How small businesses can use customer data to build online audiences


Back in my days as a print ad rep, I recall meeting with the owner of a small boutique in a charming downtown shopping district. After some initial conversation I learned that the store owner marketed to her homegrown customer email list which she built from her foot traffic. I congratulated her on that! This was a great strategy for a business her size. But I was later puzzled to learn that this was ALL she did and would EVER do. This store owner fancied her business as a very exclusive shop for very specific people. She insisted on her 100% customer email strategy and didn’t see the value in reaching people who may or may not be interested in her store. At the time, I couldn’t meet her demands for a highly targeted solution so we never worked together. And since she didn’t pursue a growth strategy, the business only lasted a couple of years.

Sometimes small businesses put all of their marketing efforts into brand loyalty strategies and don’t consider whether or not it will help them grow. And until recently, these programs would have done little good for a growth marketing strategy.

But times have changed. Now these efforts CAN serve a new purpose and help small businesses grow if you repurpose them. If you have a customer database, email list or a local community behind you, you have the key to your growth strategy right in the palm of your hand. You’ve got your customer data.

In today’s world, building your online audience profile is the first step in developing a digital marketing strategy of any kind. An online audience profile is a set of data that defines your ideal customers. This may be defined by their individual behavior, lifestyle, geographic and demographic information. With the use of Audience Segmentation, digital marketing vendors can find these highly targeted audiences and then serve them ads using online display, email marketing and social media to name a few.

For example, if you are the upscale boutique like the one I mentioned above and you sell high-end kitchenware, you could use your own data to determine that your audience is made up of women, age 35-65 with household incomes over $125K a year who like gourmet food and wine and live within 25 miles of your store. Based on further subjective data, you might notice that many of your customers have kids and drive luxury cars. Boom – more data to complete your profile. And that’s just the first one! You may have a whole other segment of customers comprised of stay at home dads! You can build an audience profile for them as well and create an entirely different message with your digital marketing.

These customer emails and community connections are basically homegrown audience segments and they offer the key to uncovering your online audience profiles. If you can look at your customer list and see some common attributes, such as a predominant gender, geography, income and even interests, you can start to build your online audience profile. Some data vendors can even take your email database and match it with those individuals in their larger databases and provide you with “lookalike” audiences. So if you only have names and email addresses, it’s ok. You can still build a demographic profile of your ideal customer and reach them online.

We regularly see higher click-thru rates on targeted digital display campaigns when compared to non-targeted campaigns. Even though you may be reaching people who aren’t already familiar with your brand, you only pay when someone clicks your display ad and goes on to your website. Meanwhile, you’re building your brand awareness with the other impressions. Audience segmentation can also be applied to email campaigns and social media campaigns.

Now that we can offer highly targeted solutions, I can only imagine what my little boutique owner could have done with the knowledge she had already gleaned from her homegrown email list. She could be reaching her audience online, building her brand and driving new business right now.