You’re probably familiar with the phrase “Knowledge is power” — it’s the simplest way to express a relationship that has been appreciated since time immemorial. Strength can dominate, and charisma can sway affections, but the acquisition and smart deployment of knowledge is what has always allowed rulers to control their domains.
This piece isn’t about rulers, of course, yet the fundamental principle is no less applicable when you’re talking about the business world. There’s a problem, though: there’s so much data available in the online age — and so many possible ways in which to use it — that it can seem smarter to refrain from attempting a data-led strategy.
Should you obsessively collect every last scrap of information within your reach? Absolutely not: even if you had the time for it, you’d be saddling yourself with a vast pool of junk data that would obscure anything valuable. But you should collect marketing-relevant data concerning your customers whenever you can — and in this piece, we’re going to explain why.
In this article
It’s Essential for Email Marketing Targeting
Social media marketing can be very effective, PPC consistently provides a solid return on your investment, and influencer marketing lets you gain ready access to some valuable niches — but when it comes to overall utility and flexibility, email marketing remains at the top of the pile. It’s a powerful way to approach someone unfamiliar with your brand (if employed very delicately), and even better at marketing to those who’ve purchased from you before.
With that power comes enormously complexity, though: complexity that many find daunting and use as justification for sticking to paid ads. They imagine that all promotional emails sink to the bottom of inboxes without trace, not understanding that email marketing done well is still about as effective as it’s ever been. And if you want to do it well, you need data — and lots of it.
Think about every step in a comprehensive long-term email marketing plan: every twist and turn from gathering addresses to smartly retargeting repeat customers. Each point feeds into the next, and the garbage in, garbage out concept applies as ever. A bad address list will lead to ineffective emails. These emails will lead to minimal conversions and warped ideas of what prospective customers want. These ideas can reshape broader content strategies, causing untold damage throughout large businesses.
And the only way to ensure that each step is handled correctly is to collect and parse relevant data both before it (to lay the groundwork) and after it (to assess the results). Email addresses shouldn’t be gathered in isolation: they should be gathered along with myriad other pieces of data, allowing you to place them in proper context and send out the most appropriate content (more on that later).
You can Find New Prospects in the Gaps
Paying close attention to who your customers are is a fantastic way to figure out who they aren’t (which is to say, take note of the people you’re currently failing to convert). This insight can be extremely valuable. Suppose, for example, that your customer data highlights a notable absence of people in a certain age group (perhaps 30-40): knowing that, you can attempt to determine why you’re not converting those people, and adjust your marketing accordingly.
Alternatively, perhaps you’re doing a great job of selling to people through organic search, but seeing weak results through every other channel (PPC, email, affiliate links, etc.). This can help you take note of the diminishing returns with your SEO efforts and move some resources over to other traffic sources that might help you achieve greater successes.
This comes down to not falling into the trap of viewing your audience as monolithic: a simple collection of people who are interested in what you provide. Depending on what you find, there may be justification for creating some new content, catering to some different keywords, designing a distinct marketing email template, or building new landing pages for your website.
It’s possible to put too much time towards the analysis of demographics, yes, but it’s better to veer closer to that end of the spectrum than it is to overlook the practice entirely. Be pragmatic, though and remember that some gaps merely reflect the limitations of your brand’s appeal. If you sell high-end furniture, for example. don’t see a gap in youth interest as cause to run a campaign targeting students with barely enough money to eat (let alone buy costly patio chairs).
They Won’t Generally Volunteer Information
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find. This sliver of the Gospel of Matthew is considered to regard the power of prayer, but it also applies quite neatly to marketing — and it addresses something that often gets overlooked these days. Digital analytics have taught a generation of online businesses that being entirely passive is a viable element of iterative improvement. Just sit back, gather whatever data appears, and run with it.
There are two reasons why this is a bad idea. Firstly, it’s becoming increasingly ineffective due to rising awareness of just how much private data is being unknowingly collected. Following the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, conversations regarding data processing were sparked throughout the world, and people’s eyes were opened to just how heavily businesses were abusing their personal information.
Secondly, there’s only so much that passive analytics can gather. You can learn how long someone spends on a given page, or which links they click, or how they scroll on a mobile device — but not what they’re thinking at any given point, or what they want, or how they view your brand relative to any other. You’re missing so much information.
And since customers won’t generally volunteer that kind of information spontaneously and for no particular reason, you need to be proactive and ask for it. Reach out to customers directly to ask what they think of your brand. Build surveys and rich feedback options into everything you do. Use social media to engage in discussions with your followers. I earlier noted the value of context, and that’s what all this data can grant you — enhancing your passive digital analytics.
Personalization is Key to Customer Retention
Expectations for customer experience have grown enormously as the ecommerce industry has matured. No one is impressed by the basic concept that once seemed so revolutionary: place an order online, wait, and see it show up one day as if by magic. Today there are so many options at hand that shoppers can be incredibly picky.
A useful point of comparison is the classic notion of a wealthy visitor to a department store. Finding great products isn’t enough, as there are great products everywhere. What they want is to be understood and presented with an incredible level of convenience: the moment they walk in, they should be greeted by name, asked about their satisfaction with recent buys, and pointed towards the new products that might interest them.
This is why personalization is a key element of modern digital marketing. Once someone has bought from a brand once, they expect their buying experience to change somewhat: when they receive marketing emails, they don’t want focus to go towards products that bear zero relation to their expressed preferences and areas of interest. I mentioned choosing the most appropriate content for email marketing, and this is what I meant: it’s where dynamic recommendations come into play (having templates that automatically fill with relevant products).
And when they reach out to social media support for product-related assistance, they expect their details to be immediately found and used to save them time. “Hi Mr Smith, I can see that you placed your order on the 9th and received it yesterday.” Basic personalization isn’t hard to do (it should be kept simple anyway, since it can be overbearing otherwise), but you can’t do it effectively if you don’t put in the work to understand your customers.
Bad Marketing is Worse than Unconvincing
One of the classic mistakes that brands make is envisioning their marketing efforts as risky only in the sense that they might be ineffective. At an archery range, you might hit the bullseye for a maximum score, or you might miss the target entirely for zero: the zero won’t subtract, so if you have unlimited shots then you might as well keep trying until the timer runs out.
To make that analogy representative of marketing, though, the target would need to feature a mix of positive and negative values, thus presenting a radically different challenge. Simply taking potshots would be a terrible idea because they could make things markedly worse. You’d need to be very careful with your shots, taking your time to aim with maximum precision.
Bad marketing isn’t just risky because it might be bland and forgettable. It also has the potential to push people away from your brand quite powerfully, particularly if it’s perceived as distasteful, completely uninteresting to the recipients, or executed in a deeply unprofessional way. The first two issues there can easily stem from a lack of audience awareness, of course.
Take the high-end furniture example we used before and invert it so you’re trying to sell bargain furniture: something that’s absolutely of interest to students. Now imagine running a major marketing campaign on remarkably cheap items of furniture that — rather unsurprisingly — were built using materials that are neither sustainable nor ethically sourced.
Your target audience likes cheap products, right? Doesn’t it make sense that making your products even cheaper would be received well? Unfortunately, as much as your student customers dislike spending heavily on furniture, they dislike the use of unsustainable materials even more, and your brand immediately earns a terrible reputation.
Had you done enough research and collected enough marketing data on your customers, you would have known that they cared so deeply about environmental issues, and you would have been able to avoid making such a disastrous PR move.
It Shows That you’re Invested in Improving
Lastly, there’s a much broader reason to collect customer data very proactively (or, more specifically, to be seen collecting it): it’s a strong indication to your customers — and those who might be interested in buying from you — that you’re making a concerted effort to get better. To make your service better. To make your products better. To make your brand better.
Customer loyalty is a hard thing to earn, but it’s also hard to keep: someone might feel now that they’ll continue to buy from you, but circumstances change, as do people and companies. Your rival businesses can radically improve and start tempting your customers away. Industry standards can change while you remain static, failing to adapt. It’s all very perilous.
In the end, it’s the companies that demonstrably move with the times that survive and thrive. Their customers appreciate that they can keep coming back and continue to get service that’s industry-leading or at least in line with what everyone else offers. The post-GDPR world makes people wary about their data being used, but it doesn’t make them directly opposed to it when it’s used to make your company better.
To make this even clearer, make a point of mentioning it when you change based on customer data. “Our marketing data told us that 45% of our customers don’t open our marketing emails but don’t want to unsubscribe, so we’ve implemented customization options to give you more control over the contents of the emails you receive.” This calls attention to the improvement, and to your logical approach to adapting based on results and feedback.
In conclusion, then, collecting marketing data on your customers is important for numerous reasons including (but not limited to) those we’ve considered in this piece. If you’re not already investing heavily in passive and active data collection, it’s time to address that oversight, not least because it’s likely that your chief competitors are already moving in that direction.