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EPISODE 10: What’s Wrong with the ICA (Ideal Client Avatar) Model?

by Dec 1, 2020Content Strategy, Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • What the ICA model is
  • The strengths and weaknesses of using ICA
  • The difference between demographics and psychographics
  • The Target Audience model
  • Creating content that nurtures a wider audience
We’ve referenced the Ideal Client Avatar (ICA) marketing model before in our podcast, but we decided it actually deserved its own episode.

Every good content creator knows we have to understand people for our marketing to perform well. Conducting audience research never really goes away — and for a good reason! Relationships are one of the most important parts of content creation.

That’s why we’re talking about the ICA. It’s one of the most widely-used marketing models… but we prefer a different approach.

Demographics vs. Psychographics in Audiences

To understand the benefits and drawbacks of the ICA model, let’s do a quick refresher on the ways we can break down our audience.

Demographics are what most people think of when they consider segmenting their audience. These are specific, quantifiable ways we can divide the general population. It includes things like age range, gender identity, location, and income level.

Psychographics, on the other hand, divide an audience based on less tangible {but not less important!} things. Psychographics are your audience’s attitudes and aspirations, their personalities and values.

The Pros and Cons of the ICA

The Ideal Client Avatar model gives content creators a way to define who your brand serves. And that’s important! It’s also a great way to help you humanize your audience. When you picture marketing to one person, your content becomes more personal.

However, the ICA model is HEAVILY demographics-focused. It can easily over-restrict your audience, leaving you feeling paralyzed by an unattainable ICA. Brands who rely on the ICA can find themselves asking, “What’s the point in marketing at all, if I can’t reach my ICA?”

And that’s where the Target Audience model comes in.

The Target Audience Model

The Target Audience model allows your marketing to focus on both demographic AND psychographic factors. That means you can tap into the behaviors and frustrations of your audience that your business wants to solve!

If the ICA is one person, picture the Target Audience like a dartboard. Sure, that “ideal” audience can still play a part — they’re your bullseye! But now instead of ONLY aiming for the bullseye, you’re getting points for hitting the other rings too!

Here’s how we like to look at an audience:

  • The Bullseye: Your ICA. Demographics and psychographics are precisely what your business is looking for.
  • Ring 2: Demographics may vary, but psychographics are on point.
  • Ring 3: Pre-clients/customers. They’re not buying yet, but they’re still interested!
  • Ring 4: Your partners. These people probably won’t buy from you directly, but they ARE likely to recommend your product or service to someone who will.


What the Dartboard Can Do For You

If you’ve ever felt like your marketing was aimed towards a person that doesn’t exist, you should definitely give the Target Audience model a try. It’s not just about widening your audience {although yes, a wider audience does mean more potential sales}. 

The Target Audience model is about the long term. Not just who’s ready to convert now, but who might be ready in the future. Understanding audience as a dartboard makes your marketing feel more layered and inclusive, and lets you connect more to the people you want to reach.

Stop aiming for a target that doesn’t exist, and start using the whole board! Tag us on Instagram @northstarmessaging and tell us what your target audience dartboard looks like.



Jessi: Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we're digging into how you can create personality driven content that connects and converts. I'm Jessi... Marie: ...and I'm Marie. We're the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity. Jessi: Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates, from the words you use to the stories you tell, so you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals. Marie: And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode. All right, welcome to episode 10 of the Brand Your Voice podcast. We're here today to talk about something that is near and dear to our whiny hearts. Time for a soap box, isn't that right, Jessi? Jessi: Yes, absolutely, and this is actually something we've mentioned a couple of times in previous episodes. So much so, in fact, that we decided it was worth its own episode where we can really dig a little bit deeper into this concept. And what we're talking about is audience and how you may have been taught to think about audience, and we're also going to talk about a different way to maybe think about it. Marie: Yeah, exactly. So everybody knows that this idea of, if you build it, they will come is BS, right? That like, "No, we actually have to understand who the people are that we're wanting to serve before we can even have marketing that performs well." It's possible to hit it right out of the gate and do really well without doing some research around this, but it's rare, and if that's happened to you, great, you're lucky. But if you're like most of us, audience research is something, and understanding your audience is something that never really goes away because your audience is shifting over time, and probably you are shifting over time and too. So there's a model that is very common, that has been used by marketers, copywriters, business coaches, you name it to help entrepreneurs and business owners understand their audience, and that is the ideal client avatar model, which is so common that if you say ICA in these types of business circles, pretty much everybody knows exactly what you're talking about. Jessi: So if you happen to be new to those business circles and are a little fuzzy on what ICA is and does, it's a model that can be very helpful, despite some beefs that Marie and I have with it. Over time, it's become a way for you to define who it is that you are serving or want to serve. And often it gets very, very, very specific. Marie: How many verys? Three verys? Jessi: A lot of verys. And that right there is the beef that we have with. It's the struggle that we as copywriters and content producers who have worked with a wide variety of clients and a ton of different industries have faced. And we've heard over and over again that some people are helped by the ICA framework, and some people are not. So let's talk a little bit first about what it looks like to use the ideal client avatar model and why it might trip some people up. Marie: So the idea behind this model is instead of thinking about your big, amorphous audience as this blob of faceless people out there, instead, you pick an avatar for them, a representative who is the person you're writing to, you're messaging to, you're communicating with, you're trying to get to purchase your offers, build a relationship with, and I think some of the pros of the system is that it can really allow it to become personal. So if you think, instead, of I'm writing to the big amorphous blob of people out there, instead of that, you think, "Okay, I'm writing to Barbara. Or I'm writing to Ted." Or whatever it is. The name that you've come up with. It can feel a lot more personable. You can have a lot more warmth in your communication and that's great. The other piece of this is you are humanizing them with other areas of their life that may intersect and overlap. So maybe, for instance, you serve homeschooling parents, but you also discover that those people really like these three things over here. That could actually be really helpful if you're trying to do Facebook ad targeting or whatever it is that helps you understand, "Okay, this is going to get me closer to that person." Sure, there are definitely strengths associated with this model. Jessi: Yeah, so using the homeschooling mom example, you could end up with an ICA that gets really specific into things like, "Okay, I serve homeschooling moms who are within this age range and who like to attend yoga classes and really enjoy this brand of coffee, and outside of homeschooling their children, they are also involved in these types of community activities." And to an extent that can be helpful because it helps you paint a picture of who you're serving and a very detailed picture. So, like Marie said, you're not just writing to an amorphous blob, you're writing to a person, and we've said it before that relationships are one of the most important part of marketing and content creation, and that's very true. And to help that along, it helps to know who you're talking to. But there's a problem that comes along with this, and that problem, I think, is best described by really understanding the difference between demographics and psychographics. So the demographics are things like, "My homeschool mom is between the ages of 32 and 36 years old. They come from this specific region. They have this specific background or education," or whatever it is that seems to be important to this audience. And like Marie said, that can be really helpful for things like Facebook ad targeting, but it also leads you to a situation where two things might happen. First thing that might happen is you may unintentionally start leaving people out because you're just focusing on demographic information and not on psychographic information, which is more about how they feel, what they desire, and what they want. So you may end up just accidentally leaving people off because you're so focused on the demographics that you forget about the psychographics. The second thing that you might do is wind up a little bit paralyzed. Marie: Yeah, absolutely. So oftentimes when we're working with clients and we have questions for them about their audience, they may give us some of this information around audience that's demographic, but ultimately where the real gold is, is in the psychographics. And that's because our clients have come to this realization that that's really where the important stuff is. If they are so focused on the demographics, then all of a sudden they're thinking, "Okay, well if I don't find Barbara who's 30..." I don't know why I pick these names. Whatever, that's a great name. I don't have a problem with the name Barbara at all. Who's 36 and drinks this coffee and goes to this yoga class. Like, "If I can't find her, then I don't have an audience," and then all of a sudden your messages are just going out into a black hole and you don't end up getting the sales. It becomes so restrictive that you are put in a position where you feel like, "What's the point of even doing all this marketing? What's the point? No one's fitting this. I can see her. I can visualize her. So why isn't she coming forth?" Well, it's because she's made up. Jessi: Yeah, and I want to really be clear here that as much as we disparage the ICA model, it's not a bad model. When done right and when taken as a potential person you could be talking to, it can be very helpful, especially if you're struggling to picture the people that you're communicating with. The problem is that often it's just been taken to an extreme, and then you end up in that situation that Maria was talking about, where you're trying to find a person who doesn't exist. So what we propose doing is taking a step back from what you may have been told about finding this perfect avatar and shifting your perspective a little bit so that maybe it's not just about finding Barbara, and instead it's about finding several different types of people that could serve you in your business in several different ways. And we like to call this the target audience framework as opposed to the ideal client avatar. Marie: Absolutely. So think in your mind of a dartboard, a target, if you're a big shopper at Target. You can think of their logo. And basically the idea is circles inside each other. Concentric circles. Now, if you're playing darts, I'm not a darts expert here, but I know that the bullseye is where you get the most points, but if you hit somewhere else on the board, you're still going to get some points. You're still going to be rewarded for that. And generally the closer you are in to the center, the higher the points are. So maybe Barbara is your bullseye. That perfect ideal client avatar. But then just outside of that, those are the people who, maybe they don't fit the demographic data exactly, that you have about the majority of my clients or this or that, but they fit the psychographics, and that's ultimately what really matters. Because maybe you really have discovered that that homeschooling parent that you want to work with needs to... It doesn't really matter what their education level is so much as it matters how they feel about their child's... The importance of their child's education. Or maybe the thing that really matters is that that parent is willing to make the time in their day to have supporting activities for their child's education or whatever it is that they're just very much a good fit for you in terms of how they're thinking, feeling and making decisions. What their behaviors look like. What's frustrating for them. That stuff, maybe that's actually really your bullseye, but it's just a little bit bigger. It allows you to think a little bit bigger and you're still going to get points, essentially, if you hit in that section. Jessi: Yeah, and I think it's also important to mention that yes, obviously your primary goal as a business owner is to make sales and to bring in the people who are most likely to buy from you, but your entire audience isn't just the people who are going to buy from you. It's the people who may buy from you years in the future. They may be at the very beginning part of a sales process. Maybe they're not ready yet, but they're still hanging on your, every word because they've may become ready eventually. And then there may be people who will never buy from you, but are still interested in what you have to say and might become great referral partners. They may say, "Oh, well I know so-and-so over here who could actually really benefit from your services. I've been listening to what you have to say, because even though I can't directly benefit from it, I still recognize the value of it." A really great example of that from our business is writers. When we first started creating content for our business, we wrote all of that content with the bulls-eye being business owners who really needed a lot of content support. But we also realized that a little further out on that bullseye were other writers who were looking for the tools and resources that they needed to support their clients and who were really good referral partners for us if they ever reached overflow. If they had reached a point where they couldn't serve their clients, they trusted us in our content, so they could get in contact with us and be like, "Hey, I have this project. We think they might be a really good fit for you. I can't take it on. Would you be interested in doing that?" If we had been completely neglecting that side of our audience and essentially pushing them away, then we may not have had the ability to develop those referral relationships. Marie: Exactly. Exactly. So you can think about the four different levels of your target. So in the middle is where the psychographics and the demographics are all aligned. That is your ICA. The next level around is where the psychographics are, because ultimately that's way more important than the demographics. These are the people who are going to purchase from you. And then next out from that, you have, as the lovely Anna Franzen likes to say, your pre-clients. They're the ones who are thinking about it, you're nurturing those relationships and they may end up becoming clients for you. And then outside of that are the people who may not become clients, but they might become great referral partners, or maybe they already are. Or other types of partnerships that may make sense for your business. Maybe it's somebody who's going to invite you onto their podcast or whatever it is. Jessi: Yeah, and most of the time you will be writing content to those inner two circles, to your ICA or the people who fit the psychographics and maybe not the specific demographics, but occasionally throwing in content for those next two circles really allows you to continue nurturing all of the relationships. That doesn't mean that you have to, for every piece of content, plan out, "Okay, I'm going to write four different versions for it, one for each type of audience," because the idea here is to make it less complicated, not more complicated. Really what we're inviting you to do is to think about this older concept of the ideal client avatar in a new way that is more inclusive and allows you to have different layers to your conversation that you may not have been able to have if you were looking for someone so specific. Marie: Exactly. So I hope you enjoy this new model. Hope it serves you. And if you have some success with this, and if you find that this has helped you, please feel free to drop us a comment, shoot us an email, or we always love it when you give us a review of the podcast. Jessi: Thank you. Marie: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more. Jessi: If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content creating.
For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 

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