The Five Most Common Mistakes We Make Trying to Understand Our Customers

Adobe Stock / SolisImages

by Jon Viray

posted on 11-29-2017

Your customers are the foundation of your business and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the profitability of your company depends on your ability to effectively reach those customers with the personal and relevant experiences they seek.

We know technology is always changing, but recognize your customers are constantly changing too — and changing how, where, and when they interact with you. Keeping up with evolving consumer behaviors requires constant adjustment. If you’re frustrated because your personalized marketing campaigns aren’t achieving the returns you expected, you may need to change the way you gather or read your data. The insights you have are only as good as the data you understand. As you experiment with new and better ways to engage your customers, check your strategies for these common mistakes.

1. You haven’t integrated your mobile and web data.

This mistake is more common than you think. Mobile is now the dominant digital platform consumers use, and while your customers may check their computers several times a day, they keep their mobile devices on hand at all times. In fact, mobile devices go with them into your physical locations. Your customers’ behavior while using mobile technology throughout the day provides direct insight into their mindsets and activities — and if you aren’t taking customer data from mobile devices into account, your data will not provide an accurate and complete picture of actual behaviors.

2. You think your data represents a person, but it’s really just a device.

When looking at various reports, especially ones with web data, digital marketers erroneously assume the “per visitor” data is representing a unique person. However, the reality is that the very foundation of analytics today is generally built on a metric that is not representative of a person, but rather of a device.

For example, imagine a customer browses my web site on their laptop. Then, 30 minutes later, goes to my site again, but this time from a mobile phone. The report showing traffic on my web site will count those visits as coming from two separate visitors — because the visits came from separate devices — even though that customer is only one person. “Visitors” are not synonymous with “people” and don’t encompass multiple devices.

Not knowing the exact number of people versus devices may not be a big deal in certain situations, but it can create an illusion regarding which marketing campaigns are most effective and where you should invest your marketing dollars.

Realize that all downstream metrics derived from the “visitors” data point are representative of devices and not actual people. Think about asking what the revenue per person is. Since your “per visitor” number isn’t counting people, it would be wrong to use it to determine revenue per user — and that is a big deal. Using “visitors” as a proxy for “people” leads to inefficient marketing, incorrect insights, and wasted marketing dollars.

3. You believe you’re personalizing experiences for your customers, but you’re actually personalizing for their devices.

We know personalized ads are more effective than generic marketing, and you need to use data to obtain an accurate picture of your customer now more than ever before. However, imperfect data-gathering practices can lead to ad experiences that frustrate, rather than engage, your target audience.

To understand and market to people, rather than their devices, leverage a device graph that’s tightly integrated with your data management platform (DMP) or demand side platform (DSP). This will help you take action directed toward a person, even if they visit three times from three different devices. By watching a person’s journey across devices, you can return experiences to that person, on any device they use, that are relevant to their latest actions, regardless of where those actions were performed.

With this strategy, your customer can use her mobile phone to search online for a new widget. Your company,, sends targeted ads for the products she is searching for. Later, while looking online at her laptop, she will notice more targeted ads even though she has not searched that topic from her laptop. She follows the ad and makes a purchase. That night, from her iPad, she receives personalized ads for value-add items and suggested posts about how to best use her newly ordered widget. Without acting on her as a person, rather than her separate devices, she would still be searching for widgets.

4. Your attribution metrics are device-centric rather than people-centric.

Your metrics should consider the customer and all the touchpoints they encountered as a whole. Don’t just review individual interactions — this leads to inaccurate data. Most data- analytics platforms gather information based on the devices used to access the sites. For instance, someone who is planning to purchase a new pair of running shoes may take a few minutes to read reviews using the browser on a work computer. Later, at lunch, he or she might use a cellphone to scroll through the options on the business’s mobile site. The same person is accessing the same information and showing interest in the same products — but your analytics indicates one source of traffic from a web browser and another source from a mobile browser. This limits your ability to directly target that customer because you don’t know which interactions came from the same individuals.

From a device-centric perspective, the initial browse was ineffective because it didn’t lead to immediate results. However, from a people-centric view, you understand that the initial browse was a key part of the process that led to a purchasing decision, giving you a more accurate picture of the effectiveness of your campaigns — whether organic search, display ad, email, social, etc.

5. As a digital marketer, you feel it’s OK to ignore your physical locations.

With many retailers closing stores or moving online entirely, it may look like investing time and energy into your physical locations is counterintuitive. However, many customers still prefer in-store shopping for the tactile experience of seeing, touching, feeling, and trying out items, as well as for the instant gratification of taking merchandise home immediately. So, while your digital marketing teams may be separated from other marketing organizations, you should all remember that your customer is still one person, and they want a consistent experience, whether online or in store.

As you combine your web and mobile data, you also can’t overlook the data gathered from your brick-and-mortar stores. Connect all the data and use the analytics to see why your customers shop where they do and how you can improve their experience — both online and in store.

The Next Step

Now that you’re aware of some possible pitfalls, recognize and avoid them before they cause problems with some of these pre-emptive solutions:

Above all, remember that you’re marketing to living people. Show your customers that you see them as individuals — not just demographics or devices. Doing so humanizes your brand, creates trust, and allows you to deliver delightful customer experiences.

Hear more stories from top brands who know the power of putting great customer experiences first in their organizations, or read more in our #KnowYourCustomers series.

Topics: Digital Transformation