Nutshell version if you’re not familiar: a customer avatar is a detailed fictional character you create to represent (a segment of) your audience in order to help your marketing speak to them effectively.
The whole idea of a customer avatar might seem silly or woo-woo at first…
🦋 It uses the word ‘avatar’ and the Western world barely knew that word until James Cameron made the movie about blue people.
🤨 A customer avatar turns real data about your audience into… something fictional? That’s not exactly intuitive, is it?
But it turns out that the Customer Avatar is one of the trustiest tools in the marketing toolbox. So let’s discuss some fundamentals of the Customer Avatar, starting with the name(s)…
Audience Profile or Customer Avatar?
This Hubspot article explains how to create an “audience profile,” which is synonymous with customer avatar (which we prefer).
Both names work, but for very different reasons:
“Audience Profile” works better as an intuitive, plain-English description of what you’re doing while you build it. You are (matter of factly) profiling your audience when you build an avatar. You’re trying to crystallize your understanding of a group of people into something usefully specific.
“Customer Avatar” works better as a precise description of what you have when you finish building it. In the original sense, an avatar is basically how a soul or deity appears in physical form somewhere. The term customer avatar is appropriate, in an oddly specific way, because you’re cramming an abstract population (whom you only know as numbers on a screen) into a single fictional person who’s easier to picture.
Avatars as “Composite Customers”
At first, we struggled with the idea of transforming real customer data into a made-up cartoon person—especially when this “customer avatar” thing was supposed to help us reach real people and earn real money.
So let’s unpack this, starting with a useful parallel: composite characters.
The basic idea is that a writer adapting a story (from an older story, or from real history) might combine multiple characters into one. A single composite character can stand-in for a group of people, of any size, who share some common thread. Two big reasons this happens:
SIMPLIFICATION 📶 It reduces the total number of characters, gives each one a clearer role, streamlines the dialogue, and focuses the plot connecting it all together—all of which make the story more engaging and more memorable. (Example: in Bombshell, Margot Robbie’s Kayla is the composite of an undisclosed number of Roger Ailes’s victims.)
SYNTHESIS 🧬 Old parts, new machine. Creatively fusing characters together can shine new light on the whole group. At their best, composite characters are more interesting than any of their precursors. (Example: Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs is a mash-up of six real-life serial killers.)
Both of these themes apply to customer avatars, the “composite characters” of your marketing audience. Avatars simplify a sea of noisy data into a person you can understand (even if fictional), and they synthesize a wide range of audience characteristics into a newly clarified whole.
A customer avatar shows you a made-up person so that you can picture a person at all. It uses lies to show you the truth.
Most times, we love data. Data is how you make rational decisions. But a customer avatar isn’t focused on rational decisions because marketing isn’t always about rational decisions.
A customer avatar is a tool that’s meant to help you communicate with an audience of emotional animals. You already speak the same language they do… you just have to know more about them so you’ll say something that they want to respond to. 🤓