Why customer demographics aren't telling marketers the whole digital story

Wotif Group digital marketing leader, Shaden Mohamed, talks to CMO about why relying on demographic information is stopping marketers from improving their customer engagement and conversion rates across digital marketing activities

Marketers relying on traditional demographics such as lifestyle, location and purchasing history for digital engagement could well be missing an opportunity to become more relevant to their customers.

Executive general manager for digital marketing and distribution at Wotif Group, Shaden Mohamed, told CMO consumers demonstrate similar behaviour and buying patterns that don’t always tell the same story.

Using this as the basis for her presentation at the recent ADMA Engage events in Sydney and Melbourne, Mohamed challenged marketers to redefine how they perceive customers in the new digital age. Using herself as a profile example, she endeavoured to demonstrate why an individual doesn’t always fit a typical customer demographic segment and why it’s important to focus on customer behaviour, their interests, and their real-time preferences.

“Looking at my profile as a customer in Sydney, people might automatically assume I’m a Parramatta Eels or Canterbury Bulldogs supporter, but that would be false,” she said. “Based on the demographic, you might also assume I have a large family, which is true.

“And in my professional life, I take 12 business trips a year and eight international ones.

“My point is that as individuals, we are vastly more complex than our perceive stereotypes, and that identity, lifestyle and purchase patterns are not always aligned. How I behave in my personal life is also very different to how I behave in my professional life. As a customer, I might have more in common with a demographic that’s completely opposite.”

For example, why align a special offer to a target customer demographic of 18-25 years of age if online behaviour shows a different type of individual is interested in your product and service, Mohamed asked. If a male has shown interest in an inherently female product, such as a Gucci bag, they could well be shopping for their girlfriend or wife. So why not show them a relevant display ad?

In Wotif’s case, a package holiday to the Gold Coast could equally appeal to both a group of teenage girls looking to join in on Schoolies Week, and a family wanting a vacation by the beach. This may represent two distinctly different demographic groups, but with a shared interest.

“We often try and define who our product or service is relevant to,” Mohamed pointed out. “We should make sure we are opening up those items to the customers who indicate certain behaviours online, too.

“Demographics are still very important – they give us a way to customise the message. But it shouldn’t form the core of marketing.”

Mohamed has been with the ASX-listed online travel retailer for just under 18 months, and manages a database of 3 million customers. The challenge is how to customise every message going out to every single customer and keep it relevant, as well as timely.

“It’s about being clever in how we utilise media and our marketing spend,” she said.

“We have had a very close look at our technologies, and we’ve employed different techniques such as behavioural targeting. Just because we’re advertising on a travel website, it doesn’t mean that ad is relevant to everyone hitting that site. So we have added filters on top, such as only displaying ads to people that have shown an interest in a hotel in the last 30 days.”

Wotif is also engaging in more retargeting initiatives to better communicate with customers on a relevancy basis, and will exclude individuals identified as having already booked their stay. In addition, the company is looking into customers who have shown a particular interest on its site over a specific timeframe, and know its brand, to serve different display ads across channels.

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With so many different channels available in the digital space today, Mohamed said it’s not just about working out which channel works ‘best’, it’s about working out which channels work best in combination with each other. For Wotif, this also involves understanding which channels work best for a particular destination, as well as the customer segments and even the time of year.

“As an example, social and video channels work really well when people are still in the ‘inspiration’ phase, researching where they want to go on holiday because they haven’t yet made up their minds,” she said. “They will be looking to see what people are recommending, watching videos and might even be using different devices, such as an iPad, while watching TV at the same time.

“That’s very different to someone who has already made a decision of where they want to go and who is ready to book. At that point, we need to ensure we have a strong call to action through mobile and SEM.”

In order to handle this ever-complex approach, Wotif has structured its various marketing and communication teams in a way that allows them to brief in every channel as they are preparing marketing communications, Mohamed said.

“The key here is alignment between the marketing groups,” she claimed. “Many organisations have different teams sitting in different areas. The most important thing for me is to ensure my SEM team is in constant communication with the SEO team, social and email marketing teams. That’s what gives you the efficiency.”

It was also crucial marketers focus on what the customers want before producing content, Mohamed said. One way Wotif Group is doing this is through its market intelligence team, which looks at the latest trends and help marketers understand what they should be marketing based on user wants.

“It’s not only understand a customer from behaviour and what they do with you, but also respecting the information they are telling you,” she continued. “Some may just want a shopping cart; others may only want to receive relevant information to them. You need to be able to offer both extreme customisation and the general shopping cart experience.”

While she readily admitted no marketer has got one-to-one marketing right yet, Mohamed was excited by the challenge and opportunities new data-driven digital marketing techniques and channels present.

“This isn’t black or white, nor does it require one point of view,” she said. “Customer needs are not static and as marketers, it’s about being able to adapt and change our processes as this evolves. That is the beauty of it all.”

Mohamed’s tips around better customer insights

  • Get your analytics in order. “You need to have a clever understanding of how customers come to your website and take actions, otherwise it’s hard to know how to improve,” she said.
  • Work hand-in-hand with the IT department: Align with them to find solutions.
  • Attribute beyond the last click. “How did other channels play a role?” Mohamed asked. “Get some analysts on that to try and work it out.”
  • Make sure your legal T&Cs compliant. With the changes to Australia’s Privacy Act coming in March, and rapid technology advancements constantly changing the game with consumers, Mohamed said it was also important to use your common sense. “Company ethics also play a huge part here,” she added. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

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