Dennis Hecht, Chief Intelligence Officer, Rooster Strategic Solutions

In an iconic scene in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, slovenly Steve Carrell seeks wardrobe advice from sharp-dressed Ryan Gosling. “Be better than The Gap,” Gosling tells him.

Gosling’s character knows, as we all know, that brands matter. But it’s more important for those of us who call ourselves marketers to acknowledge that it’s the way that customers interact with the brand that really matters.

In the first of this series, I explained why creating a Customer Data Platform (CDP) should be the most important task your company takes to address the upcoming deprecation of third-party cookies. Once your CDP is in place you can begin to weaponize this data, turning data points into shoppers. And it all begins by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and seeing how they view your brand.

Climb the Brand Ladder. Before you can begin segmenting customers, you must know who they are. This sounds obvious – but it’s not always as straightforward as we think. Ryan Gosling’s character may be the perfect archetype for what Gap executives believe is their target audience, checking off all the right demographic boxes. But he’s not a customer, and never will be, even if he’s on their mailing lists. How many customers are in your CRM who have never purchased a product or service? Are you spending time and money targeting the wrong people?

Brand laddering, a marketing concept from the late 1980s can be of help here. Brand ladders are a method to model the emotional process customers follow to make purchase decisions. You begin by listing a product’s key features, linking them to the key benefits of these features, and ultimately to the emotional value they will receive when they use your product. The inherent value in this exercise is that it forces us to bring our customer’s needs to the forefront, asking how our brand connects with them. Does it improve their lives somehow? Create a sense of security? Improve their social stature in their inner circle? As marketers we want to identify the Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) we have that will trigger a specific population into wanting to do business with us.

How do we get this information? The simplest way is to ask your customers directly. A focus group is a great way to get behavioral insights from your customers. Pro tip: Bring in a third party to help ensure that your questions aren’t too product specific. It’s not about you, your brand, or your products; it’s about your customers.

Another way to capture valuable shopper insights is by examining your first-party data, comparing your demographic data with your transactional data. Several years ago, I dove into a client’s CRM to see who they were targeting. To their credit, the list was a perfect reflection of the demographics they used to create the customer persona they believed was most likely to purchase their product. One problem, however. When I looked at the transaction data – the list of people who actually purchased their products – it didn’t match the persona they created. They were prospecting an audience that didn’t buy.

A third option, interaction data, is an unexploited gold mine to understand shoppers. As marketers, we don’t push our agency partners to share shopper-level engagement data with us enough, to our detriment. Sure, we get click rates and open rates for social, web, or e-mail efforts, for example. But if an agency or publisher knows who clicked on your ad, who watched your video, or who opened your e-mail – and they often do – why aren’t they sharing that? The primary reason we don’t see this interaction data is because we don’t ask for it, and shame on us.

Building a brand ladder and knowing our customers intimately – who they are, what drives them, why they buy, and why they don’t – is a critical step in segmenting customers. Equally important? Knowing where customers go for information and who influences their decision making. Once we have these pieces in hand, it’s easy to select the communication channels that best maintain and grow our first-party relationships.

Own the relationship. If we want our customers to choose the right option – our products – we need to engage with them using language that resonates with them, and in spaces they already occupy. Are they on mobile? On the web? Do they read magazines, and if so, which ones? How often? Do they listen to radio? Is it via a satellite, terrestrial, or streamed source? The more we know about our customers, the more we can engage with them in friendly spaces.

As is the case with brand laddering, creating a journey propensity model by channel and by platform – meticulously documenting our customers’ content consumption patterns as they progress down the customer funnel – means layering data from several sources. Fortunately, these sources are nearly identical to those we enlisted to create the brand ladder: direct customer feedback, information collected by our partners, and customer information we can glean from our own research and interaction platforms. The goal is not to guess where the customer is going or create an unconventional journey but to talk with them where they already are as they progress toward making purchase decisions.

If you have any questions, need help creating a brand ladder or diving into customer media preferences, or simply don’t know where to begin, I’d love to have a conversation. Otherwise, look here for the third article in this series that explains how to grow sales directly by moving shoppers further down the purchase funnel.