Deep dive: customer profiling

Steve Lee presenting to the room at the Creative Enterprise Programme in Bogota, Colombia.

Steve Lee at the Creative Enterprise Programme workshop in Bogotá, February 2019

It is exactly halfway in the three-day long Creative Enterprise Programme workshop in Bogotá, Colombia and we are about to begin a key activity. Your Customers – understanding customer profiles and creating personas – is particularly close to my heart and, for some of the entrepreneurs, it will have a profound effect on how they see their businesses now and in the future.

The creative entrepreneurs arriving at the workshops may be at different stages – they might be already up and running with a business that is seeking to rediscover its purpose or take advantage of a new direction. Or they may be a startup established in the last year, and taking their first steps with an idea that they want to bring to reality. Through three days of intensive work, they advance their understanding of potential customers, how to create a financial model, refine their core values and messaging, and even challenge the purpose or feasibility of their business.

On day one, entrepreneurs define their personal and business values and vision, articulating the changes they want their enterprise to effect. On day three, we focus on operations and financial viability. Day two, the pivotal day, is where the two areas overlap; when everyone must ask themselves tough questions, like “Will people value what I do enough for me to build a successful business?”

This humble exercise is a mere starting point, but can represent the pinnacle of the workshop for some; the light bulbs flashing behind the participant’s eyes can be seen from across the room.

Getting specific about your customers

You may already have a sense of who your customers are. This sense can be derived from a whole cloud of resources including news articles, secondary research into markets and trends, observations and experiences, conversations and, most commonly, assumptions.

It is fine to use assumptions and biases as starting points to define who your customers are; but it is dangerous not to challenge them. Customer profiling uses these assumptions positively as starting points to help create a specific picture of one single fictional user, buyer, partner or investor. It then imagines how they live, what they prefer, how they like to be communicated with, and ultimately, how they would relate to your product or service.

By going deep into detail, you build on what is known, and what is assumed, and show the value of qualitative customer research alongside the quantitative. There is no substitute for speaking with real people, but customer profiling is a valuable first step in defining criteria to seek out customers (or potential customers) to participate in feedback, co-creating ideas and solutions, prototyping or focus groups. This in turn can lead to you creating better products and services that truly meet the needs of your customers.

Imagining lives and worlds to better understand your customers

The Your Customers worksheet helps you to create a detailed picture – a customer persona – of someone you want to connect with. It’s absolutely fine to pick one specific person – you can run this exercise again for different users representative of different groups and even markets. As you flesh out their profiles, consider the decisions you make on who you are prioritising and why. Ideas for more profiles that are representative of other customer groups and sub-groups will emerge. Make a note of them for later and avoid diluting who you’re working on right now.

Your customer persona will become more specific as you move from demographics such as age, gender, income, location to include more aspirational, behavioural and psycho-graphic qualities. It can be unnerving to put so much imagination into a persona, but it actually improves their tangibility, allowing you to empathise with, relate to and query them, and surface questions you may not have considered.

The Creative Enterprise Programme workshops emphasise collaboration, and in Bogotà, the participants shared their customer personas with each other. There was a feeling that everyone is in this together, and there is dedicated listening, respectful and constructive feedback which is well taken and carefully considered by each recipient.

“I didn’t think of who my customers really were before this - now I can see my business through their eyes,”

Workshop participant, Bogotà, February 2019

Customer profiling

Customer profiling is a fundamental part of making sure that your enterprise is viable.

As a designer with a background in ethnography, I know there is no richer resource for innovation than what we can learn from how users live. Directly observing people in context, and understanding the difference between what people do and what they say they do is invaluable. This humble exercise is a mere starting point, but can represent the pinnacle of the workshop for some; the light bulbs flashing behind the participant’s eyes can be seen from across the room.

Thinking about your customers as real people can result in a shift in how you conceptualise and cater to your customers, or you may use the customer profile as voice in the back of your mind – an objective perspective to guide more considered decisions. It may inspire you to conduct your own qualitative research.

As a result of completing the Your Customers worksheet, you should feel equipped with a connection to a more tangible idea of who your customers are, and an eagerness to meet all of them.

The Creative Enterprise Programme

The Creative Enterprise Programme supports resilient creative economies from a grass-roots level, transferring skills and tools through workshops with burgeoning creative enterprises, and at an infrastructural level by encouraging relationships and policy among local and national government and regional development organisations.

It is a privilege to facilitate these workshops, and see dramatic developments, significant business decisions and heartening shifts in confidence among each entrepreneur, in every workshop cohort, over just three days of expansion and exploration.


Steve Lee

Steve Lee is a Creative Enterprise Programme Workshop Associate, based in the UK.