Using Digital Channels to Listen and Learn

We all spend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources focused on optimizing our online programs for traffic, engagement, conversion, and other hard metrics related to defined business goals. But if you asked your management team if they wanted to know what customers think about your brand, how they speak about it, to whom, how often and in what channels, what would motivate a second or third purchase during your season, if your advertising or communications are resonating, or why a certain group left you for a competitor, could the answer be anything other than a loud “Hell yes”?

It’s time we raised the importance of learning objectives to equal that of awareness, preference, conversion, and other goals, because the feedback we can get through customer interactions and the tracking of response and behaviors has the power to inform and improve everything else we do. That is if we set ourselves up to succeed.

Frame the questions you want to answer in advance of your campaign or programs. That way you can make sure you have in place the right tracking, the right listening tools, the right personnel or partners, have the scale of response to answer your particular question reliably, and most importantly – you have internal agreement on the important question(s). If you don’t agree in advance on the critical learning that you need and what you will do with the information after the fact, then you will find yourself sifting through a mountain of data and inputs trying to make sense out of chaos.

Differentiate between testing and learning. Testing is about performance. If you are not testing your digital programs, you are missing one of the primary advantages of marketing online. Tests might include time of day, day of week, landing pages, messaging, targeting criteria, creative approach, or device preferences – really any variable in your program. Learning is about the key insights that help you make better business decisions. Insights might be something like “new customers connect to my brand for the first time primarily through recommendations online” or “customers in this segment of our business value this product attribute most by a large margin.”

Get a budget commitment. Information is not free. Market research is not free and the insights and information that you glean have value. Your organization is going to have to invest time, money, and resources to succeed in this effort. Besides the obvious work to craft the test and expend the man hours to analyze the inputs, you may have to purchase or license new tools and train people to use them.

Differentiate clearly between directional insights and hard statistical facts. A vocal minority can have a very real impact on your markets in this age of social media. In fact, we court evangelists and advocates for that very reason. So while it is no less important to note, understand, and respond to the small voices, they are important for very different reasons than a large body of new or current customers that exhibit some common behavioral characteristics or voice common opinions about your product or service. You need to be able to separate noise from true insights, whether it comes from a small or a large group.

Consult non-obvious team members or departments. Especially those that don’t typically have direct contact with customers or access to their insights. The customer service department or operations group might have a burning question that if answered could have real operations value to the organization. Maybe those responsible for packaging design have a suspicion that the current packaging is a deterrent or want to test a hypothesis regarding the introduction of a new size, formulation, or package.

Don’t overlook the simple ask or insights available from partners or external inputs. There are valuable insights just waiting for the question to be crafted and posed. Conversely, are you ignoring what your customers are already asking you? There could be no more direct or potentially valuable input, yet those gems are often relegated to customer service realms never to be unearthed or explored for their possible potential. Partners are also a rich source of data and insights and they may have the added benefit of other industry or category experience to give those nuggets context.

Create the feedback loops and review cycles that lead to action. Organizations are driven by planning and release cycles, so make sure the information you are gathering is available within a time frame that allows you to use and benefit from its capture. It does no good to gather the information if you don’t know in advance when you need it and how you are going to ultimately apply the learning. If this is a new effort for your company, it may require some additional time and work to break with habit and integrate this into your planning process. Start small – maybe just a few critical questions for the first couple of attempts, but make sure to enlist strong support from someone influential in the organization.

Set expectations. You may not be able to get solid, reliable direction against all of your questions. There is learning involved in the design and implementation of these queries and you should expect some inconclusive or unexpected outcomes that may need further exploration. Sometimes those results ultimately yield the most value.

Digital paths to customers and interactions with digital customers provide a potential gold mine of valuable information and insights, but like any other effort, you need a plan and a framework that allows you to succeed.

What broader business, product, or customer insights have you gleaned from your digital channels?

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