Buyer Persona vs. ICP: What’s the Right Way to Define Your Audience?

Frank Rocchio on November 29, 2022

“You have to understand your audience.” If you’re a business owner, marketing manager or anyone in between, you’ve probably heard this advice more times than you can count. Despite its death, pundits and experts are still beating that horse.

What they often forget to mention, however, is that how you implement your understanding is just as important. The information you gather, the picture you paint and the strategy you use are all crucial to creating measurable success. (And all dependent on your business model.)

Luckily for us marketers, there’s no shortage of time-tested tools to help. Two, in particular, have made their way to the forefront of the pack as valuable approaches: the buyer persona and ideal customer profile.

On the surface, they seem similar. Both tools help you clearly define your target audience in both tangible and intangible terms. However, depending on the nature and goals of your business, one will be more effective than the other.

To offer more clarity on the differences in these tools, our Brand Strategist, Frank Rocchio, explains each in-depth and recommends which is the best fit for your business.

LFC_Buyer Persona vs. ICP

Buyer Persona

Buyer personas are traditionally described as a “semi-fictional, general representation of your customer.” A persona encompasses what a single customer looks like, such as:

  • Age range
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Geographic location
  • Pain points

In other words, it’s a portrait of your “perfect customer.”

“The intention behind it is that you, as a business, can gather enough context about your customers to have a better chance of selling to them,” Frank explains. “Essentially, it’s a guiding tool.”

Most of a buyer persona is focused on demographics — age, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, etc. — gathered through market research or an analysis of your existing customers. For example, you can use your CRM to evaluate your current customer base, find key differences and similarities and tailor your marketing efforts to an ideal buyer.

An effective persona is impactful because it helps you understand the specific problems your target audience is facing, which informs your messaging and overall sales process.

Who Is It Right For?

Because buyer personas hone in on individual decision-makers, they typically work best for B2C, DTC and retail companies.

If you primarily sell to individuals, whether it’s consumers, professionals, specialists, etc., then a buyer persona will be more valuable to you than an ICP. It helps you identify potential customers based on their core characteristics and the problems they face. This makes it easier to qualify leads and focus your outreach on those most likely to convert.

How To Use It

Your business can have multiple buyer personas. In fact, it’s encouraged if you have multiple audience segments. Before you dive into filling out every detail, though, Frank advises you to think about two key aspects.

“You need to make sure you’re being specific about their situation, their pain points and their problem. Understanding those more will help you paint a clearer picture about who you’re selling to and what will be a relief to them.”

In addition to demographics, you need to consider your customer’s psychographic — their mindset, how they think and what they think about. This helps your sales, marketing and customer-facing teams better curate their content and processes to address customer needs and feelings throughout their journey.

Just creating a persona isn’t the end of the line, though. Frank reminds us that to see a return on all that work, you have to implement your findings in the sales and marketing processes. He suggests four ways to do this:

  • Positioning – You should always position your products based on your buyer persona’s needs. This helps you target their primary pain points and leaves room to expand your services to address related problems.
  • Pricing – If you price out your target market, you’re not likely to see many sales. Consider your buyer persona’s socioeconomic status. You need to strike a balance between what they can afford and what they’re willing to pay.
  • Messaging – You need a language-market fit to ensure your target audience understands the problem you solve and how it relates to them. Your messaging should be based on what language your customers often use, how they talk about your products and shaping those conversations.
  • Placement – Through your buyer persona, you should have a good idea of where your customers are. What media do they use? What channels do they frequent? Where do they get their information? Use the answers to these questions to inform your marketing campaigns and ensure you’re placing them where your audience already is.

What To Avoid

There are two mistakes Frank warns about when you start filling in your buyer persona:

  1. Using solely numbers and qualities without adding context
  2. Not taking the time to perfect your messaging

“Traditionally people have crafted their characters by simply outlining the qualitative elements — age, gender, location, etc. — but this creates more of a stereotype than a valuable persona,” he explains.

Although you’re likely to start by adding in raw facts and descriptions about your ideal buyer, you don’t want to stop there. You also have to build out the psychographics so you can picture your best customers and understand them too.

The next problem is with messaging. Many companies will figure out who needs their product or service and immediately try to put it in front of them. This leaves customers feeling like they’re walking through the kiosk section of the mall, with 10 vendors all shouting why they’re the best.

Have you ever stopped to hear a mall vendor’s sales pitch? Yeah, me either.

Instead, Frank suggests coupling your buyer persona information with a messaging framework, like StoryBrand. It offers a different approach to your marketing — focus on the customer’s problem and speak to their pain.

“When combined, the buyer persona can help you identify what language and solutions will resonate best with your audience. Then all you have to do is implement them through your messaging framework,” Frank says.

👉 Download your buyer persona and ICP templates

Ideal Customer Profile

The main difference between an ICP and a buyer persona is who uses it. An ICP is typically a better fit for B2B companies or any business that uses account-based marketing (ABM). It’s a snapshot of the qualities that make candidates the best fit for your business, so your sales team can easily qualify (or disqualify) leads.

“The value of an ICP for companies selling to other companies is that it’s composed of elements that the buyer persona doesn’t necessarily need to encompass,” Franks explains. Things like:

  • Company size
  • Annual revenue
  • Growth/business stage
  • Decision making process
  • Number of employees
  • Industry

Frank notes that businesses that use ICPs still need to create a psychograph, which will influence their marketing in much the same way as it does with a buyer persona.

How It Works

“The difference between these two tools is mainly in the metrics you’re looking at,” Frank explains.

Businesses using an ICP are usually selling in multi-faceted environments where there might be multiple people contributing to buying decisions, a high volume of users and lots of preferences to consider, so they need to look at different indicators.

Unlike those doing outbound sales to individuals, B2B companies might need to track broader metrics such as click-through rates attributed to certain marketing channels, ROI on inbound marketing tactics and overall reach both through organic search and direct advertising.

As you can imagine, trying to target a broad audience with an expansive range of marketing campaigns can be costly. “The goal of an ICP is to focus your marketing dollars and make your efforts more efficient,” Frank says. “You want to know exactly who you’re selling to and who’s the best fit for your products or services.”

He continues that using an ICP is a way to flip the script on traditional marketing. Instead of asking yourself how to reach the most people, you can focus instead on reaching the best people — bringing in more high-quality leads and cutting down on the time your salespeople spend assessing prospects.

“You get to ask the question, ‘What qualifications does this business have to be my partner?’ Taking that discretionary approach helps you choose the right customers that will help you achieve your business goals and objectives, as well as create positive relationships.”

How to Use It

The primary use of your ICP is to create focus among your sales and marketing teams. You might struggle to assert your authority or credibility with potential clients if you aren’t coordinating your efforts to become subject matter experts in a certain industry.

“Focus is efficiency,” Frank notes. “Without it, there can be internal friction because you don’t have any intentionality behind what you’re selling and what your focus is, which makes it difficult to align sales and marketing teams.”

Your ICP outlines exactly who you’re trying to attract to your business, which is heavily influential for your sales team. They’ll use the ICP to vet clients and prospects as they enter your sales pipeline and determine if they’re a good fit for your business. It also helps them choose which solutions to offer based on a prospect’s unique pain points.

In Frank’s words, the ICP is “a formula to outline the path to success.” Understanding that the needs of your ICP are well-suited to your business model and offerings allows you to narrow your sales and marketing efforts so you’re delivering the right solutions to the right audience.

Key Benefits

Frank outlined a few key benefits of using an ICP, including creating industry-specific decks to use in the sales process and becoming more efficient when looking for prospective customers. One benefit, however, stands above the rest (even if it’s not as flashy).

“Ideal customer profiles give you an idea of who not to work with,” Frank says. “Not every client will be a perfect fit, but plenty might be a bad fit for your business. These relationships cause friction for you and them, especially in service industries, making working together and achieving goals difficult.”

Your ICP can act as a measuring stick as you qualify potential customers in you sales pipeline. It allows you to assess three things:

  1. Is this organization in an industry that my business specializes in providing solutions for?
  2. Do they have the budget to afford my product/services?
  3. Is their structure and decision-making process conducive to how I do business?

With the answer to these three paramount questions, you can make informed decisions about whom to work with so you’re accomplishing business objectives without unnecessary friction or frustration.

Which Is Right For You?

Now you can decide whether a buyer persona or ideal customer profile best fits your business. The next step is to fill out the details, which you can do on our handy templates.

After you’ve created a representation of your ideal customer, you can start to look at how their behaviors affect the buying process. Check out our blog about the customer journey to learn more!

Frank Rocchio
Frank Rocchio
Frank believes the greatest asset of any business is their brand; it’s brand that ultimately differentiates, implies value, guides decision-making and drives commerce. As a Brand Strategist, Frank approaches projects with the big picture in mind and connects brand vision to the concepts needed to create tangible results.

Related Post

Finding Your Brand’s Purpose Beyond Profits
Blog , Brand Building | 4 min read
Frank Rocchio
By Frank Rocchio on September 20, 2022
What Is Lead Nurturing?
Inbound Marketing , Blog | 11 min read
Frank Rocchio
By Frank Rocchio on September 24, 2019

Make More Things Happen

If you are a brand looking to improve your brand awareness, create predictable revenue streams, expand profit, etc. — we’ll do it. Get in touch.