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Once your business has made a commitment to digital marketing, the next question often becomes: How do we do this efficiently and really maximize return on investment along the way?

Jumping on board the latest marketing trend isn’t enough. The secret is out. While a sophisticated and comprehensive digital marketing campaign is now all but necessary, just remember that your competition got the memo, too. Separating your business from the pack requires that you do things better, utilizing proven best practices whenever possible and investing wisely in the process.

That’s where the use of data — among many other things — enters the equation.

For small and large companies alike, the notion of grounding marketing in consumer research is probably nothing new. But where cost barriers once made these kind of efforts prohibitive for smaller businesses, the digital marketing revolution has leveled the playing field in a number of important ways. Now data is more easily accessible and usable for any firm looking to make the most of its online presence and reach.

So what do we mean by data-based digital marketing? G2Crowd’s Jaclyn Rose described it aptly last year.

“Sometimes marketers need a tool to block out all the extra “noise” in the marketing landscape,” she writes. “Data Driven Marketing is the practice of collecting, analyzing, and integrating consumer data. They take data from past campaigns and specific audiences to allow businesses to focus in on their specific market. Global Market research, intelligence reports, and on-site data collection are ways that data driven marketers determine what their customers really want.”

Put simply, basing your digital marketing on data means collecting and using information about the consumers you are attempting to target.

A digital marketing consultation may be useful when implementing a data-based strategy, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with principles, techniques and fundamental concepts underlying such a strategy.

There are compelling reasons to rely on data, and there are a number of ways to do so.

Why Use Data in Digital Marketing?

The marketing landscape has changed dramatically over the last several years, and even conservative prognostication suggests that the dust hasn’t come close to settling. Conventional advertising isn’t necessarily antiquated, but it now finds itself integrated into a far more complex landscape.

“Marketers are looking well beyond their traditional advertising agency base for expertise to drive marketing performance and handle exploding technology, data, digital migration, channel fragmentation, and a more diverse, multi-cultural consumer base,” Forbes’ Avi Dan wrote last year. “As budgets shift to fund digital marketing campaigns and more personalized customer engagement, marketers now need different competencies in data analytics, content creation and channel proliferation to improve ROI.”

Indeed, companies that can afford to be on the cutting edge of digital marketing have increasingly turned to extensive data usage.

According to a 2015 2nd Watch survey of 500 information technology and marketing professionals from midsize and large companies, a full 50 percent of those questioned said they were, “likely to expand use of big data to support digital marketing.”

Another 47 percent claimed that data-driven digital marketing had already helped engage customers and generate increased demand.

Marketing departments are changing.

And consumers are changing, too. Their interests and habits continue to evolve with culture, technology and the nature of goods and services themselves. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Understanding and catering to those consumers remains as important as ever.

And it’s all the more important given the vast array of choices those consumers have. The more informed and empowered people become, the more important it is that businesses predict what people will do with that purchasing ability.

The collection and analysis of data may feel like an epic and impersonal undertaking, but its terminal goal is all about personalization—especially on the Internet.

“Data collection and analysis, particularly in volumes enabled by the Internet, provides greater insight into customer lives, preferences, and desires,” writes digital marketing firm Single Grain. “In addition, it offers greater insight into the efficacy of business practices and strategy, and provides concrete, actionable information on which to base important decisions in a myriad of business contexts.”

And the good news is that just about any kind of business can use data to at least some degree. Taking stock of some specific techniques will make it that much easier to formulate a successful strategy.

How to Acquire Consumer Data to Use in Digital Marketing

Upon deciding that your business will take the dive into data-based digital marketing, the next step is developing a data collection strategy. Odds are that such a strategy will be composed of several techniques, likely chosen on the basis of your capabilities and the extent to which you’re willing to invest in collection.

Here are a few of your best options according to Business 2 Community’s Larisa Bedgood.

Web Mining: This involves the collection of publicly available data from around the web. That data generally comprises web activity (e.g. from tracking web browser activity), web graph (e.g. links between people and pages) and web content (e.g. data found on pages and from documents). Once data has been collected, it’s then parsed, analyzed and converted into reports that can be more readily used my marketing professionals.

Search Information: This data is composed of browser activity that reveals trends associated with someone’s search and intent. Analysis of said trends and behavior often involves monitoring keywords, reverse searching and learning more about search results and advertisement history. This kind of information can be especially useful to efforts centered around search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO).

Social Media: Often described as social media “listening” or “monitoring,” paying attention to chatter on social networks can provide troves of valuable data about consumers. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can reveal significant information about popular goods and services, real-time trends and the preferences of current or potential customers. In addition to the useful data that’s gleaned from comments, tweets and Facebook posts, people’s decisions about what to share, like, favorite or retweet can also speak volumes. Comprehensive and qualitative analysis of social media data can be resource-intensive and time-consuming, but the understanding yielded thereby can be extremely advantageous.

Crowd Sourcing: At its core, crowd sourcing isn’t altogether different from many traditional data gathering techniques. The big difference is that using those techniques online makes it much easier to collect and analyze the resulting information. As Bedgood puts it, “Data is compiled from multiple sources or large communities of people, including forums, surveys, polls, and other types of user-generated media.”

Transactional: Though commonly attributed to data associated with purchasing, there’s more than one kind of relevant transaction. Depending on what kind of business is interested in the data, things like flight reservations and insurance claims may also produce helpful data. While the web, search trends, social media and crowd sourcing speak largely to consumer behavior at large, transactional information can be particularly valuable when attempting to learn more about current clientele. Given the value of retaining those customers—especially when compared to the cost of attracting new ones—this kind of analysis shouldn’t be overlooked.

Mobile: Consumer behavior is increasingly characterized by the use of mobile devices—and all the applications they entail. Learning more about how consumers use their mobile devices (and those apps) can be instrumental in informing digital marketing strategies. People aren’t just using their mobile devices to search for products and services. They’re also using them to make reservations, access coupons, pay for things and perform any other number of convenient functions. This on-the-move behavior is poised to continue increasing, and businesses of all sizes should keep pace when studying it.

Much of the data that’s obtainable from these sources can be collected via a Data-as-a-Service Provider (DaaS). In turn, the DaaS then gives the prospect and/or customer-based information to a business or partners thereof. Using these kind of services can allow for a rapid and targeted marketing response.

Using Data From Google Analytics

Google Analytics certainly isn’t the only data collection game in town, but it’s an especially useful starting point for small businesses that may be unable to afford outsourcing the process to a specialized firm. That said, Google Analytics also offers a great deal of functionality for businesses that already have an expert digital marketer or two on staff. In many respects, it can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.

To be sure, Google Analytics is largely useful in revealing information about your own webpages. But to the extent it sheds light on how users interact with those pages, it can certainly tell you something about their aggregate behavior. That should be plenty helpful for any business attempting to determine what aspects of its online presence work and don’t work. Google Analytics may not tell you everything you’d like to know about every consumer, but it will tell you things about the current or potential customers interested in your business.

That kind of information is powerful.

What should you specifically be looking for? The good folks at Single Grain offer some recommendations.

Pages Per Visit, Average Visit Duration, and Bounce Rate: The first two metrics are pretty self-explanatory, and “bounce rate” refers to what percentage of visitors left your site after viewing just one page. Together, these measures paint an important picture about how successfully your site is engaging its users. How long are they sticking around, and how likely are they to explore additional content after arriving? Making these determinations should help you assess the effectiveness of your content strategy and the copy found on your pages. In turn, you’ll have concrete, data-based guidance as you plan or rethink your online strategy.

Most Viewed Pages: Again, this is a pretty straightforward concept on face. Whether engaged in content marketing or simply providing helpful information about your business, products or services, the pages most frequently drawing people in are generally a good indication of what’s working. While the aforementioned data may speak more to how engaging your strategy is, the most viewed pages should give you a sense of what’s hooking consumers in the first place.

Most Exited Pages: There’s little doubt businesses can learn even more from failure than success. To that end, take a look at which pages are prompting departures from your site. Minimal exit rates shouldn’t inherently worry you. Many users will decide to leave a site at some point, potentially for reasons that had nothing to do with the page in question. But pages that stand out with higher exit rates should probably raise some red flags. If certain content is turning users off, there’s a good chance some adjustment is in order. Remember, the bottom line for any online presence is keeping visitors interested for as long as possible—hopefully converting them into buyers while you’re at it. Any page getting in the way of that should be reevaluated.

Referring Sites: Your visitors aren’t appearing out of thin air. Developing a better idea of where those visitors are coming from can give you a better sense of where to find more leads. Is paid advertising doing the trick? Is there a blog that’s mentioning you or a particular directory that’s generating a significant portion of your traffic? The more you know, the more empowered you’ll be to either redouble or adjust certain efforts.

Organic Search Traffic: Many visitors won’t come from links generated by other sites. They’ll instead find you when performing search queries that are a strong match for one or several of your pages. This is of course why so much attention is afforded to successful SEO strategies. Google Analytics can tell you which keywords are most frequently driving traffic to your site, likely giving you a better sense of what content is serving as the largest draw among those using search to find products, services or information thereabout. This kind of data will encourage many businesses to focus more of their content efforts around particularly popular topics.

Segmentation: The analytical value of the information you’re acquiring can increase significantly when you categorize it appropriately. Though Google Analytics may not tell you as much about specific consumers as other data-gathering techniques, it can tell you more about how they behaved depending on specific criteria like their locations or the search keywords they used before finding your site. Taking the time to break down and study this kind of data can you a much more detailed and granular understanding of your target audience.

These metrics are just a sample of what you can learn from Google Analytics. The important caveat is that you examine the information in an integrated and comprehensive fashion. This provides the most accurate snapshot of who’s using your site and the ways in which that site is either effective or in need of something revision.

Note that the Custom Dimensions (or Custom Variables) feature in Google Analytics will help you perform many of the segmentation functions described above. It can provide you demographic information about your visitors’ age, gender and other variables. This service can also be customized to provide specific kinds of data that your business may find particularly useful.

What to Do With the All That Data

Okay, so let’s assume you’ve got some consumer data now—maybe even a lot of it. What’s next?

All the data in the world won’t be of much use unless you have a marketing team (outsourced or otherwise) that translates it into actionable campaigns. This is the fun part. And more importantly, it’s the part that can actually make you some money.

Forbes’ Drew Hendricks offers several ways forward once you have data in hand.

Retargeting: Often using third-party services that also collect consumer data, retargeting involves the placement of cookies on to visitors’ systems. In turn, those cookies can dictate the kind of advertising content a user finds upon visiting other sites. There are a few different kinds of retargeting that can be categorized on the basis of how data was originally collected.

Site retargeting uses data associated with visiting a certain website initially (generally the site belonging to the company behind the subsequent ad efforts). Search retargeting is based on the queries a web user performs. Unlike search advertising (which places ads among search results), this kind of retargeting uses the searches to generate tailored ads on sites later visited. Link retargeting attaches cookies to users who click on advertiser-controlled links, and email retargeting has ads follow those who read email from the advertisers. These techniques are potent means of reaching those who’ve already demonstrated some level of interest in your business.

Consumer Personas: Sometimes referred to as marketing personas or buyer personas, the idea is to create a more concrete understanding and profile of a business’s target audience. Rather than simply guessing what kind of social media or blog content would engage your target audience, this kind of research offers you a data-based rationale for shaping it in a particular way. While there may always be some degree of educated speculation associated with your content planning, developing personas will reduce the arbitrariness involved therein and increase the probability that said content attracts visitors and converts them into clientele.

Customizing Paid Campaigns: Paid ad campaigns are nothing new, but the ability to intelligently target those campaigns has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Ads with platforms like Google and Facebook can be far more lucrative when tailored to specific demographics and their unique interests. The days of slapping ads across billboards for anyone driving by seem pretty antiquated by comparison. If better understanding consumer behavior is good for anything, it’s almost certainly its ability to focus and craft advertising.

Personalizing Experiences: In at least one respect, there’s something to be said for the old way of doing things. All that face-to-face interaction amounted to something important. Real-time communication with current or potential customers can teach you a lot about your client base, especially at an individual level. It’s one thing to know what a particular demographic (gender, age group) is interested in—and it’s quite another to better understand the expectations of specific people.

On face, the digital revolution seems to replace that one-on-one interaction, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Remember that things like online surveys and social media interaction can yield pretty in-depth data on specific consumers. If you’re really committed to serving them in personalized fashion—and have the resources to do so—then think about how you can engage them online in a more direct, responsive, timely and tailored way.

Merging Online Data With Offline Experiences: Many of the consumers searching for things or visiting websites are also the same people who do business at brick and mortar stores. These aren’t two different categories of people. While some may prefer an online or hands-on experience, many make at least some time for both. In turn, data collected online can also inform how businesses engage consumers in physical stores.

“The IoT [Internet of Things] is empowering brick-and-mortar stores by giving them the same access to data that online stores have,” TotalRetail’s Boris Kraft explained last year. “It’s also enabling them to track and improve the customer journey. This is particularly valid in the purchase of big-ticket items, whereby a store’s CMS can track when people buy things, when they need servicing, and when they might be ready to purchase a replacement. With useful data like that, retailers can tailor personalized offerings to their customers, while also getting insights into what sells and what doesn’t.”

In short, the line between online and offline thinking has blurred pretty significantly—and that’s a good thing. Why should your physical store miss out on all the insights acquired online?

Capitalizing on the Data-Based Approach

For these and other applications of consumer data, the bottom line is a business’s ability to make more informed decisions about marketing, engagement and service. From attracting new customers to retaining existing ones, knowledge derived from online information is indeed powerful. Relying on guesswork or traditional (and costly) data gathering is unlikely to cut it in a world where your competition is making serious electronic strides.

It is worth remembering that you don’t have to go it alone. There are consultants and digital marketing services that are designed to take your game to the next level. Knowing the right priorities to set and questions to ask will ensure you’re one step ahead, though. Don’t let the digital data revolution pass you by. If you have questions regarding your current digital marketing campaign or would like to explore your options please call us at (512) 993-9993 and see how we can work together to take your small business to the next level.

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