Who are your customers?
Businesses need to know who their customers are in order to succeed. That sounds like common sense, but a disappointingly large number of startups never follow through with it. Those small businesses make up a big part of the 90% of startups that fail within their first few years.
Meal prep businesses are just that—businesses. Even if you intend to run it on the side while you work somewhere else, success is better than failure. It is crucial to understand who you’re going to be selling your food to.
To do this, take the time to create something called an Ideal Customer Profile (or “ICP,” if you like abbreviations). As you’d guess from the term, an ICP is a description of your perfect customer. You’ll be using this profile as you plan the next—maybe even the first—steps along your business’s growth plan, so it’s important to get it done before you do much else. This will be used as you plan your brand, your marketing strategy, your social media presence, advertisements, and even your menu.
Before we get started, it’s important to understand that you aren’t going through this process to attempt to box in every customer you’ll ever have. That’s not really possible, to be blunt. There are always going to be different types of customers with unique needs and personalities who are willing to try something new. But you can’t plan for that. You’ll have bluebirds discover your business by chance and give it a whirl. Some people are perfectly happy to try out a vegan restaurant even if their typical diet consists mostly of steak and burgers. But a vegan restaurant wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—waste time and money trying to attract carnivores to their tables.
Again, this process is designed to determine who your ideal customers are, not build an exhaustive list of descriptions for anyone who might ever buy your food. You want your best customers, the ones who will keep coming back time and time again. They are the backbone of your business, and where you’ll earn most of your revenue.
To figure this out, you’ll need to do some thinking (and research, if you have customer data!)
What makes you special?
n the meal prep industry, repeat customers will tend to have a relatively short list of reasons for coming back to you, and you’ll need to figure out which of them is the most frequent and widespread. For example, if your business is focusing on a specialty diet, like keto or paleo, your customers are generally going to be people sticking to that diet.
But you’re going to need to get a little more specific. Why are they coming to you? Is it because they’re looking for something convenient? Are there only a handful of restaurants around them they can choose from? Is the diet so generally restrictive that they’re basically always eating the same meal over and over? Are ingredients too expensive? Are they pressed for time to cook themselves? Are they motivated by some ethical concern over ingredient sources? Is there just no competition for your menu without driving a hundred miles?
Basically, for the core of your customers, you need to answer one fundamental question: why you and not someone else?
This doesn’t need to be a complete, exhaustive list of every single reason your most frequent customers like you; it can usually be summed up in a sentence or two. For example:
My customers come to me because I offer a large, paleo-friendly menu using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, all at a lower price than they’d pay at a traditional restaurant
This might seem like a waste of time, but it really isn’t—that sentence would be the bedrock of that meal prep business’s message, positioning, branding, and marketing strategy. Instead of wasting time talking about other (doubtlessly positive!) traits, that business can instead focus on making sure potential customers know about their paleo-friendly menu, that they’re priced lower than other restaurants, and that their ingredients are local. That’s a messaging strategy that will likely resonate with the type of people they’re trying to reach—the ones who will buy fifty meals from them, not the ones who will buy one. Your goal here is to identify the primary motivation for your customers to come back to you (beyond just liking your food).
Next, gather as much information about these types of customers as you can. Demographic information like their age range or cultural background, for example, will be helpful. You’ll want as much data about them as you can get your hands on—what types of jobs they work, their education level, maybe even income ranges (assuming you can get that information) can all help you build a more complete profile of this type of person.
What you’re looking for is things these customers have in common. You might be surprised at how many similarities your best customers share—maybe most of them are male college students living in dorms, for example. That’s really useful information!
We recommend trying to nail down at least five main things your best customers tend to share with one another—though it’s possible to build a strategy with less, it can be a bit paralyzing to have too many different traits to attempt to quantify; as far as your ICP draft is concerned, less might be more.
Once you have your motivating statement and your main shared traits, take the time to write it out in an organized way. You’ll be using this Ideal Customer Profile in almost every step along this Marketing Guide, so keep it handy! In the next post, we’ll talk about building a messaging and positioning strategy around your Ideal Customer Profiles. Read more about this!