available with which to communicate ourselves to these groups.

In light of all this, it can be difficult to decide who to target and so opt for trying to appeal to everyone in general. This may be largely ineffective because it engages no one specific very well.

Arrow runs through a process which can help identify an ideal customer. The example she uses are baby strollers. (my emphasis)

Imagine you sell buggies (strollers for my US readers), your marketplace is people with babies and toddlers – new mums, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles. And the chances are you don’t just sell one type of buggy, but multiple types and styles so you can meet the needs of your customers.

That’s a big marketplace,…

When you have the ideal customer you get a better picture of how to market your buggies to that person. If your mum is a health nut, she’d love the buggy that you can jog with, Dads are often taller and buggies with adjustable handles will speak to him… but here’s the thing, a new mum tends to spend more than a second time mum, she’s the ideal customer in that big marketplace. You have to market to her first and get a relationship started with her swiftly before someone else does.

Arrow continues noting that first time grandmothers are also a lucrative market, but their concerns are much different than that of first time mothers so you need to provide a separate and different approach.

Secondary customers (in this case, the mother’s female friends) keep an eye open for the interests of the primary buyers and influence them. While they may not buy things themselves, Arrow says refer a friend offers are helpful because they still allow people to take action, even if it isn’t making a purchase.

So think about your audience. Can you whittle it down to three important categories like this? That becomes a little more manageable when it comes to producing materials, right?

And remember, they may not all require the same format. Older people read the physical newspapers more than other demographics so only one message may be needed for that medium. Other audiences may follow closely on social media so two or three different messages targeted at them may be required. Social media isn’t as cheap as people imagine, but also tend not to be as expensive as print and broadcast media.

The trouble might be identifying who the ideal customer is. First question that popped into my mind was that it is often women who provide the impetuous for ticket buying. Are they the ideal customer or the influencer? I suspect a little of both.

I think a far bigger problem for arts organizations will be an unwillingness to trim the list down. There is such a strong impulse to identify everyone as the primary customer and avoid being perceived as exclusionary. It doesn’t help that granters and foundations reward with funding those who can claim an impact on the widest possible field.

The truth is, the profile of the best people to pursue is probably much narrower. This doesn’t necessarily exclude the diversity funders seek. For some organizations, the ideal customer may be K-5th grade school teachers who in turn will bring diverse groups of students.

For other organizations, that same diversity might be more difficult to achieve. However if they have done the right job identifying and crafting a message to their ideal customers, the positive response rate should be higher than before.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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