Ignore customer insight at your peril


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Knowing your customers is one of the first rules any good marketer learns. But during a recession, it is all the more important for companies to know which consumers or business buyers best match the profiles of their most loyal and profitable customers – or simply of those that are willing to spend, given the current economic climate.

When times are good, consumers may be more willing to take a punt and marketers have a certain amount of leeway in their approaches. However, consumers are now more watchful of their spending and speculative campaigns are likely to have a much lower yield.

With less of a margin for error, it is increasingly important to ensure that marketing campaigns are targeted at the right people. The difference between a good campaign and a bad one can be determined by the people it targets. If incorrect or obsolete data is causing the material to be sent to consumers in the wrong market segments or firms to aim at consumers with profiles that are unlikely to produce profitable relationships, the campaign is a failure.

Despite this, our latest study shows that fewer than half the financial decision makers in key UK firms think that companies in their industry sector are using customer data to drive marketing initiatives. When asked if, overall, most firms in their sector were able to access and analyse customer data and then use this intelligence in their marketing, only 43% of the finance directors and senior financial managers surveyed said yes.

However, using customer data to inform marketing strategies is vital in the current economic environment. Firms should be using customer data to get the most out of existing customers so that they can up-sell and cross-sell additional products or services. This understanding then needs to be applied to prospects. Segmentation and modelling techniques can be used to create detailed profiles from the existing customer base of exactly who the right customers are, and establish what they buy, how they buy, how much they spend, and their preferred channel of communication. By contacting prospects through their preferred channels, at the right moment, and with offers that interest them, they increase the likelihood of gaining long-term customers.

In our survey of UK firms, we found that many sectors were failing to use this insight to gain a competitive advantage. Sectors in which the use of customer data to inform marketing was seen as weak included: retail with only 38% of the respondents seeing firms in their sector using insight; media and marketing with 36%; and utilities and telecoms with 36%.

But use of customer intelligence is not poor across all sectors – 65% of the financial decision makers in travel and transport said firms in their sector were making effective use of customer data as did 50% of those in banking. Hospitality and catering provided the best example of a sector that is making good use of customer insight – 72% of the respondents in this sector said firms were making good use of customer insight in their marketing. These are sectors in which loyalty programmes and database marketing initiatives, as well as high standards of CRM communication, are critical to building strong customer relationships and ensuring repeat business.

Being recognised as a valued customer has an overwhelming influence on the likelihood of a customer revisiting. The benefits of detailed customer insight are clear: the better you know your customers, the more likely you are to know what they will want to buy. It allows marketers to tailor their marketing in an informed way – and to target more precisely.

This is increasingly important as public irritation at the nuisance level of unwanted marketing materials means making sure communications are relevant, well-timed and delivered through the right channel, is vital. Companies that want to promote a responsible image and foster customer loyalty will be reluctant to cause tension with customers by contacting them in a way that does not suit them. And marketing material that is viewed as irrelevant is not only a waste of money – it also leads the consumer to consider the company as being out of touch.

What’s more, marketing budgets being cut just as consumers are becoming increasingly cautious in the face of economic turmoil. Marketers are thus under increasing pressure to make their campaigns more targeted in order to increase yield on smaller volumes of marketing and CRM communications.

Lastly, customer insight needs to be an on-going process rather than an isolated incident, so that businesses can change with their customers. Otherwise, they will find themselves approaching today’s customers with last year’s data and parameters.

Matt Boot
Matt Boot is chief analyst at data and database marketing consultancy KDB


  1. Excellent insights, Matt. Perhaps part of the problem is that soo few organizations have confidence in the quality of their existing customer data. Have read some studies that indicate that a full-third or organizations rate their data quality as “poor at best” and Gartner calculates the cost of poor data as, on average, $8.2MM a year for most firms. If you want a link to the article, see http://ebs.pbbiblogs.com/2009/09/08/the-business-case-for-data-quality/


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