hiding behind a leaf
PHOTO: Allef Vinicius

What do you know — really know — about your customers?

Sure, you know their names. Where they live. How often they make purchases. This kind of generalized information has long been a staple of marketing — and even the largest brands have been willing to build entire strategies on skin-deep assumptions using just those basic facts.

But the world has changed. We operate in an environment of hypercompetitiveness, oversaturation, rapid change and, most importantly, empowered customers. They expect you to know more than just the basic stats. They want you to understand them: How they think, what they feel, what drives their behaviors and preferences. 

To effectively reach them, you need to dig deeper and gather more information about them in ways you never had to before.

Your challenge in 2018 is to uncover the person behind the basic statistics and create an experience that speaks to that individual. A personalized, seamless experience of meaningful, one-to-one interactions, aligned with his or her individual needs, delivered consistently across all channels.

Finding the Golden Nuggets

So, how do you get to know thousands, or even millions, of customers on a personal level?

improving marketing efforts through research

As much as that is about developing data models, it’s also about developing empathy.

You’re probably already collecting data in an effort to understand each individual’s journey across all touchpoints of interaction with your brand. But that alone won’t translate into increased sales. The key is leveraging these insights: Pulling together the pixels into a clear picture of individual behaviors, likes, dislikes and potential life events. The fuller the picture, the better targeted your marketing efforts become.

Related Article: Why Data Alone Won't Provide Insights

The Science of Feelings: Research, Data, Analytics

It may seem like an overwhelming endeavor but, again, you’re already capturing a rich data set of customer behaviors. The more difficult part is identifying the why part of the equation. You need to understand customers’ motives before you can effectively market to them. This requires more proactive research and data-gathering — an effort that goes beyond just tracking a customer’s digital footprints.

One-on-one interviews, focus groups, direct observation and surveys are great ways to glean unique insights directly from customers. More extensive techniques like descriptive research (which uncovers the feelings and opinions that exist within a population), causal research (which evaluates cause-effect relationships) and participatory research (in which the company gives actual prototypes to customers and asks them for feedback) should also be considered.

However, research alone is not enough. Data management must be part of the process, or your efforts will fail. I’m reminded of an electric vehicle owner who consistently receives dealer coupons for oil changes — on a car that doesn’t use oil. Customer engagement must be built on a foundation of clean, integrated and enriched data to be effective.

Like most companies, you likely have internal data (i.e., email addresses, email clicks and opens, website views, etc.) available from your customer relationship management and marketing automation systems. The next step is to augment this internal data with external data that may exist outside your organization — data such as demographics, household income, social media activities, professional and education credentials, and more. This can be obtained via third parties such as credit bureaus, and it helps round out the comprehensive view of the individual.

Analytics is the final piece of any effort to obtain valuable customer insights. Analytics helps quantify the relationship between marketing efforts and business outcomes, and it can provide intelligence to guide investment decisions and improve ROI. Analytics can also influence how your offers influence customer decisions. 

Descriptive and predictive analytics examine past performance to shed light on customers’ actions and help answer questions about what they are likely to do next. Prescriptive analytics not only anticipate what will happen and when, but also why it will happen. The maturity of analytics programs varies widely across and within industries. Where your organization falls on the “customer insight continuum” depends on how well you use and apply research, data and analytics.

Related Article: Why Your Voice of the Customer Data Isn't Actionable (and What to Do About It)

Data-driven Experiences Built for Human Sensibilities

A 360-degree view of the customer opens the door to creating extremely targeted and personalized messages that reach the right audiences through the right channels. The more data you collect, the more insights you can acquire, and the more personalized you can make your customer experience.

By capturing customer insights through the lens of empathy — not just “data” — you’ll start to answer the important questions:

  • Are we selling the right products? 
  • Are we communicating in the most effective way? 
  • Are we helping customers when they need it? 
  • Are we exceeding their expectations? 
  • And ultimately, are we creating loyal and valuable customers?

Obtaining a deeper understanding of your customers through research, data and analytics through an empathetic lens will create the special two-way relationship you strive for. Think of it this way: You put massive resources into cultivating your brand story, but your customer has a story, too. Your success depends on how much you learn about that story, and how well you speak to it. 

This will be an ongoing process, and it will take discipline and patience. But the payoff — creating a compelling experience and a customer for life — is well worth it.