Understanding your customers is more important than ever

HELLO dear readers. You may have noticed that I have recently been missing from The Star.

This is because for the last three months I have been ensconced in the editorial departments looking at the web versions of our excellent Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire newspapers.

Some of you, I hope, have noticed the changes to our site - from more social engagement to new content sections. Certainly the record growth we have seen seems to back this up.

Driving all this activity was a very simple question, “Who are our customers and what do they want?”

Unfortunately the reason many businesses don’t have the level of customer understanding they really should is because to do so means that you have to crunch that scary stuff; data.

Before the Internet, customer data only really came from market research. You might think that market research is just some lady who stops you in the street and asks you if you eat Weetabix but it’s a science in its own right. The internet though was created by geeks so by definition came with a bunch of data. Luckily another bunch of geeks came along to make it easy to understand the data and the art of analytics was born.

From my laptop I can see how many people are looking at any Archant site right now, at what and for how long. By adding another layer of behavioural technology we can analyse the type of content people are reading and deliver similar articles to them. You might think that’s all big brother but ecommerce sites have been doing this for a long time. How do you think when you look at a products on sites like Argos or Amazon it shows you “Other customers also looked at….”

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If you have embraced social media you may have started just by listening to what people said about you. Then, over time, graduated to using it as a tool to work with your customers to develop new products and services.

You may have a Facebook page and through Facebook Insights know a bit about the people who “like” you and what they do on your page. How many of you though know that now Facebook is selling ads, through its ad booking software, you can see for example how many people on Facebook are cat owners of a certain age live in Norwich. You might not want to buy an ad but a pet shop owner could use it to get an idea of potential market size.

Like everything in life, understanding all this data and the products that can help you do so range from the very simple to the very complicated and from free to very expensive.

However in the current economic climate understanding who your customers are and what they want is more important than ever. So for those of you trying to use the internet to grow your businesses spend some time to understand how your customers are using your sites the lessons you learn may surprise you and will definitely help you.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing at Archant - follow him @timyoungman