Why basing your brand strategy on your “ideal client” is wrong

Published by Nela Dunato on in Branding, Business

Ideal clients: those mythical creatures all brand strategists talk about. Who are they? How do you find them? How do you charm them so they become your real, not just ideal clients?

Maybe those aren’t the first questions you should be asking yourself.

Why basing your brand strategy on your “ideal client” is wrong

I used to hang out in several Facebook groups for entrepreneurs, and every now and then, the question of branding came up. Each time a new business owner asked “Where do I start with branding my business?”, inevitably someone (a fellow marketing or design expert) answered “Start with your ideal client.”

I, on the other hand, don’t recommend that business owners start with their ideal client, because it can lead to frustration.

The simplest definition of branding is how other people perceive your business. It’s a collection of all their impressions about you: what your business is about, what you do and how you do it, what you sound like, what you look like, and what their experiences with you have been.

Can you spot a common thread? It’s not them, it’s you.

Your ideal clients interact with hundreds of brands, but only one of them is yours. There are thousands of your ideal clients in the world, and there’s only one you.

Ideal client profile is a great tool to connect with your real clients, but when done wrong, you might run into some traps.

1. If you start with your ideal client before defining your core values, you risk attracting the wrong people

Every business has a set of core values at its foundation (whether you’re aware of them or not). These values affect how you do your creative work, and knowing them insures you’re building a business that will fulfill your most important physical, intellectual and emotional needs.

Your ideal clients share some of your top core values, which is why you’re able to help them – you know what truly matters to them, and you’re dedicated to bringing more of that into their life.

If you don’t know what your core values are, you might attract people who don’t appreciate your unique style of work, your approach and your needs and end up with a nightmare client.

Bringing your core values to the front will help you make your marketing strong and compelling. Being wishy washy about your values leaves you with weak, bland, tasteless marketing messages that go all over the place.

You can get paid to be you, but first you need to know who you are.

If you define your ideal client before your core values, you risk attracting the wrong people.

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2. If you start with your ideal client before defining your unique value proposition, you may not deliver your highest value

Your unique value proposition is how your offers differ from the offers of your competitors—not just direct competitors with similar services, but any product or service that attempts to solve the same problem. (I’ve written about it in more detail in my post What is a unique value proposition & how to create one.)

Clients have many needs in their life and business, and you’re not able to fulfill all of them. What some clients need and want may be in direct opposition to what you’re willing to provide—for example, they may need an affordable “quick fix” solution, when your approach is deep, intense transformative work that carries a premium price tag.

Does this mean you must change your offering to make it more affordable for the largest number of people possible? No—this means you should focus your marketing efforts on people who are in the position to pay your rates.

Do not diminish the value of your offers. Identify the people who want exactly that value, and are ready to pay a fair price. When you define the unique value of your work and your pricing first, you can then focus on who is most likely to appreciate the true value enough to pay your prices with enthusiasm.

If you really want to work with disadvantaged people who don’t have access to your higher priced offerings, you can expand into another type of business model, such as:

  • Alternative funding sources (foundations, local government grants, crowdfunding, sponsors).
  • Setting up a scholarship fund that you can pour a percentage of your income into.
  • Writing a book that gives people access to your expertise at a lower price.

That way, you’re still getting paid what you need, and you can help those who can’t afford your regular rates.

If you define your ideal client before your unique value proposition, you may not deliver your highest value.

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3. If you start with your ideal client before defining your brand voice, you might censor yourself

Your brand voice is the style of writing and talking you use in all your communications. If you’re a solo business owner, your brand voice is very similar to your natural human voice. (I’ve written about brand voice in more detail in my post How to brand your business on a budget.)

Brand voice reflects the brand’s core values, and sets the expectation for what working with you is like. It’s the verbal part of your brand persona.

A while ago Suzi Istvan published a story about a business owner who used sexual innuendos in product names that were aimed at small children. (EDIT 2018/12/05: Link removed because the article is no longer available.) This business owner proclaimed that they didn’t want to censor themselves, and they wanted to “be themselves”. While most commenters leaned strongly in favor of adapting their brand voice to suit the target market, I proposed a different solution—change the target market to those that don’t mind your authentic language.

Putting on a persona every day that’s radically different from yourself is difficult, draining work. I’d never choose to do that in my own business. In fact, I recommend exactly the opposite: to crank up your authentic voice in order to attract a loyal, enthusiastic audience.

If you’re comfortable with acting every day of your life, that’s fine—I just want you to be aware that that’s not necessary. When working with clients, being yourself pays off because it means you’ll get to work with the people you like the most.

If you define your ideal client before discovering your brand voice, you might censor yourself.

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When do you find your ideal client then?

In the framework that I teach in my book The Human Centered Brand, the ideal client profile comes only after the first 3 stepping stones are set in place:

Human-centered Brand Pyramid

You’re ready to define your ideal client if:

  1. You’ve identified your core values.
  2. You’ve defined your unique value proposition.
  3. You’ve found the qualities of your brand voice.

If you still haven’t done this, my book The Human Centered Brand helps you identify your core values, discover the unique value you offer to your clients, find your brand voice, determine who your ideal clients are, and design a visual brand that clearly communicates your message. Learn more about the book, and download the free bonus resources so you can get started today!

The Human Centered Brand by Nela Dunato: A Practical Guide to Being Yourself in Business

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...

Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

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