As far as marketing strategies go, only one thing is for certain — there’s no such thing as a recipe for success. Every brand is different and every customer is different. The question is, how exactly can you improve your marketing efforts so that you’re not wasting your time and resources on a strategy that isn’t working? The answer is simple: by collecting and analyzing customer data. To effectively market your brand, you need to know who your customers are — and the best way to learn who they are is by analyzing the personal information and behavioral data of your customers available to you across all channels.
The Importance of Collecting Customer Data
It can’t be overstated how important data is to the success of your marketing strategy. Customer data can tell you things like gender, age, location, wants, needs, challenges, job position, while also providing insight into what kind of content they like, when they go online, what devices they use to go online, what social channels they use, what their purchasing habits are like, and much more. This kind of data can be invaluable in helping you develop your content marketing and social media marketing strategies.
In addition to helping you create marketing strategies that are more effective, regularly collecting and analyzing new customer data can help you make adjustments to your tactics to address areas that aren’t working and to improve your results. You can also use behavioral data to improve the customer experience across channels; for example, by making your website more user-friendly. Finding the data that can help you achieve all this is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are several effective methods for collecting customer data that you can implement.
Understanding the Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Data
Before diving into some of the methods for collecting customer data, it’s important to distinguish the two types of data that you can collect: qualitative and quantitative. Both of these types of data are important, but they serve different purposes. Quantitative data refers to the data that consists of raw numbers; for example, the number of people that visited a webpage, the click-through rate of an ad you ran on Facebook, or the number of likes or shares you got on a blog post.
Quantitative data can be very helpful in helping you to identify marketing efforts that worked and that didn’t work and provide some direction as to how to make improvements by comparing the two. For example, look at the blog posts that got the most social media shares and identify what they have in common and then compare those to blog posts that got the least number of shares over the same period of time and see what those had in common. This will inform how you will create content in the future, while keeping what made those successful blog posts effective in mind.
Qualitative data refers to information that can’t be measured using numbers. The opinions and views of your customers can be considered qualitative data, like the comments that they left on your blog posts or social media channels, complaints that they made to your customer service representatives, or opinions that they provided to surveys or questions that you posted.
Essentially, quantitative data provides you with more big picture information, whereas qualitative data helps to add a human element to that big picture.
1. Use Web Analytics Software
One of the most effective ways to obtain data about your customers online is through the use of web analytics software. There are countless analytics software tools out there that can be used to collect and analyze all kinds of data. Many of these tools are free to use as well. The following are a few examples of how you can collect valuable customer data online:
Whenever someone visits your website, your website sends a small piece of data known as a cookie to that person’s computer via the web browser that they are using. This is done for the user’s benefit: the cookie allows the website to remember the user’s browsing activity to provide a better user experience when they return. For example, if the user visited the website to make a purchase, they can choose to remain logged in if they want to. The next time they visit, the website will remember them and log them in automatically.
Traffic data is hugely helpful in judging the performance of your marketing efforts. Traffic data can tell you how many people are visiting any given page and where they are coming from, which lets you pinpoint what marketing efforts are most effective at bringing in traffic and where you need to adjust your strategy to improve traffic. Traffic data can also provide you with valuable information regarding how many visitors are coming back to your website and how often they are coming back as well as how many visitors are brand new leads. There are many tools that you can use to collect, monitor, and analyze your website’s traffic data.
- Measuring Web Traffic – Google Analytics is a free tool that can not only provide data about your website traffic in general, but also about individual users. Google Analytics can provide you with detailed traffic data that includes time of visit, pages visited, the time a user spent on each page, and the session time (total amount of time spent on the website during a single visit). In fact, Google Analytics can even reveal what type of operating system the visitor is using, what type of web browser they’re viewing your site from, and their network location and IP address.
- Measuring Cart Abandonment Rate – The traffic data that Google Analytics provides can be applied to not just who is visiting your site, but also when and where they are leaving. This is hugely beneficial when it comes to your cart abandonment rate. The last thing you want is for potential customers to put products in their cart only to leave your site before finalizing their purchase. You can use Google Analytics to track your cart abandonment rate and to identify exactly what pages they are abandoning their cart on so that you can determine why it’s happening. For example, maybe they’re abandoning it during the checkout process because there’s a bug that’s preventing their credit card information from being accepted, or perhaps it’s because you’re asking for way too much personal information.
- Tracking Pre-Click Traffic – In addition to using Google Analytics, which is an excellent tool for collecting user data and analyzing how visitors engage with your website, you should also use Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a free tool that can provide you with pre-click traffic data. Google Search Console focuses on identifying how your pages are ranking on Google’s search engine results pages (SERP) and why, providing you with the data you need to improve your SEO strategy so that you can increase your web traffic.
User Engagement Tests
Although your traffic data can certainly give you an overall idea of how engaged users are with your website, you can obtain a much more detailed view through the use of heat maps. A heat map shows what parts of a given webpage are being engaged with most. It does this by using thermal imaging, with warm colors (yellow, orange, and red) highlighting spots on the page that users are interacting with most, while cooler colors (green and blue) show where they are engaging with the least.
Using heat maps allows you to identify whether users are engaging with a page and whether they are engaging with the elements that you want them to engage with (such as links or CTAs). There are two main types of heat maps: mouse tracking and eye tracking. Mouse tracking is arguably the most effective since it lets you see where visitors are clicking, pausing, and scrolling on your webpages.
Online Community Forums
There are numerous web analytics tools out there that allow you to track brand mentions across the web. This allows you to monitor what customers are saying about your brand on everything from social media channels to online community forums. This is a great way to collect qualitative data. You can also engage with users who are mentioning your brand, whether in a positive or negative light, and obtain direct feedback on their views of your brand.
2. Explore the Power of Social Media
Billions of people around the world use social media, whether it’s from their desktops or their smartphones. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have billions of users on their own. This means that establishing a social presence will provide you with much more exposure along with the ability to engage with your audience directly and gain access to incredibly valuable user data. In fact, the biggest social platforms out there realize this, which is why they provide businesses who use their platform with their own analytics tools. Here are four such tools that you should be using to collect and monitor your customer data on social media:
- Facebook Insights – Facebook is the biggest social network on the planet, so it’s no surprise that its Facebook Insights tool is one of the most powerful social media analytics tools available. Facebook Insights can provide detailed engagement data, such as how many views your videos are getting, how many likes you’re receiving, who is talking about your brand, post reach and engagement numbers, CTR, and more.
- Twitter Analytics – When it comes to audience insights, the Twitter Analytics tool is one of the best. You can find out about your Twitter audience’s occupation, interests, education, marital status, gender, buying habits, and more. This information is particularly helpful when it comes to collecting customer data to build your buyer personas.
- Instagram Insights – Instagram is hugely popular, especially among younger generations. Instagram Insights allows you to collect and analyze a variety of helpful audience information, including follower numbers, who has liked your content, who has commented on your content, who has saved your content, what actions have been performed after viewing your content, and more.
- YouTube Analytics – The importance of video content continues to grow — and there’s one platform that you have to use if you’re a video content creator: YouTube. YouTube Analytics can provide you with a lot of helpful information about who is watching your videos, including average view percentage, average view duration, where in the world people are watching your videos from, what platform people are watching your YouTube videos from, what devices they’re using, and much more.
3. Understand Your Customers’ Real-Time Behavior
Although there are some excellent analytics tools available to help you gather customer data online, the Internet isn’t the only way you can collect information on your customers’ behavior. You can also collect data concerning your customers’ behavior in real time using the following methods:
In-Store Wi-Fi Activity
Customers often perform research on their phones while they’re shopping. If you provide free in-store Wi-Fi, you’re not only improving your customer experience (since your customers won’t have to use their phone’s data), but you’ll be able to monitor what websites they’re visiting to perform their research. For example, maybe you notice that a lot of your customers are visiting a review site that you didn’t know about. You can then influence their purchasing decisions in the future by earning more positive reviews for that review site.
In-Store Traffic Monitoring
Many businesses are beginning to implement highly-tuned motion sensors throughout their brick and mortar locations. These motion sensors are meant to play an important part in store security (such as by tracking movement after hours to prevent break ins); however, they can also be used to track how many customers are coming into your store. While you won’t have access to individual customer data, you can find out how many people visit during what times of the day and what days of the week as well as how many people are visiting different sections of your store.
Global Positioning System (GPS) Tracking
Although customers will have to opt in, you can use GPS tracking if they download your mobile app. With GPS tracking enabled, you can identify where your customers are located in real time. It allows you to gather all kinds of information. For example, knowing when your customers are close to your store can allow you to send promotional offers via SMS or your app to encourage them to drop in.
You can track the signal of your customers’ phones as they travel through your store. This can provide you with a variety of helpful information, such as where the greatest amount of foot traffic is, where the least amount of foot traffic is, where they tend to spend the most amount of time, where there are bottlenecks that delay customers or cause them to double back to the way they came from, and more. You can then use this information to improve your store’s layout or to identify the best location to set up special offerings.
4. Implement Surveys and Gather Feedback
One of the best ways to collect qualitative data is by requesting feedback directly from your customers through surveys. There are a number of ways that you can request surveys — you can do so in person at your physical store location, you can post survey requests on your website or on your social media pages (you can even ask website visitors to fill out a short survey via a pop-up), you can call customers (if they’ve provided you with permission to do so), you can ask customers who have called you if they’d like to do a quick survey at the end of your call, or you can email customers with a survey request.
You can also gather quantitative data as well. For example, NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys are widely used following a purchase because they simply ask customers to rate their experience based on a numbered scale (such as 1 to 5).
5. Keep Customer Service Records
Customer service is a vital part of maintaining a successful business. While customer service is first and foremost about improving your customer experience, it’s also a point of direct contact that you have with customers. You can obtain valuable quantitative and qualitative data on your customers by speaking to them directly over the phone, via email, via text, or via online chat. This includes information such as customer transactions, account information, monthly purchases, disputes, issues with your website, issues with checking out, general feedback, and more. All of this data can help you find ways to improve the customer experience as well as help boost your marketing strategy.
Credit or Loyalty Cards and Reward Programs
Customer service isn’t always about helping customers to resolve issues, answer questions, or address feedback. For example, you can extend your customer service by offering loyalty cards or credit cards to your customers. This improves customer service by making it easier for them to make purchases and can help them save money as well. In return, you’ll be obtaining valuable data from these customers, such as their purchasing histories, their purchasing preferences, what promotions they respond to best, what times of the day and days of the week they prefer to shop on, and more.
6. Track Referral Source
Knowing where your customers are coming from can be quite helpful when it comes to your marketing strategy. You can do this by tracking your referral sources online using an analytics tool, such as Google Analytics. This will show you where your visitors are coming from. You may find that a significant percentage of visitors are coming from a certain website. You can use this knowledge to either advertise on this website or find a way to work with whoever runs the site, such as by posting a guest blog. Another way to identify your referral sources is simply by asking customers “how did you hear about us?” whether it’s via a post purchase survey or as part of your opt-in form.
7. Ask Them
Your best customers are your best customers because you’ve built strong relationships with them over time, so they probably won’t mind if you engage them directly to ask about their purchasing habits and preferences or to request their feedback. Send them an email asking them if they’d be willing to answer a few questions, whether via email or over the phone. You’ll find that your loyal customers will be happy to take the time to talk to you.
Ensure You have a CRM Platform to Store All Data
While these seven methods of collecting data are very effective, it’s important to be able to collect, organize, and analyze all of this customer data in one place. Otherwise, you’re going to end up getting a lot of overlapping information that could provide inaccurate insights. For example, just because your separate social media analytics tools tell you that you have a thousand followers on four different channels doesn’t mean that you have four thousand total social media followers — many of your customers may follow you on multiple channels. It’s why you need to implement a CRM (customer relationship management) solution.
A CRM platform will collect all of your customer data from across your channels and will store, organize, analyze, and make it accessible all from one centralized location. A good CRM platform will also integrate with all of the various channels, systems, software solutions, and analytics tools that you are using.
The data that you’re collecting from your customers (such as names, personal information, and credit card information) is incredibly sensitive. If their data is stolen, it could be used to commit fraud. Currently, data privacy regulations are much more lax in the U.S. than they are in other places around the world. There are some strict data privacy regulations that you will need to follow if you sell financial products or are in the healthcare industry; however, there are no strict federal data privacy laws in general, (although stricter regulations have been passed on the state level, such as California and New York).
Despite a lack of strict federal regulations, try to do everything you can to keep your customers’ data secure — data breaches can severely damage your customers’ trust in you as well as your brand’s overall reputation. Additionally, new data privacy regulations will likely be passed in the near future, especially after the GDPR (general data protection regulation) was passed in Europe not long ago. The GDPR requires websites to inform visitors about the data that they are collecting on them and give them the chance to opt out.
For now, you should take extra precautions to make sure your customer data is secure. This means using SSL protocol to encrypt customer data in case it’s stolen, keeping your security features (such as firewalls and anti-virus software) up to date, and training your staff to avoid compromising customer data accidentally and to look out for potential security threats.
Collecting Data Is The Most Effective Step in Improving The Customer Journey
The success of your marketing, sales, and customer service efforts depends heavily on your ability to improve the customer journey. This requires you to understand who your customers are so that you can address their needs at every stage of their journey, no matter what channel they’re on. Collecting customer data is without doubt the best way to gain an understanding of who your customers are. Use these methods to collect and analyze customer data so that you can continually find ways to improve the customer journey.
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