The basic attraction of the internet is that it provides access to billions of people; it is ubiquitous to consumers in the developed world, and is making huge advances in the less developed world. The downside is that the internet is a highly competitive market that can make it difficult for new entrants to gain a foothold. But as with markets in the real world, the online market has a structure which, if properly exploited, can prove to be productive for businesses of all types. The key thing to appreciate is that every human user online is a physical person, in a geographic location, who has the same needs and desires as he or she does when they are offline. All the internet does is to provide them with access to services which they use to solve problems that they would have otherwise done in different ways before the internet became available. If you keep this in mind, then you can tailor your digital marketing strategy to respond to those needs and desires in a way that is appropriate to your business.
Sit down and consider who you do business with and why they do business with you. What do they want from you? What do you offer them that your competitors don’t? Try and build up a profile of your customers, or better yet, several profiles that describe the different kinds of customer you see. This is called segmentation. Segmentation is when you divide the customers in your market up into different groups based on things like their behaviour, or their demographics. Creating such segments can be very complicated, but it is perfectly reasonable to work on the basis of your own experience. You should try and work out the demographic features of your customers, why they use services such as yours, their fears and aspirations, and how they like to spend their time.
You can describe each segment as if it was an individual, for instance, if you were a company selling woodburning stoves you might have identified that a lot of your customers are similar to a mythical Wendy Biggins:
Wendy is between 50 and 65 years old. She lives in a townhouse near to the river which she enjoys because it is convenient for meeting her friends at the library and shopping at Waitrose. She spends her weekends doing outdoor activities like cycling her bicycle in the countryside near town and likes to spend her evenings reading a book by the fire or entertaining her friends. She is conservative by nature but isn’t that interested in politics. She isn’t particularly interested in technology, but she uses the internet to research big purchases like woodburning stoves. She particularly likes to feel comfortable with the people she deals with so seeing good reviews are very important.
When you come to consider how to market your business online, you should try and put yourself in Wendy’s shoes. Ask yourself what she would like and how she would respond to your ideas.
For a more in-depth look at customer profiling, see here. Once criticism of the article is that it talks about your “ideal” customer – this is misleading since, like Napoleon considering ideal soldiers to be ones who win battles, your ideal customer is probably one who you acquire for free, repeatedly spends a fortune with you, and never complains. Wendy is not a description of an ideal customer, she is an abstract description of a profitable customer. These are obviously the people you want to focus on.
It is also well worth thinking about how people find your business and decide to make a purchase. This is called the “Customer Journey”. It is conceptualised as a series of touchpoints, which are points of contact between your customers and you, embedded in the wider process that the customer uses to solve the problem that you cater for. For instance:
Customer A listens to the radio on their way to work and hears your garage advert. They also see your garage regularly on the way to work. One day their car breaks down. They remember your garage and phone your number to speak to the service department about getting the car repaired. The service department sends a recovery vehicle to pick up the car. The service department looks at the car and phones the customer to check they are happy with the repair cost. The customer agrees to the price and the repair is carried out. The service department phones the customer to let them know the vehicle is ready for collection. The customer collects the vehicle. Two days later the service department phones the customer to check the car is OK. Customer A is so happy with the service they received that they praise your company highly when recounting the story.
The bold statements are all points when the customer encounters the business in some way. If you understand this journey then you can start to think about how your online marketing can help your business expand: could you have a big red “breakdown” button on the homepage which, if the customer taps it, automatically calls the garage? Do people whose cars have broken down search Google for the nearest garage, suggesting that you would benefit from having a well-optimised Google My Business account? Should you run a Pay Per Click campaign focussing on breakdown recovery?
Also, note that there is a subtle difference between the first two touchpoints and the remainder. The first two are not necessarily linear in order, and could have occurred many times before the car breaks down. When the car breaks down, those customers who have memorised your number move from having a solution to a hypothetical problem (i.e. they know the garage exists in case they have a break down) to having a solution to a real problem (i.e. the car has broken down and they can use your number to call out). However, those who have not memorised your number still need to find their solution to the problem of acquiring a breakdown service.
Creating a good representation of your customer journey means putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, speaking to your customers about their experience of doing business with you, or conducting a formal survey of your customers to find out about their journey (note: it’s worthwhile doing the first two in order to get an idea of what questions to ask your customers. Surveys are generally best used to confirm a hypothesis than create one).
Once you’re created one then you can start to think about optimising each stage of the process so that each potential customer is encouraged to find your business, buy from you, and return to do so in the future.
The key point of these activities is that you should try and think hard about who your customers are and how they will interact with your business. Doing so will give you time to clarify what sort of things you should do to improve your offering to them and your relationship with them. If you can get these things right, then it will make your online marketing much more successful. In particular, it will help you to properly formulate your business goals – which is the next step in this process.
Up next: Define your goals