Getting Closer to Readers and Customers

by Dan Blank on December 29, 2008

A field director for Barack Obama’s campaign described the key ingredient to their success in a recent New Yorker article:

“We had the best data operation of any campaign. You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can’t organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we’re going to talk to – I mean, the rest of it is all pointless.”

I keep reading and rereading this passage because it illustrates how success hinges on two things:

  • Exploiting every opportunity for an advantage
  • How valuable it is to thoroughly understand your customers, taking nothing for granted, and systematically keeping focused on their needs.

I have been spending a lot of time focusing on how to best leverage reader & customer data from an editorial and content strategy perspective, eg: how can editors and bloggers best use this data to make the most of their resources, increase online performance, and make readers smile.

A colleague reminded me of the work of Avinash Kaushik, whose book “Web Analytics an Hour a Day” has been sitting on my shelf, skimmed, but unread. The book demystifies web analytics, and cuts through data to focus on the one thing that matters most:

Your customers.

Avinash recommends focusing (and correlating) three things:

  • Web analytics (stats about how people use your website)
  • Research (surveys, focus groups, etc.)
  • Usability testing (observing your customers using your products)

In the end, it gives you a more holistic view of your customers’ habits and needs, allowing you to focus on improving the quality and performance of your products. Some call this an “analytics driven culture,” but I prefer to think of it as a “customer driven culture.”

It goes beyond just numbers: How often are we meeting with readers and customers? How often do we observe them in their everyday environments?

The key is this:

  • Not just collecting data
  • Not sharing data
  • But USING data to make more strategic editorial and business decisions based on real customer needs, desires and behaviors.

And to do this again and again… receving a constant flow of information.

Avinash says that most people look at data to tell them “what happened,” but they miss the “why.” He came up with a “so what” rule. When you look at data, you have to ask yourself “so what” again and again until you come up with an action you can take from it. If no actions come up after asking this question three times, then you know you are looking at the wrong metrics.

The goal of data is not to create a powerpoint or a spreadsheet or to show how well you did. Data should spur action. It should be inspiring. And mostly, it should bring you closer and closer to the only person that really matters: the customer.

Web analytics, research and usability testing are lenses that focus you in on your customers. And these lenses will allow you to improve your processes, products, revenue opportunities, and everything in between.

The needs and desires of your readers and customers will tell you where your business is moving. And yes, it is moving. Identifying these needs first and making them a top priority – that is the difference between success, or giving up that advantage to a competitor.

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