Who is your ICA? 5 tips to get more from your 'Ideal Customer Avatar'


The illusive ICA (Ideal Customer Avatar). The holy grail. The type of person we want to attract to our business and help or support with our products and services. It seems the online business community has taken this concept by the horns and is well and truly running with it. But is the ICA all it’s cracked up to be and is it serving us and our business the way it was intended?  

Recently I have come across a lot of people talking about their ICA online. “Who is your ICA?”, “I can’t seem to attract my ICA”, “ICA this.” “ICA that.” As a specialist in service design and customer experience, I could not be happier that the online community is focusing on their customer and putting work into really thinking about who they are and what they need. The more customer focus, the better.


But the more I hear people talk about their ICA, the more I see it being used in a way that can actually be limiting, not enabling.


The ICA as a concept appears to have stemmed from the customer experinece, user experience and service design concept of personas. In these fields, personas are designed on the basis of detailed customer research. A charater is created for each distinct user group of a product or service, based on things like needs, desires, motivations and more. Demographics also comes into it, but are less important than understadning who these people are at a deep level.


The reason personas are used is to bring the customer to life, to make them real and to give people in a business something they can relate to and then design for. The ICA absolutely does this, but there are a few things you should do to make sure they are working for you as best they can.


1. Base ICAs on research


Yep, you heard me. Research. To sit down and create our ICA based on who we think our customer is or who we want them to be, is a great starting point. It helps us find the people we need to talk. But it is so important not to stop there.


As much as we might believe we have a good idea of who our customers are, we will always be limited by our own personal view of the world. No matter how hard we try not to be. I did the exercise of writing out who I thought my ICA was too - and you know what? She ended up sounding a lot like me. Yes, one of our ICAs might be very similar to us - but he or she might also have differences that we might not have thought about. It is only by doing research we learn the unique and meaningful differences that help us create products and services that sell and have the desired impact.


I heard a story the other day of a group of guys who were creating an App for people to record their moods. They thought their market was people in their 20s-30s (people in their age group), suffering from things like depression. When they put their app out in the market, guess who downloaded it? 13-14 year old girls. The plan they had for their business was all of a sudden looking very different.


So do your research. You can start small. Just talking to people can be a great way to get a better picture of your ICAs. Anything is better than nothing, but the more you do, the more you will learn. I’ll be wiriting more about how to do detailed research with your customers over the coming months, so stay tuned.


2. Create ICAs (note the “S”)


We do not only have one type of customer. All our customers are individual, unique human beings with different needs, backgrounds, desires, worries, lives etc. By having a single ICA and basing all our business activities on that ICA, we are creating a very narrow view of our customer base.


When we start out, focusing on a single ICA is fine while we find our feet, but it’s important to expand out to multiple ICAs at some point. Doing this opens us up to possibility and in the online world particulalry, the possibilities for who we can reach are endless. Location alone can have some very interesting influences on the needs of our customers.


Consider the ICAs of an online health and fitness coach for example. The way he or she needs to engage and motivate customers in January in Australia, is going to be very different to customers in Canada. That ‘Get your Beach Body’ webinar might be great for the Aussies, but how is she going to engage the Canadians bunkered down under two meters of snow?


Our ICAs should represesnt the important charactarisitics and relevant differences amongst our customers that will help us understand the best ways to reach and enable them with our products and services.


3. Listen and adapt


I was following a thread on Facebook the other day - the person who posted it was saying how the people she was attracting to her her site were not her ICA. They weren’t engaing with her services the way she wanted and they had a very different mindset and outlook to the people she wanted to work with.


I was thrilled that the community got around her and encouraged her to persue this group: to find out how she could help them and work with some of the barriers they were putting up to engaging with her services. It was great to see her take on this feedback and she left the conversation with renewed vigour and direction.


It was an excellent lesson in listening and adapting. Our ICAs might not always be who we expect them to be or even who we think we want them to be. The way we can help people, might not be the way we had planned. When this happens, we can’t dig our heels in. We have to go with the flow and let our customers’ needs guide us.


It’s easy to try to hold on really tightly to our vision of what we want, but it’s important to listen to what our customers are telling us - what they want and need - then find a way to align our vision. There will be a place where the two come together - we just need to be open to finding it. Success comes much more easily when we adapt to our customers, not try and force them to adapt to us.


We don’t have to let go of our ideal vision. Maybe that group of perfect customers is one of our ICAs. Just be open to new ideas and approaches.


4. Focus on the why


It’s easy to get caught up in demographics and interests when we’re creating our ICAs. There’s so much great stuff in there and it’s fun and interesting to create this picture of our customers. How old is she? Where does she live? What does she like to do? Where does she hang out? What does she read? What does she struggle with?


This is all great stuff and should absolutely be a part of the characters we create. But the good stuff, the really juicy stuff that is going to help us create products and services that have an impact, is feelings and why.


How does she feel about that? Why? Why does she like to do that? How does doing that make her feel? Why does she read those magazines? How do they make her feel? Why? Why does she struggle with that? How does she want to feel? Why?


It’s about finding out what is really motivating our customers to act. What is going to get our health and fitness coach’s Canadian customer off the couch in the middle of winter and get her eating healthy and doing her indoor exercises, when everything in her bones wants to sit by the fire and drink mulled wine? (I know that’s what I would want to be doing if I was living in the snow in Canada).


The why is what speaks to people and what spurs them to action (or the oposite, is the reason for inaction). So find out your customers’ whys and build these into your ICAs.


5. Always keep learning


Just as we and our businesses change, so do our customers and we can learn from them at every point in our journey. When we think we know everything there is to know about our ICAs...learn some more.


Learn about their lives. Learn about how they interact with you product or service throughout its lifecycle. Learn about their experiences with other products and services in your industry. Learn about the impact your product or service has on their life. Learn about the wider context in which your product or service fits. The possibilities are endless.


The better we know our customers, the more we understand - the better we can support them, delight them and have a positive impact on their lives with what we do. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.




So I put the challenge to you now. Take these 5 points and go and see where you can apply them in your business. Remember, whatever you have done so far is great. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve got some work to do, be excited. You now have more tools in your bag of tricks to create the amazing. Start small. Start slow. Keep chipping away. Every little bit of customer research you do, every new ICA you create counts and will help you and your business grow.


I'd love to hear how you go, or what great work you’ve already done with your ICAs. Please leave a comment below and if you enjoyed this article and know someone else who might benefit from it, please share it by clicking the share button above.


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