More times than not, the answer is no. While organizations are trying, most have not learned the biggest skill required in our data-driven world: How to listen to what people tell us about themselves.
We are trained to look at consumers in a certain way. Brands and publishers, for the past 50 years, have relied on focus groups, demographic data and vertical segmentation to define their customers and audiences. Using this research, they craft marketing messages designed to attract these groups.
But in the digital world, you don’t need to limit yourself to predefined definitions, or make assumptions about who your audience is. If you research into the real data that people offer up with every click of their mouse and swipe of their finger, you can truly discover how varied your customers and audiences are, what they want from you and how you can cater to them in the way that’s profitable for you and for them.
The key is learning to really listen to the signals people are giving you. And we need to listen. Understanding the story driven by data is crucial to future growth in digital. There are varieties of approaches you can take to understand what people are saying.
Four Best Practices for Listening to your Audience
1. Look at Sequencing
You can develop a more sophisticated understanding of peoples’ wants and needs simply by considering the sequence of the steps that they take as they interact with your brand. For example, if you’re a financial services company, of course you track when your customers make a stock trade or put more money into an investment account. But it’s just as important to know what kind of actions they took before and after those tasks, whether they looked at different pieces of research you provided, or if they came to your site after visiting a mortgage calculator.
2. Study Frequency and Recency
By studying the habits of your customers you can better understand how valuable they are to you. For example, publishers track page views, but by understanding the rate of consumption of your content, you gain more insight into what kind of viewership you have and tailor your marketing and content suggestions accordingly. Do your visitors read one piece of content during a visit, or multiple? How often do they return and where do they start out on your site?
3. Expand your Notion of Conversion
Conversion is not simply selling someone a product or signing them up for emails. Instead, think of conversion as any bit of data people act on. Do they click on recommended articles, share content, play around with specific parts of an interactive graphic? You can understand an affinity between different pieces of information or subjects you might not have noticed before, simply by analyzing these bits of declared or volunteered data.
4. Learn that Targeting Isn’t Just for Ads
Targeting can be used for much more than simply dishing up marketing. Take the example of a social media audience. This audience usually zips into a publisher’s site through a shared link — and then zips out. You can respond in a few ways. You can figure out how to gain social media users loyalty by targeting content to them that they have a higher affinity for by pulling together more data about different types of of social media users. Or you may use targeting to restrict the higher-quality ads or content that you show them if you don’t seem interested in interacting with it.
Ultimately, the goal is to listen to what your customers are telling you. This builds reference points that you can then use to expand your understanding of who your audience truly is — because there are so many potential customers we’re not seeing right in front of us.
There are no absolutes, no walls, in the online world. People show up at your site whom you might never have expected — and aren’t able to engage with because you aren’t looking for them. The audience is speaking to you. Now is your chance to listen to them.