Understanding Human Behavior to Drive Marketing Decisions

One of online marketing’s five timeless fundamentals is: customers know best. In the online world, the smartest marketers embrace the mantra, “it’s all about the customer.”

It’s much like when you ask someone who’s adept at building relationships, “What’s the secret?” And she replies, “I listen.” Many of us must start listening instead of telling our customers what they want and why they should listen to your promotions and e-mail campaigns.

On the eve of my company’s online marketing conference, I wonder how many marketers will embrace the message of listening — and won’t head back to the office next week and repeat their patterns of telling. Here are three reasons to start listening.

Your Web Site is Your Core

I’m passionate about Web site usability — the practice of making a product easier to use for its intended use. Making your Web site easier to use is a simple equation that includes:

  • Understanding what your customers use your Web site for.
  • Uncovering why customers do what they do on your Web site.
  • Taking action to make the Web site for them instead of your marketing efforts.

One good Web site will lift the ROI (define) of every marketing campaign (even offline) and improve customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and overall revenue for your company and reduce customer service expenses.

Even in the offline world, your direct mailer or print advertisement references your Web site (if not, it should!). Does anyone call a toll-free number to talk to a sales rep if they have the option of looking at a Web site with the information they want in a fraction of the time while avoiding the sales pitch?

If your Web site and landing page gives customers what they’re looking for, then conversions and related sales revenue go up. If you instruct your customers to “Sign Up Now” to get the info they want or “look at our loyalty program here and here” — and the actual offering or need of the customer isn’t apparent — then the abandonment rate will be greater than any other metric you have.

So many marketers, and even award-winning agencies, get so focused around the campaign, the creative for that campaign, and all the cool things that can be done that they totally miss the point of giving customers what they want. And because the Web is a two-way medium (unlike print/TV), the user is in complete control with little patience. So if a visitor’s first experience with your brand is a bad one because you’re trying to be too creative or over selling your product, then all is for naught.

What to do? Have a usability expert do a diagnostic on your Web site to learn where it’s breaking the rules of human behavior expectations.

From there, get a small group of people, even if it’s 10 people from your office, and have them look at a page or your site. Ask them to find what they’d want to buy and force them to think out loud so they can express their decision making along the way.

Lastly, do what all Web leaders do: conduct a remote online usability study where you watch folks use your site from their office or home and gather qualitative and quantitative information as they perform a task or two. This last concept is new for many, so ping me on Facebook or LinkedIn if you’d like to learn more.

Your Social Media Efforts are the Differentiator

The world of social media marketing would be better if marketers realized that social media isn’t a marketing vehicle unto itself. It’s an addition that accentuates the customer experience on your Web site and offers a way to connect with customers and (in some cases) drive them to your site. Oh, and without a doubt, if done correct and ethically, it can be the single biggest factor in your SEO (define) efforts.

Think about your blog, forum, and efforts to encourage user-generated content, such as ratings/reviews/comments, as ways to engage your customers and provide them with the opportunity to express themselves. These channels also afford marketers an opportunity to add a personal touch and personality to what many of marketers fight every day — the doldrums of a confined corporate message.

E-mail and Analytics: Beyond Click-Through and Open Rates

E-mail is the ultimate connector. After someone comes to your site or sees your ad, ensure any e-mail you send them gives them something of value or things they’re interested in. E-mail campaigns, e-newsletters, and such are the bane of most people’s inboxes.

Think like your customers — do they really need or want the e-newsletter you send the second Tuesday of each month? Unless you’re a publisher, stop sending out routine e-mails unless you have a very cool product that has high customer loyalty or you’re doing something particularly interesting. We all only have so many hours in a day, so use those hours wisely and build campaigns around preference centers based on what customers want and the frequency they want it.

Ask your customers what they want, listen, and give it to them. Too many of us look at open- and click-through rates as benchmarks to success. You won’t be able to equate that to sales, let alone correlate that information to what the customer actually wants. Let’s get on with what’s important, not what’s easy.


I’ll leave you with this thought: When was the last time you sat in your conference room when planning for marketing efforts and someone said, “Hey why don’t we go ask our customers what they want (by the way, surveys don’t count) and why they want it”?

The last time I heard someone say that in a room, that person went from marketing manager to online marketing VP for a Fortune 50 company in a matter of months. Instead of nodding your head one more time to your agency’s cool ideas or your boss’s grand scheme of how to dominate the market, why don’t you raise your hand, stand out a little, and say, “I’ve got an idea.”

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