Your 2011 marketing planning in a nutshell: Avatars, Ecosystems and Watering Holes

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I taught a class in December called Ethical Selling That Works that was all about understanding and using the steps in the selling process to connect with your market in a non-pushy, but effective way so you can grow healthy revenue.

One of the modules we covered was about Avatars, Ecosystems and Watering Holes, and ever since I taught it, I have been sharing the concept with clients who are planning their sales and marketing activities for the year.

I thought it proper to share it with you too.

The frame

Selling is so much easier when you know who your ideal clients are, and where they hang out.

So many people spread themselves too thin by spending hours trying to cultivate clients on social media, or attending multiple workshops and conferences and events, hoping that the right client will magically appear. When you do the work to focus and clarify your market, you get much better results with less effort.

Ideal Client Avatar

When you can describe the specific characteristics of your ideal clients or customers, it makes it much easier to find them. It will also make it easier to screen out clients who are not the right fit.

If you are selling to individuals, you can define your ideal client with criteria such as:

  • Profession
  • Income level
  • Geographic area
  • Psychographic characteristics (personality, vibe, etc.)
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Interests
  • Hobbies

If you are selling to companies, your criteria could include:

  • Nature of business
  • Size of company
  • Type of industry (high technology, manufacturing, health and wellness, etc)
  • Geographic area

You may find that you come up with three or four Ideal Client Avatars that represent people you love to work with.  They can be different from each other, just make sure they are a great fit for your business.

Describe your Avatar with as much detail as possible.

I am certain that Apple Computer has my picture up in the cubicles of their marketing staff as one of their Ideal Client Avatars. Their description would be:

  • Anglo female
  • 44 years old
  • Mother of small children
  • Democrat but not antagonistic toward other parties
  • Loves TED, PopTech, Ignite
  • Loves music, especially R&B. Worships John Legend.
  • Entrepreneur
  • Heavy social media user
  • Martial artist
  • Globe and tree-hugger

With this kind of specific description, there are all kinds of ways and places Apple could (and does) market to me.

Once you have clear descriptions of your Ideal Client Avatars, you are ready to define the ecosystem in which they live.


No company stands alone in serving its market. There are a whole group of companies around it that also market to the same people.

In my case, my business ecosystem partners include:

Jonathan Fields
Danielle LaPorte
Charlie Gilkey
Naomi Dunford
Dave Navarro
Chris Guillebeau
Seth Godin
Martha Beck
Michele Woodward
John Jantsch
Rich Sloan

and many, many others.

Products and services widely used in my ecosystem would include:

Apple products

When I looked for a live example of ecosystems to use in my class, I asked a bunch of friends on Twitter who would be in Whole Foods Market ecosystem and got back the following answers:

  • Trader Joe’s
  • Fresh Market
  • REI
  • Patagonia
  • Rent-a-goat
  • Tom’s Shoes
  • Farmer’s Markets
  • Yoga studios
  • Pilates studios
  • Lululemon
  • Honda
  • Toyota (Prius)
  • Volkswagon
  • Apple
  • Gaiam (organic clothes)
  • Laura’s Lean Beef

When I shared these findings on Twitter, I got this response from my friend Lianne Raymond:

“I love WF (Whole Foods) Mushroom blue cheese pizza (she types into her Apple computer before driving her VW to yoga in her lululemon slit crop boogie pants).”

Powerful stuff, isn’t it?

Watering Holes

When you have a sense of your ideal client and the overall ecosystem in which they participate, you can start to look for watering holes. These are places, online and in person, where a great concentration of your ideal customers hang out.

They would include:

  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Conferences
  • Events
  • Stores

As an example, I noticed that I seem to know 75% of the presenters and attendees who will be at Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit, taking place in Portland, Oregon on June 4-5, 2011. This will be an excellent “watering hole” to mingle and connect with people who are at the core of my ideal market, and who I love working with.

South by Southwest is another example of a watering hole for social media active, technology-loving innovators. I fondly call it “Prom for geeks.”

When I first started my blog, Guy Kawasaki’s blog was the watering hole that led me to so many great friends and partners, including Bob Sutton, Garr Reynolds, Kathy Sierra and Seth Godin. After Guy linked to a few of my posts, I got a flood of new subscribers, and it earned him the nickname of my “link sugar daddy.” 🙂


If you take the time to define your ideal client avatars, ecosystems and watering holes, your year will flow a whole lot easier. Here is what to do:

  1. Define the specific characteristics of your ideal client avatar.
    You may have more than one – try to capture the most important ones. Remember, ideal clients not only pay you well and let you do your best work, they are fun to work with!
  2. Define the ecosystem that surrounds your business.
    Who are your natural and respected competitors? What other products and services do your people buy?
  3. Identify the watering holes where your ideal clients hang out.
    Be as specific as possible! “They hang out on blogs” will not help you get clients. Which blogs? Which live events?

I hope this helps get your year off to a great start!

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58 Responses to “Your 2011 marketing planning in a nutshell: Avatars, Ecosystems and Watering Holes”

  1. Usually I don’t learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite great post.

  2. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” by Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.

  3. Thanks for finally writing about >Your 2011 marketing planning in
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  7. Clive says:

    Great Information
    finding my customer avatar is something that I had failed to do, my new business coach suggested I do this. This post has provided me with a great deal of insight.



  8. […] and personal money completely separate, establishing a tax ID and other tax/accounting issues, creating a client avatar, etc. 5. Do you offer mentorships or internships? Yes, but very rarely and usually by personal or […]

  9. Holy moly, I feel like I just won the “How do I make my marketing really work?” lottery!! This is crazy useful. I will be sharing with my clients and re-reading this myself MANY times. Thank you for this, Pam.

  10. […] you know the profile of your ideal clients, who they are connected to, and where they hang out. My Ideal Clients Avatar, Ecosystem and Watering Hole post from last year will help you define […]

  11. […] people instead of your almost right people? Put those contact lenses in and take a closer look your ideal client avatar. Now look closer. Cloooooserrrrr. See, there’s a lot of stuff you wanted in your right people […]

  12. Dick Wooden says:

    A very good set of perspectives on success business developments and marketing focus on your ideal clients that may business miss the mark on. This information helps a business owner focus on their customers and is useful in capturing these characteristics in the CRM system to transform the business for long term success

  13. Great tips. Will surely do the homework you left for us. Thanks!

  14. […] The New Political Leader can choose a new way to lead people. He uses either to identify people’s Maslow needs, to compact them to some core values, according to a “some” political ideology and then comunicate them in such a generalization that almost EVERYONE is finding himself in the Political Leader’s words… Or the Political Leader just creates an Avatar of the desired voter,  based on some (mind reading) needs, outcomes, purposes, intentions (NOPI) and use it to hunt it down to the real voter (goto link). […]

  15. Carin says:


  16. Himanshu says:

    Thanks for sharing, i was looking for this..

  17. Emily Rose says:

    This is exactly what I am doing right now! Defining my right person/ideal client! Thank you for sharing such precise advice! I will definitely be using it while building my new site!

  18. Jac McNeil says:

    Pam, this was fabulous! As a coach, I live in a world of metaphors–they are so powerful at bringing a client deeper into their experience.

    Thanks to this post I now have a whole new appreciation of avatars, ecosystems and watering holes.

    Thank you so much for the visual context!

  19. […] people instead of your almost right people? Put those contact lenses in and take a closer look your ideal client avatar. Now look closer. Cloooooserrrrr. See, there’s a lot of stuff you wanted in your right people […]

  20. […] Auntie Slim of Escape from Cubical Nation: “Your 2011 marketing plan in a nutshell: Avatars, Ecosystems and Watering Holes“ […]

  21. Pam, I am so glad I got the chance to meet you and hear your presentation on avatars, ecosystems, and watering holes live. I really appreciate that you make and keep marketing concepts simple and positive. Kudos!

  22. Deborah Wall says:

    Hey Pamela,

    I’m truly grateful to have stumbled across your blog and post. The information you have provided is pure gold. Thank you.

  23. ronda kay says:

    Pam – thanks so much – I especially love the ‘watering hole’ part of this exercise… Sometimes I further think through what watering holes they go to for making decisions that have to do with products/services like mine. That leads to the ‘referring animals’ that attract them to that wellspring, too.

    What a metaphor – makes me want to fire up the webcams in Africa on watering holes…

  24. […] of someone you think you’d like to work with. (If you’re not sure, do this fabulous client avatar exercise from Pam […]

  25. lilalia says:

    Fantastic exercise that all entrepreneurs and companies should go through. I am off on a walk and will let your ideas go through my head and flow through my legs. Thanks.

    After many years of working in large organisation, I have recently (and somewhat reluctantly) joined those escapies of the cubicle nation your blog is targeted to. What you write is a lifeline to many of us flegelings; trying to carry on in the current economic circumstances. I’ve read your blog for years, purely out of curiosity, now I do it out of self-interest.

  26. Great advice! And since you are obviously a great influencer, I’m hoping you might join my tribe of “Love Project” participants. I give out weekly assignments designed to give and receive love. Being a coach/social media/Ted-type myself, I think we probably frequent the same ecosystems. Come check it out!

  27. This is a continent worth of information presented on a digestable meal -sized plate. No wonder so many sing your praises.

  28. Sue Mitchell says:

    As an amateur ecologist, I love this analogy. Of course, the term “niche” comes from ecology, so it makes perfect sense to think in terms of ecosystems and watering holes. Perhaps to make the metaphor complete, I’ll think in terms of what species I’m looking for instead of the computerspeak of avatars. If you look in a field guide to birds, for example, it will tell you the defining characteristics, habitat, etc of the various species.

    I love how metaphors can make concepts so clear. Thanks, Pam!

  29. Yaro says:

    This is the best 2011 post I’ve read thus far! Concise, thoughtful and fun to read. Thanks.

  30. What uuuuup Pam,

    Great article, I love the term ‘ecosystem’ and how it implies deeper and a more interconnected structure than just a list of Avatar demo and psychographics.

    I am currently working on an info product. After reading tis post I realise the importance of not jus having a client profile but also their place and my products place within my niche ecosystem.


  31. […] Your 2011 Marketing Plan in a Nutshell:  Avatars, Ecosystems and Watering Holes by Pam Slim – This article will help you to figure out who your ideal client is and he hangs out. […]

  32. Excuse the anchor text, my name is Adam. I enjoyed this read, the way you broke down this entire marketing plan is great and all. I guess this is why companies pay so much for surveys and researchers to determine who “likes” what and the demographics, etc. Although, my only is objective is when you state :

    I am certain that Apple Computer has my picture up in the cubicles of their marketing staff as one of their Ideal Client Avatars. Their description would be:

    The reason Apple has this information is because they’ve worked really hard to get it and many times even the information that they’ve obtained is not always accurate. So my point is this, if your not planning a marketing campaign for Apple or Dell and you don’t have all the statistical resources regarding your target market. Run a Facebook Ads campaign and just target people that “Like” what your selling.. Genius no? or better yet a simple CPP campaign that targets keywords relative to your product. The reason I mention this is because I am not a big believer in traditional wide-spread untargeted marketing. Check out SniperAds from .. Why spend thousands on uninterested viewers and listeners, when you can spend a couple hundred on qualitative interested leads??? Just doesn’t make much sense to me, but if you do want to run a billboard campaign or online display advertising on a specific website than this article and information is definitely awesome!!! Great Article!

  33. Samuel says:

    Awesome post Pam! Your ideal customers are the ones who are ready to pay and they are people who are ready to stand by you. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Very cool way of laying it out, I’ve heard it many times but the spin you put on it made me look at things much differently….

  35. Tammy says:

    Thank you! That’s the most concise and clear set of instructions I’ve read yet on this whole “create a niche” advice I keep running into time and again. Do you find that your ideal client avatars are people just like yourself most of the time, or quite different?

  36. Yeah, you do sound like Apple’s perfect customer! Just add “technology trend enthusiast” and you’re set! 😉

    Great post Pam!

  37. Jeff Gingerich says:

    Excellent post…simple yet powerful advice anyone in sales can relate to and implement!

  38. Thank you very much, Pam! Excellent, succinct job. I’m looking forward to doing the homework as soon as possible. I’m also looking forward to when you post your new coaching rates. 2011 is the year I’d like to become your client!

  39. Daryl Gerke says:

    Great post! I’ve always believed in segmenting the markets, and searching out the niches. Kind of like going fishing — you need to figure out what kind of fish you are after, where they are in the lake, which bait to use, etc.

    I love the analogies. However, my business partner claims analogies are the sign of a sick mind. But as you can see, I already used one here on fishing. Oh well…

    Keep up the good work!

  40. Mimi says:

    This is just the post I needed to read as I learn more about my ideal avatar/customers for the coming year. Great insights and pictures, too! Especially loved those two cute kids!

  41. Reminds me of Greg Head’s post about the target market trap. Just because an internet based business “could” provide service to anywhere in the world doesn’t mean they should. It’s far better to focus on owning a specific region before expanding, especially when just starting and resources are limited.

  42. Lexi Rodrigo says:

    Thanks for this, Pam! It’s so detailed and the examples are wonderful.

    The idea of identifying watering holes was a new one for me. I’ll definitely share this post with my readers.

    PS: I had to laugh at your example, because while we don’t have Whole Foods here in Canada, I do work in Lululemons (official work attire) and my dream car is a Prius. How about that? And I’m typing this on my iMac 🙂

  43. Kim Lampe says:

    Perfect timing. We are working on are marketing calendar right now and had our first kick off meeting with some customers yesterday. It was such fun giving them the information and then just sitting down and listening. My partner who is the “marketing” experience knew the role of listening in marketing.

    I sent 6 personal emails to those that asked specific questions and voices specific needs. It was really about being of service to them. That is just FUN!

  44. Colette says:

    Great post Pam! Had to laugh at the Whole Foods Market example — yup, that’s me!

  45. Jmulvey says:

    Awesome, beautiful post….here is your target speaking to you: please sell me a book or two in your emails…hungry and wanting to learn more, especially about the themes in this post…….your writing is simple and great. Thanks @jamesmulvey

  46. Amazingly clear, concise, and compelling. Thank you!

  47. Susan Baier says:

    I love where you’re going with this, Pam – too few of us really think about the people we’re trying to serve and how to find them.

    The one thing I wish you’d added to your list of characteristics is NEED. What need do they have that we can fulfill for them? For Apple, for example, I’d certainly expect to see segments driven by a need for ease of use, maybe one driven by a need for cutting-edge creative applications, or even one that needs to feel like one of the “cool kids”. In my experience this core motivation (or, more often, combination of motivations) can trump demographics and purchase behavior to truly help us identify and find our best customers. As a bonus, it can provide valuable insights into who our competitors really are — and they may differ by segment, depending on what need somebody is trying to fulfill — and what messages we we should focus on to show our most relevant benefits each prospective customer.

    Your post is a wonderful reminder of how we should all be thinking about our customers and prospects and working to improve our understanding of what it is about them that makes us the perfect fit. Thanks as always for your insight and guidance.

  48. Jay Baer says:

    Bravo. Just perfect. You made segmentation and market dynamics understandable to all, in fewer than 1000 words. Thank you for this gift.

  49. Ken Brand says:

    Thanks, I am reminded, educated and appreciative. Cheers and Happy New Year.

  50. Holy awesomeness! You just made planning for 2011 a hole(!) lot easier 🙂