What Is Customer Data and How It Could Transform Your Marketing


Caution: This Article Contains Big Data Energy

Customer data is all the bits of information your customer leaves behind when they interact with you, your product or your service. These are things such as names, job titles, on-site behavior, social engagement and even product reviews. 

Say you're a blossoming clothing shop. A customer visits your website and adds one of your purple bucket hats to her virtual cart. She signs up for your newsletter to get ten percent off, but gets distracted and abandons her cart. That’s okay, because now your newsletter form captured have her email and you can send a follow up message in a day to remind her how badly she wanted that purple bucket hat. You can even address her by name.

Remember: We're not here to judge the customer for wanting a purple bucket hat. We’re here to give them what they want – and their data just showed us how. So who cares? Why does this matter, and how can you use it to transform your marketing?

Let’s break it down. First you have to decide what data actually matters for your business, and why. 


What Customer Data Matters to You, and Why?

The data that matters is the data that helps you build a better experience

Last year, 80% of customers said the experience an organization provides is as important as its products or services. That’s an un-ignorable number, and it means if you want to continue to grow or maintain your spot in your industry, you need a kick-ass customer experience.

But on the flip side, the majority of marketers said it’s now harder than ever to meet customer expectations. There’s such an incredible amount of competition, such a swath of A.I.-enhanced technology, marketing and decision making that’s handling how customers perceive you from the storefront, to your website, to your online learning sessions. 

The organizations that are seeing the most success are the ones collecting and using the right customer data to inform the strategy and tweak the tactics that make up that customer experience. In fact, 70% of companies that use advanced personalization have already earned 200% ROI or more

But that’s barely scratching the surface. With only about a third of North American companies using data personalization tactics across their customer lifecycle, we’re not even close to understanding how far data-driven marketing can go.

So what data do YOU need? This is where it gets a little more… personal.

There’s no definitive data checklist – it comes down to your specific organization and your customer experience. 


Understanding Your Customer Experience to Identify Your Data Needs

A great way to understand your existing customer experience is to lay out your “buyer journey.” Your buyer journey is how your customer experiences or interacts with you, typically split into five distinct stages. These stages are awareness, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. See our post with examples of each stage for more info on the buyer journey.


Graphic of the buyer journey with examples of the awareness, consideration, purchase, advocacy and retention stages


How do people find out about you? How do they contact you, peruse your products or services, ask you questions and get third-party reviews? How do they buy your stuff, is it through your website, a storefront or an app?

Remember: It's not just your product, your course or your event that make up your customer experience – it’s your marketing, too. So what happens when people google you, what happens when they open your emails, what happens when they sign up for your newsletter. 

Walking through this process from your customer's perspective will give you a solid framework for your customer experience. Our e-commerce hat shop from before will have a very different buyer journey than a dairy farming equipment manufacturer -- probably one with fewer cows, too. 

The equipment manufacturer has a smaller target market, which means relationships are even more crucial. They’ll typically have a buying process with multiple steps, stages of approval and a larger focus on the nuts and bolts of a product. A half-million dollar heavy equipment purchase requires a ton of departmental and/or organizational buy-in, with most purchases involving at least six people researching across social media, review sites and vendor websites. A hat requires little more than $50 and one identity crisis (and that's coming from a hat guy). 

When you understand how your customers experience you, you can develop pathways to collect data, analyze it, and use it to inform your strategy.  


Using Customer Data to Develop Your Marketing Strategy

Your organization – whether it’s your website, your product description, your webinar or your office dog – has ten seconds to capture a new audience member before they’re gone. So unless Clifford is your big red unique selling point, the secret to getting the most out of those ten seconds seems to be creating a personalized experience.

Way back in 2016, management consulting agency and industry mega-mind McKinsey & Company dubbed digital personalization as the holy grail of marketing. They build off Nielsen Norman Group’s ten-second rule to say that not only can you overcome the instant-gratification expectations of today’s consumer with personalized experiences, but you actually reduce acquisition costs, boost revenue, and make peoples lives better. Because the reality is, 76% of people actually get frustrated when companies don’t deliver personalized experiences. 

That means if your audience doesn’t feel like you’re speaking to them, they won’t just leave you. They’ll feel a negative association with your brand. As leaders, as marketers, heck, as humans, the last thing we want is to make people feel bad. But when customers have an experience that makes them feel appreciated, they're more likely to recommend or endorse you on social media, subscribe to your newsletter, sign up for promotions and make repeat purchases.”

So here are three examples of great data-driven marketing you can consider. Please note that while we’re going to mention specific examples of brands or services that offer data personalization, you don’t need to buy anything to understand the theory behind them and use it to develop your own strategy using tools you already have. 

Use A.I. To Make Sure Your Price is Right

Price Intelligently is a software service that collects data from your target customers, quantifies your value – presumably comparing your services and products to your competitors and industry standards – and then develops a pricing strategy based on your real-world analytics. 

Gobbledegook, yes, so here’s what it looks like in practice. 

Say you’re a sales tax filing service for e-commerce businesses, like TaxJar. They help people do taxes. They didn’t have much competition at launch, so they weren’t sure how to price their service. TaxJar asked their customers how much their service would be worth to them, but that’s based on anecdotes, and if you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different prices that could vary wildly depending on locale, scale and the person’s mood. 

That opens TaxJar up to a bit of trouble down the line. How do you grow your business, develop new products, and introduce yourself to new customers, all when you’re unsure of your worth? In comes Price Intelligently. They collect all sorts of industry data like prices of industry competitors, similar businesses in other industries, and what customers are paying on a much larger scale. So TaxJar ends up with a rock-solid idea of what they should be charging, but Price Intelligently scooped up so much data that they were able to figure out most similar services actually charge based on a subscription model. So they recommend this new fee structure based on customer habits, sentiment and other analytics that ends up skyrocketing TaxJar’s monthly recurring revenue by 30 per cent. 

TaxJar grew more confident in their pricing, increased their monthly recurring revenue, and best of all, created a better customer experience by deploying a more desirable payment plan.

Measure engagement to serve content your audience actually wants

Full disclosure, we use Association Analytics. We’re always going to be up front when we talk about or recommend a business or product we work with for the sake of transparency. Just because we like something doesn’t mean it's the best for your objectives or your organization. We always recommend you determine that for yourself, based on your own research and understanding. We work with Association Analytics because they’re awesome. They’re the leading provider of business intelligence for associations which makes them a no-brainer for our association clients, plus if I include a them in this post, it will give my boss serotonin. 

We were looking for a way we could adopt the Netflix content model -- making content recommendations based on user habits -- and we discovered Association Analytics' product, Acumen.

Acumen is a great big data platform that plugs into your website and digital presence, collects all your user data, and gives you insights as to who is doing what and why.

By scraping your digital data across your website and your socials, you can see drop-off points along your customer journey. If people are joining your association through your website but not engaging with your training webinars, events or workshops, this could be an awareness issue. This lets you know you need to get more involved in marketing these products to new members. 

That’s creating a better customer experience for an entire audience segment. 

Acumen also allows you to see where your members are coming from, whether it’s Facebook, organic search or YouTube. When you know where they’re coming from, you can invest more time and money into that avenue, and less into the ones that aren’t hitting as hard. If the majority of your new memberships are clicking through from your LinkedIn and not Twitter, you can focus your efforts into creating more content designed for potential members on LinkedIn. 


laptop on a desk with social media metrics on screen


You also get to see where you're not as strong, and why. So you get a better picture of what parts of your Twitter aren't as engaging, see which of your posts are doing better than others, so you can reformulate your social media strategy to include more of what people want.

Now, the big one for us as a video production studio is how their platform tells you when people click, pause, scrub through and stop watching your video content on your website. That means you get a better understanding of what your audience is into, and what content drives them to take an action, whether it’s signing up for a membership, checking out a webinar or registering for an event. You get to know what video made it happen and how. 

Bottom line: Association Analytics allows you to track what your members are engaging with, so you can curate a member experience your audience actually enjoys. 

Stop E-blasting Your Audience and Start Connecting with People

People love to talk about themselves. They also love to read about themselves. If you can marry these together, you’ve got a recipe for an email campaign that doesn’t just hope for a clickthrough, it demands one.

Take this example from OpenTable via HubSpot. The author had a meal at a nice restaurant that they booked using the online reservation service. That’s a good customer experience in itself, but OpenTable doesn’t let it end with the after-dinner mint. The author shows how, using the reservation data, OpenTable followed up with them after the time of the reservation. The email asks how the meal was and offers the option to leave a review using an email template that’s set up to plug and play with the specific restaurant and reservation name. You get 100 emails a day, but it’s incredibly rare you get one with a picture of the table you just ate at, asking you a personal question by name.

So not only are is OpenTable  creating a personal connection with their user, they're also helping create a better experience by knowing they can then rank that restaurant higher in their recommendation system, to offer a better experience to other users with similar audience profiles. 


Get Out There and Get Personal! 

Now you have a better understanding of customer data, why it matters and how you can use it to  inform your marketing strategy. 

And if you want to learn more about creating a personalized experience for your members, check out our webinar, Personalizing Your New Member’s Experience with Relevance. It’s part two in our webinar series all about maximizing your member engagement featuring our own Director of Client Solutions, Doug Coombs! 


Your Full Webinar Recording

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