Think Like An FBI Agent If You Want Great Customer Profiles

November 30, 2017

by Britt DeJohn

From Criminal Minds and Quantico to Mindhunter and Silence of the Lambs, TV shows and movies about FBI profilers leave us on the edge of our seats – and frequently lead to guilt-laden binge-watching sessions. But beyond keeping us couch-bound, media that depicts the criminal profiling methodology can also teach us how to be better content marketers. 

You’ve seen this script before: a dangerous psychopath commits heinous crimes in a small town. The FBI is notified, and a team of agents shows up, working against the clock to crack the case. To “catch the perp,” the agents need to get inside his or her head and understand what makes them tick. While the subject matter and surrounding circumstances are very different from one another, criminal profiling and customer profiling surprisingly share a lot of overlap. 

Keep reading to find out how the 4-step FBI profiling system can be applied to marketers looking to target their ideal customer base with business blogs and other content. 

Step 1: Collect all relevant information. 

What’s the first thing an FBI agent does after they’ve shown up at the scene of a crime? Gather all of the clues. Whether it’s crime scene photographs and forensic evidence or witness statements and police reports, a critical – and primary – part of the investigation is information collection. 

Likewise, if you’re a marketer looking to craft useful customer profiles, data needs to be the foundation.  Data points provide a realistic depiction of what your target buyers actually want, and they help you avoid jumping to conclusions about your customers based on stereotypes or personal prejudices. 

So where can you find “clues” as a marketer? Consider market research your “crime scene.” If you’ve been working in your field for a few years already, conduct your own market research by reaching out to existing customers – and even prospects and leads – with phone surveys, e-mail questionnaires and focus groups. Any data-gathering tool that gives you relevant insights into your buyers’ mentalities and motivations is helpful. 

If your business is still in its early stages and you haven’t developed many customer relationships yet, you can use secondary market research to get started. Find companies who share similarities with yours – same industry, same size, etc. – and comb through their published studies to extract the necessary data.  And don't underestimate the value of social listening. Follow conversations online to see what your target customer prioritizes, as well as what might turn them away.

Step 2: Identify patterns in the collected data set. 

Psychologist Harvey Schlossberg was instrumental in developing criminal profiles in the late 1960s and 70s, per the American Psychological Association. “What I would do,” Schlossberg said, “is sit down and look through cases where the criminals had been arrested. I listed how old the perpetrators were, whether they were male or female, their level of education. Did they come from broken families? Did they have school behavioral problems? I listed as many factors as I could come up with, and then I added them up to see which were the most common.”

When you begin to sift through your market research, it’s important to pinpoint common denominators. Just like Schlossberg looked for recurring patterns in age, sex, education and other characteristics in arrested criminals, you should be looking for repeating data points in your collected customer data. Are you finding that many of your customers are women in their 40s or 50s? Have a significant portion of your survey respondents listed budgetary restrictions as their primary concern? Make note of these patterns – they’ll prove to be indispensable when you arrive at Step 3. 

Step 3: Begin building a profile backed by your data patterns. 

The best FBI profilers know how to temporarily shed their own identity and assume the persona of the suspect they’re chasing. By putting themselves in the shoes of the perpetrator, they’re able to understand the motivational forces and antecedent events that lead to the crime being committed. 

Similarly, the best inbound marketers know how to assume the persona of their target buyer. Just like an FBI agent starts with the crime and works backward, sometimes it’s easiest for marketers to start at the end – a deal closing – and begin building a consumer profile from there.

Image of two text boxes comparing the questions asked by an FBI agent to questions a marketer should ask.

By starting with your existing customer base or consumer leads, it’s much easier to begin building the blocks of a buyer persona and then using your accumulated data to fill in demographic information, behavior patterns, personality traits, pain points and other pertinent information. 

Step 4: Distribute your finished profile to your team. 

It’s a familiar cinematic scene: the FBI agents have finally compiled a workable criminal profile, so they gather the local police force into one beige-colored room and share the profile with them, handing out copies and verbally walking the officers through the profile details.

Once you have your profile in hand, it’s essential to distribute the information to your remaining team members, which would include both the marketing and sales teams. Once everyone has the same buyer personas to reference, they can begin working together to strategize on how best to reach these target customers and how to create content that appeals to them. 

In an FBI investigation, the work isn’t quite done after the handcuffs have been slapped on. After the arrest, the agents need to compare their criminal profile to the real-life criminal. Was the profile spot-on? Were there things about the real-life criminal that deviated from the profile?

Similarly, after a marketing lead has converted into a loyal customer, content marketers should compare the real-life customer to the buyer persona. How accurate was the consumer profile when compared to reality? Over time, as you acquire more and more customers, you’ll be able to identify parts of your persona that need to be updated – and that’s fine! Profiling a customer should be an ongoing process that’s always being fine-tuned as more data surfaces.

Not ready to dig into the investigative work yourself? It could make sense for your company to hire outside content writers to handle this type of work for you. To learn more about choosing a content provider, download our ebook for must-ask questions during the hiring process. 

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About Virtucom Group

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