Client-centered marketing, inspired by the user-centered design framework, means designing your marketing strategy around your ideal client’s behaviors and needs. In other words, you must understand who you want to work with, the problems they have, and how they go about trying to solve those problems. Once you understand your clients and their pain points, you can use that knowledge to build an effective marketing strategy.
Here is an example to illustrate what this means:
I sued debt collectors and defended people sued by debt collectors, so anyone getting calls or letters from a debt collector was a potential client. I was sure there was a way to get found online, but bankruptcy lawyers were also looking for the same clients, and they had driven up the cost of search advertising for anything related to debt collection.
But as I considered my clients’ behavior related to their debt problem, I realized they had a much more specific problem long before they knew they had a problem a lawyer might be able to help solve.
They didn’t know they could do anything about harassing collectors or that the debt buyer might not be able to prove it had the right to collect. Their pain point was just figuring out how to pay off their debt. The people who could eventually become my clients were searching for the names of their creditors and debt collectors to look up payment information.
So I targeted my online marketing efforts at that point in the debt cycle. I bought keywords like the names of common creditors and debt collectors, I published articles about them, about personal finance and negotiating debts, and so on. I looked for opportunities to help much earlier in my clients’ process.
It was relatively cheap, and it worked.
It’s not rocket science, but it does require you to know your clients.
Personas: a Useful but Problematic Tool
A popular tool for getting to know your ideal client so they can help you make decisions about marketing strategy is to create a detailed persona (similar to a storyboard when used in design). A persona is a realistic sketch (in words) of a client who could exist and would be a perfect fit for your firm if they did.
The idea is that, with a name and a backstory—and maybe even a picture—it gets easier to make decisions about everything from how to decorate your office and which beverages to offer to which marketing channels to focus on, what communication tools to use, and how to approach client meetings. When you know your ideal client well, your marketing strategy will probably seem obvious.
But there are a couple of problems.
First, you need real clients, not fictional ones. If your client persona isn’t realistic, you’ll end up with a perfect marketing campaign for people that don’t exist. On the other hand, if you have taken the time to get to know real people with real problems you can help them solve, a client persona can be a useful shortcut. But only if it is based on real people.
Second, the more specific your persona, the larger your blind spots. If your client persona is a 37-year-old white male suburban architect, then you aren’t likely to build a marketing campaign for perfectly good clients from the city. You may miss out on self-employed people or people of color or other creative professionals. You might not prioritize accessibility for disabled clients.
Here’s an example persona similar to what you might create:
Chances are Tabitha reminds you of someone. You could probably even add to the persona I sketched out above. You can probably even put yourself in her shoes and start thinking about how she is likely to respond to various marketing strategies. That is why a persona can be helpful.
But you can probably also see how it is problematic. Tabitha is really specific. If you build a marketing campaign for her, you are probably going to miss out on a lot of other potential clients that you would be just as happy to serve but don’t match the persona you built your campaigns around.
So while a persona can be a useful shortcut once you know your ideal clients’ behaviors and needs, it is not a good idea to just pull a persona out of thin air.
If you still want to create a client persona, we have built a template to help you get started:
Building a Client-Centered Marketing Campaign
Whether or not you create a client persona, focus on your clients’ pain points—the problems they are struggling with. As in the example above, look beyond the specific legal problem you hope your clients will hire you to solve to find earlier opportunities to show them how you can help.
With everything you now know about your clients and their pain points, it should be fairly straightforward to decide whether pinning business cards to coffee shop bulletin boards is likely to get their attention. Or whether they are likely to connect with your firm’s Facebook page. Or whether you should focus on word-of-mouth networking in your community.
Should you use Twitter? Well, does your client use Twitter? If they do, can you find and follow them (and more like them)? What sorts of things do they like to post? What sorts of people do they follow? Is there a way for you to contribute to the conversation they are already having on Twitter in a meaningful (and memorable) way? Or target them with ads they might pay attention to?
What other opportunities exist?
Go through your client’s pain points and come up with at least two ways you could adjust your marketing strategy to each one. Or if you created a persona, create a marketing strategy for each characteristic. For example, if your ideal client has a smartphone, could you make your website more mobile-friendly? If they drink scotch, would they come to a scotch tasting if you hosted one?
How can you connect with your ideal client days, weeks, or months before they know they have a problem you can solve? What groups could you join that tend to have a high percentage of your ideal clients in them? Would your ideal client see you if you were interviewed for the evening news? Would your client visit your blog regularly, if you had one?
When you have a clear picture of your ideal clients’ behaviors and needs, it should be pretty easy to answer these questions and increase the number and quality of the potential clients who contact you.