The Stack Archive Feature

notonthehighstreet: Making the most of data to understand your customer

Fri 29 Sep 2017 | Ben Irons


Following his packed-out session on social media and customer engagement at this year’s Technology for Marketing, The Stack spoke with Ben Irons, digital director at notonthehighstreet.com, about making the most of your data, understanding the customer, and avoiding the ‘silver bullet’ philosophy

Although now in widespread use, digital marketing techniques and the technology that goes alongside it, including social media, are all relatively new phenomena. As such a certain level of experimentation is required, and this, says Irons, needs an entrepreneurial company culture through which people feel empowered to make decisions and try out new things.

To do that effectively means setting the right expectations and learning from mistakes. One of the most obvious ways that this can be done is through data and analysis, but Irons warns of the double-edged sword that data can represent – having too much data is not always useful.

‘It’s always what’s best for our customers – what they’ve bought recently, what they’ve shown interest in in the past. How do we target customers who are likely to buy in the next few months?’

Emerging tech developments don’t need to be shunned by any means – they just need to be useful

notonthehighstreet.com operates predominantly in the gifting market, which means many of its customers buy irregularly. The company is, therefore, looking to break the once-a-year buying pattern by looking at how customers behave.

However, another warning: Irons points out that many businesses are looking at data as a silver bullet, but the reality, he suggests, is that data is just a set of numbers and figures, and in order to gain real value, businesses need to look at what information they can use and what data they can’t.

Solving problems with technology

When looking at the types of offerings that martech vendors offer, Irons notes that businesses have to remain realistic, arguing that no one single solution will solve all their issues. There are lots of great companies offering great products, he says, but at times they try to reach too far: ‘We’d rather a tech company say ‘we can’t solve that problem, but we can do that other solution really well.'”

Instead of chasing a big data dream, Irons pushes the necessity of using the data you already have, and building out customer models. It is more important to be able to make good use of the data you already have, and sometimes techniques such as machine learning can help with that process. Emerging tech developments don’t need to be shunned by any means – they just need to be useful.

For Irons, it’s not about the tech itself but about how you augment it around your business. A person will always need to make the final decision, technology can simply aid in helping us make better decisions.

Understanding the customer

When asked on the most important principle for marketing success, Irons answers without hesitation. Understanding the customer is the key, he believes. Businesses should know how their customers interact, how they shop, and how and why they engage.

Rather than trying to second-guess and pigeonhole people on the basis of demographics, it is reasonable to ask customers what they like

An issue with this, he says, is finding that information out, but it’s actually remarkably simple – just ask. People spend a lot of time trying to second guess customers – instead of spending time trying to throw out lots of things and seeing if they engage with it, but why not just ask?

A business might want to know if they email their customers too much. Irons argues that customers are perfectly forthcoming with their responses, and will tell them. Following on from that, he notes that customers are inconsistent: too many emails to one person may not be enough to the next.

It is also important not to make assumptions on that topic. Traditional wisdom might say that older audiences would prefer direct mail, and younger customers would want contact to come through social media – but that’s changing, he says, as the older population increasingly embraces social media.

Rather than trying to second-guess and pigeonhole people on the basis of demographics, it is reasonable to ask customers what they like, how they behave and analyse that data to improve their experience. The key to growing your business is understanding what the customer wants.

tfm-logoBen Irons spoke at the recent Technology for Marketing, London Olympia, 27th and 28th September 2017. To hear from more world-class digital marketing practitioners, register your interest today for next year’s event taking place on 26th and 27th September 2018.

Experts featured:

Ben Irons

Digital Marketing Director


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