I’m going to start this column with a pronouncement: demographic data is dead, and that’s why email marketing is more relevant than ever.
Marketers used to collect amazing amounts of demographic data in an effort to better serve their customers. Known as target marketing, or market segmentation, this approach focused on information about specific groups of people. Demographic profiles narrowed groups of customers into a series of traits that included things like gender, race, age, income, mobility, location, home ownership, and many, many more refined categories.
And that worked well for a very long time. It certainly offered massive advantages over non-segmentation. You didn’t market geriatric products to the under-30 segment, or home-heating systems to renters. Email marketing companies began offering better and better segmentation to their clients, making their offers more and more relevant to the people receiving them. This strategy was what made email marketing into the online channel that it is today, consistently delivering the highest ROI.
So demographic segmentation was a necessary step in the evolution of email marketing, but we’ve gone beyond it now. Yes, of course, we still collect this information, and it’s still useful to an extent. But what is really more important, especially since the coming of mobile into the marketplace, is the use of live data.
Live data is the information that your customers are giving you on an ongoing basis that will help you market to them more effectively. We’ve borrowed the term from information technology, where it referred to actual data employed during testing (as opposed to fictionalized “test” data). And in a way, demographic data really is test data: it makes assumptions about people based on a few known factors about them.
But assumptions don’t make a good email marketing strategy.
Let’s look at the examples we gave above, the consideration of marketing geriatric products to the under-30 segment, or home-heating systems to renters. What if a 28-year-old is taking care of his aging parents? What if a renter is deciding whether or not to buy a certain house based on the price of a new home heating system? The demographic data you used for customer segmentation would have lost those sales.
Live data gives you myriad opportunities for the best possible customer interactions, because you are responding to your customers, not the other way around. You are understanding exactly what they want at this exact point in time — and you’re giving them exactly that in your response.
Live data is all about customer actions: customers who click on a link, who open an email, who visit a page on a website, who abandon a shopping cart, who make a purchase, who leave a comment. This is the data that you really need, a constant stream of very specific information about very specific customers, and should trigger an immediate response from you, the marketer.
At its best, email marketing is the execution of live data: it’s that immediate response to something that your customer did, wrote, said, responded to, looked up, communicated. And your response is what will drive them to purchase. It’s up to you, of course, to be prepared to analyze and respond to the live data as it comes in.
Live data was historically the bread and butter of traditional offline marketing. Shopkeepers knew their customers, their likes and dislikes, what they might be tempted to buy, how to keep them happy — and how to soothe them when they were disappointed. That’s a brilliant use of live data.
It’s been trickier in the online world, but it’s still just as relevant, and we now have myriad sources from which to obtain this data:
Note again that it’s all about what the customer does. That’s why email marketing is more relevant than ever: because it’s moving into a responsive model and away from a sales model. Being aware of — and responsive to — what your customer does and needs is the best way to make sales.