This article was originally posted on warc.com in October 2023, by Seth Hirsch, Head of Analytics and Partner at Acadia
When HubSpot surveyed more than 1,200 global marketers for its 2023 State of Marketing Report, the organization found that only 42% could cite their customers’ demographics, while only 45% knew their customers’ interests and hobbies and only 41% knew their shopping and content habits. Moreover, 50% admitted they’re missing key data on target audiences.
The customer understanding gap is likely to widen as people cope with inflationary pressures, economic uncertainty, and changing priorities in the wake of the pandemic. Indeed, eConsultancy’s 2023 U.S. Consumer Trends Index reports a 14% increase in frustration with irrelevant-to-me marketing messages.
A brand’s audience is its North Star. Marketers plan everything from product development and timing to marketing campaigns based on a customer persona. But what if they’re missing the mark without realizing it?
It’s not uncommon. Maybe you have one dominant customer persona that guides decision making, when there are other, more nuanced customers to consider. Maybe a different customer group has discovered and latched onto your product than the one you had in mind at launch, and you haven’t pivoted strategy to speak to this customer.
Whatever the reason may be, doing regular check-in analyses on your customer base is key to unlocking those new characteristics to shape your brand’s roadmap for the upcoming year and beyond.
What are you missing?
The most obvious indication that you may not be targeting the right customer group, or leaving some customers unaddressed, is that growth has stalled.
When most brands launch, they have a singular customer profile that guides targeting decisions and product development. But over time, as they introduce new products or raise brand awareness, additional customers expand their business and they’re actually reaching multiple customer profiles. The problem is, they haven’t updated their marketing or product targeting to account for their newer fans, and they don’t know much about them.
Customer evolution can be dramatic. One mountain bike company had spent years targeting serious mountain bikers with a penchant for adventure, who flocked to events like Red Bull competitions. When the brand wasn’t growing as much as they wanted, they decided to run an analysis on their customer base to figure out who they were targeting. They found that their most valuable customers now skewed older, averaging in their 50s, and rather than extreme adventure seekers, they were doctors and lawyers looking for the best bike for weekend rides.
Paying attention to how certain products are selling compared to others can tip brands off that they need to do a customer audit. If you can match one product to a certain customer demographic, and another to a separate one all together and there’s little overlap, that’s a sign that you’re catering to a few different customer profiles at the same time and should dig into what’s going on.
How to do it
The first step in profiling your customer base is to collect as much zero- and first-party data as you can. This is all data that your company owns.
To build zero-party data, or data that customers voluntarily share, run surveys that ask customers basic questions about themselves. For example, who are you shopping for? What do you usually shop for?
Then layer on first-party data collected from past purchases. If you’re selling on Amazon, you may have less first-party data because Amazon doesn't provide exact details on who the customers making purchases are. So, dig into the reports they provide on where customers are coming from at a 9 digit zip code level. This is a small enough area that you can gain important information about customer demographics and psychographics.
There is no substitute for rich first-party data. For example, a brand with a loyalty program may be able to tell for a large percentage of their customers things like what brands each customer prefers, whether they shop online or in-store, whether there are certain times of the year they prefer to shop, and how discount-oriented each customer is. This level of data will increasingly become the foundation of customer analytics.
Finally, append third-party data to get more in-depth. Experian or Acxiom are good sources for demographic data that can augment what you think you know based on nationwide databases, offering intel like age, income, marital status and whether there are children in the household.
Then it’s time to segment your customer data and analyze it. What age demographic is spending the most? Who are people shopping for? Where are they based? What products are certain groups drawn to versus others? These are all questions that can help inform messaging, product development and other decisions – now that you’re armed with a more complete picture of your customers.
It’s best to run these types of analyses once every quarter. It’s not likely that your customer will change drastically each time, but doing these check-ins multiple times a year can show how your customer changes from season to season. What sells around the holidays – and to whom – will be very different in the summer. And while quarterly analyses might sound exhaustive, your marketing budget will be spent smarter and you can even reduce spending over time, while getting better outcomes.
Take an enterprise view
Done well, this type of data analysis should touch every part of the business.
You might think that understanding customer nuances will only affect marketing messages, or that you know your customer enough that there’s little that would change as a result of this. The reality is that these exercises can lead to big, holistic changes, and the bigger decisions that can be made, the better.
Those decisions may happen across departments and reorient the entire business. When top executives are able to clearly see and understand this data, it becomes apparent what sales they’re missing out on. The new directive becomes a rallying cry. When trying to access a new customer, that means something has to change across marketing, real estate and merchandising departments.
Regular check-ins are essential to brand health, because they unlock opportunities for growth. Rarely does an analysis result in zero surprises – even if you are confident about 80% of your customer profile, there is usually 20% where insight can be gleaned and used to drive the business forward.