When I was in high school, I worked – a lot. I had my own gig mowing lawns, and I eventually added an evening retail job.

In both cases, I interacted with my customers face-to-face every day. Of course, a lawn can be mowed without the customer present, but because most of my clients were elderly (my target market, but I’ll save that discussion for a future post), they were generally at home while I was there. Indeed, most of these folks were looking for more than just someone to keep their yards tidy; they were also looking for some company. Someone to talk to or to share lemonade with on a hot summer day, which I gladly did. I didn’t realize this at the time, but this afforded me an incredible way to really get to know my customers.

For example, I knew that Mr. Rasmussen liked his lawn cut a bit closer than I’d normally recommend; but after learning that he was a retired engineer, he explained how he had created a unique irrigation system to keep his lawn green despite the lower trim. And I knew that while his neighbor, Mrs. Boeske, admired his close-cropped putting green of a yard, she didn’t believe in watering her lawn (such an egregious waste of a precious resource), so the mower deck got raised when I went next door. I knew what they wanted, how they thought and what they felt, and I tailored my service accordingly.  So, too, was the case when I worked in a retail store, although not quite to that degree, as time to chit-chat with customers was limited. But at least I was able to interact with my customers in person and give them a custom experience.

Fast-forward to present-day ecommerce.

You’re selling things to a lot of people – people you’ll never see, much less get a chance to speak with. So how do you know who they are? What makes them tick? And how do you deliver your product or service in a manner most compelling to them? Many companies use advanced analytics to determine how their customers behave on their site. But few ecommerce marketers delve into understanding who these people really are and why they behave the way they do. And that, in all my years at this game, is what I consider to be the most fulfilling question you can ask …


Of course, getting to why involves qualitative research. Voodoo, as one of my superiors once called it. Yes, I know, as digital marketers we live for data. I get it – I’m a direct response marketer at heart, and I love learning about my customers through data. But I also love a good story (in case you haven’t noticed), and believe me, every customer has a story. A qualitative story coupled with facts and figures can really give you a clearer picture of what your customers want and who they really are.

Mine that Data.

I will also tell you that it is not a foregone conclusion that every company has a solid handle on their customers’ data. I can recount several times when I was told that a company’s customer profile was one thing, but when I dug into the data I found that it was actually quite different. It goes something like this: Our customer is a 25 year-old professional female who lives and works in the city and has more money than time. Wrong. The data shows us a large cluster of 44 year-old females with a few kids in a house in the burbs, and she’s hunting for discounts. Call it wishful thinking or time-worn legends, but somehow the demographic fairytale got woven into the corporate vernacular, and it was never challenged. But that demographic difference certainly changes how you’d design, merchandise and advertise your site, wouldn’t it?

All right, enough storytelling.

Where do you start? If you don’t have a solid understanding of your customer file demographics, I would recommend starting with a customer file deep dive analysis. This isn’t as simple as sending a survey to your file and compiling their responses. Instead of self-reported data, it is best to send your data out to a company like Experian where your customer records can be matched against verifiable records. Doing so will not only provide you with a view into your customers’ demographics, but also a view into their buying behavior outside of your store. You can then create clusters of like customers to categorize and treat differently. I know this may sound elementary, but I have seen this process deliver myth-shattering and strategy-changing results. Really, scientists are subscribing to your service for their research? No, it’s actually parents of middle-schoolers. You get the drift.

Once the quantitative pieces are understood, it’s imperative that you get to why. So talk to your customers. Talk to your former customers. Talk to your competitors’ customers. This can be done in phone screens, in person or in focus groups. However you do it, do it, and don’t stop doing it. Make gaining insights from customers a regular part of doing business.

Let’s face it, there’s no way you’re going to be able to sit down and have lemonade with every one of your customers. But understanding whom your customer file is composed of, as well as the motivations and buying habits of your customers, will go a long way toward helping you devise the right strategy and tactics to increase response rates and sales.

Lawn Mowing

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