Back to 'knowing the customer' basics

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Marketing today is a sales-driven, lead generation discipline. While everyone pays lip service to “knowing the customer,” there are fewer opportunities to delve into individual preferences and behaviors. Is the problem not enough data? Or the digital tools available to slice and dice it?

With the explosion of online marketing, the pressure is on small businesses to understand their target customers, where they live, and what they need and want. They work hard to capture information from sign up forms, surveys, and events, but keeping it up to date and actionable isn't easy. Vendors keep offering so-called “targeting” solutions, but it doesn't take long to get overwhelmed by the complexity. Most SMB marketers can't afford the top-shelf solutions anyway, but know what to do – they just need something that works.

For them, the emphasis is on results, but also ease of use and efficiency. They may have a ton of customer data at their fingertips, but wonder if a digital tool can create segments as effectively as they could manually if they only had the time? Or provide information in a format they could easily shape into messages? Or would they spend all their time trying to organize the data into something they can actually use?

To find answers, let's look at some of the factors that influence purchasing decisions, in particular, location. Common sense tells us that people's lives revolve around their homes, places of work and immediate surroundings – and that's where most of their money will be spent. With the evolution of the Internet, businesses can now capture IP addresses and related geographic data – from country and city, to longitude and latitude (e.g. based on wireless network location) and DMA codes.

With this data, e-mail marketers can tailor their communications to consumers who can take advantage of in-store offers. For example, if customers tend to limit travel to 20 miles, and the business has three brick-and-mortar locations within that range, they have a radius from which to work when building target segments.

Another important trend is for SMB businesses that have growing global and/or multicultural audiences. These SMB marketers need to differentiate the language and cultural context of their communications or run the risk of alienating buyers. Bigger companies can create an international business unit or department, but SMBs must rely heavily on their knowledge and experience – and a lot of manual labor.

That said, the ideal segmentation tool would somehow combine all of the web form, survey, preference, and geo-location data and use it to create target groups and campaigns. (No wonder the tools are so complicated!) The fact remains that geo-targeted campaigns return up to 50% higher CTR, and SMB marketers need to get on the bandwagon. So what are their options?

Our advice is to explore segmentation tools, but use the following criteria to overcome the persistent obstacles to adoption:

Easy to learn and use. No specialized skills or IT knowledge required.

Flexible enough to apply a wide range of criteria to each segment.

Easy to apply multi-faceted targeting in a single, seamless process.

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