customer profiles

What are customer profiles — and why should you build them?

By Mark Plumlee

Knowing your customers is perhaps the most important part of running a successful small business. Knowing your target audience should inform every decision you make – your overall atmosphere, your menu, your marketing strategies, and beyond.

Familiarity with your diners allows your business to provide them with the exact drinking or dining experience they want. And the best way to know your customers is by creating customer profiles. These profiles can help you define the kinds of people that frequent your business, allowing you to increase customer satisfaction, increase your marketing return on investment, and increase your profits.

What’s a customer profile?

A customer profile is a tool that provides you with a snapshot of your target audience. It can be something as simple as a spreadsheet or as complex as a detailed evaluation by a professional marketing team.

A customer profile should provide you with a lot of information regarding your most loyal and most profitable customers. It should take into account both quantitative demographic data and qualitative psychographic data.

Important demographic information might include your target audience’s age, gender, address or postcode, marital status, employment status, and education and income level.

Important psychographic qualitative data might include things like what your target customer looks for when dining out, how many days a week they dine out, why they chose your cocktail bar over a competitor, what social media accounts they use, what they like about your business, and what they dislike about your business.

Both demographic information and qualitative information can help you understand individual customers. Once you have amassed enough information, you will start seeing certain patterns, which will allow you to look beyond individual customers to build customer profiles. While focusing on the individual customer’s experience is important for high-quality service, that narrow focus is too unpredictable when creating a restaurant, a menu, or a marketing strategy. The power of a customer profile is that it tells you what the majority of your customers will think or do in a given situation, not any single customer.

Creating a customer profile

For the small business owner, it’s probably best to keep customer profiles simple yet effective. First, you’ll have to gather information, then you’ll want to look for connections between your best customers.

Gathering data

There are a few ways you can gather information from your customers, and the best is through a customer survey. Your loyal regulars will likely take a few minutes out of their day to fill out a survey, especially if you educate them about the benefits of their information when you design your next menu or your next marketing campaign, and the process will provide you with a lot of information about people who really connect with your brand.

However, if you want to expand the scope of your customer profile to include not just your regulars but all visitors from infrequent customers to first-timers, you’ll need to incentivize your survey. By offering something as simple as a free appetizer, a free beer on tap, or a certain percentage off your guest’s next bar tab, you can collect some important information while also increasing the likelihood of another visit.

You can present your survey at several points in your customer experience. You could ask them while they are at your tables with table tents; for instance, a QR code on a table tent could remove many obstacles, and you can find a free QR code tool online that can link your customers directly to your online survey, website, social media account, or anything else you’d like to promote online. You could ask after their experience with a blurb on their receipt or an insert in your cheque presenter. You could also ask for your guests to complete a survey at any time via email mailing lists, social media posts, and your website.

RELATED: Why you should solicit more online reviews (and how to do it)

You can also gather data by simply paying attention and talking with your guests. Are most of your customers male or female? Do they bring their friends or their family? Do they come right after work or later in the evening? It shouldn’t be too hard to get a general idea of their age, their education level, and their income level, especially if you go out of your way to greet your customers, ask them what they do for work, and pay attention to their discussions.

Looking for connections

You’ll likely find that many of your customers have similar demographics. Maybe they are roughly the same age. Maybe they have roughly the same level of education or the same income. All of this will help you develop an idea of the kind of people your business attracts.

Others will have similar psychographic responses. Maybe they prefer your bar over a competitor because of your great happy hour specials. Maybe they prefer paying more for higher-quality ingredients rather than cheaper equivalents. Or, even, maybe they prefer Facebook over Instagram or the New York Times over the Wall Street Journal.

All of this information will allow you to create customer profiles for you to consider when thinking about creating a new menu or a new marketing plan. Instead of thinking about your audience in an abstract way, you can think about the singular, aggregate customer profile – a young businesswoman picking up cocktails and appetizers with her co-workers in the early evening or a father with children stopping in for reasonably-priced pizza and a kid-friendly environment.

Data-based business

Of course, a customer profile isn’t worth anything on its own.

Now, you need to put those profiles to work in your business and marketing materials. Once you understand your target customer, you can make data-based decisions in your restaurant or bar to fit their needs and desires. Whether it’s the classy cocktail bar for the up-and-coming young professional or the family-oriented pizza parlour, you’ll want to make sure your business design and menu match what your customers actually want.

Giving customers a high-quality experience that takes into consideration what they want leads to higher customer satisfaction, higher spend per transaction, and higher profits.

Data-based marketing

Customer profiles can also help you take the guesswork out of your marketing decisions. Leave your gut, your hunch, and your foggy advertising ideas behind and look at the cold, hard data. Why do your customers prefer your restaurant over your competition? Can you do more of it and promote it? What days of the week do your customers typically go out? Do they bring friends or family? With customer profiles, you don’t have to guess.

Customer profiles also lead to more focused, compelling marketing. If you know your target audience is professionals in their mid-20s to early 30s looking for an upscale bar for drinks after work, then you know your audience and what they want. All you have to do is get your materials in front of them via delivery methods such as flyers, social media, or Google Ads.

Additionally, customer profiles offer a higher return on investment for your marketing. For that mid-20s to early 30s target audience, investing money into Facebook Ads or Facebook marketing campaigns won’t offer you much return on investment. Instead of Facebook, you will likely be better off thinking of Instagram or Twitter.

On the other hand, if you are a restaurant near a large attraction, like a theme park or a sports arena, spending money on social media might not be so helpful. Your customers, more than likely, find your business through a search engine, and so putting those marketing dollars into Google Ads would likely offer the largest return on investment.

Make customer profiles work for you

Customer profiles help you answer the 5 Ws of marketing. Who are you marketing to? What do they want? When do they want it? Where (what environment) do they want it in? And why do they want it?

The customer profile strategies above can help you answer these important questions in a simple and effective way. Whether it’s updating your menu to give your customers more of what they want, or redesigning your marketing strategy, customer profiles can help by providing data-based answers.

Finally, don’t forget to update your customer profiles once or twice a year using the plethora of menu designs online that can help you give your target audience exactly what they want when they want. Trends and people change, and so should your menu and your marketing campaigns.

Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants, and has written for CRFN and many foodservice publications on food industry trends and technology.