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Using Data to Connect To and Understand Customers

These days, people volunteer data and personal information that can be a gold mine for marketing—if you know where to look and how to interpret it, said Paxton Gray, Vice President of Operations at 97th Floor.

“People are happily handing over all their information, all their data, all their hopes and dreams. You just need to know how to use it,” he said.

Speaking at the Utah Business Digital Marketing Bootcamp on Wednesday, Gray said too often companies try to create viral content simply by telling content creators to make something viral. However, he said, less than half of digital marketers feel highly proficient in their jobs, meaning most people are trying their best but missing the mark.

“We go to work, we create our content, and then we pray: we say, dear marketing gods, please let this go viral and we send our post into the universe and hopes it go viral, and it doesn’t. Our response is to try it again and again and again,” he said.

Finding out more about customers and crafting content can help make the bullseye bigger. Gray told of work for a financial services client that involved a keyword search of the profiles and tweets of their followers and the followers of their competitors. The search found the top word pairing was “husband” and “father”, with “personal finance” and “real estate” also high on the list. Because of those insights, Gray said, the company was able to craft content targeting customers whose identities included being husbands and fathers and who were interested in or concerned about personal finance and real estate—blog posts like “How to Provide For Your Family When Times Are Tough”—that found a niche that competitors weren’t filling.

Timing and platform can also help content find its audience and not become part of the 60 percent of content that never sees the light of day. Applications like Keyword Planner or SpyFu can help find keywords, while tools like Moz can help show when people are active online. Gray also stressed that marketers should find out which social media and information platforms their customers prefer, rather than using the sites they themselves use.

A fair criticism of social media and search results—Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.—is the algorithms that can omit posts or content, Gray said, but algorithms are really just sets of if-then rules that can be analyzed.

“Understanding algorithms as a marketer can be really helpful,” he said. “The really fun stuff happens when we can see how these algorithms interact, how they play with each other.”

Gray noted a campaign 97th Floor did for OC Tanner a few years ago, when OC Tanner was looking to increase brand recognition, organic traffic to their site and help sales representatives get to pitch the company’s employee recognition offerings across the country. Gray said they found a popular web search was “coolest companies to work for in” and a major U.S. city, but that those searches were getting very few results back. He said 97th Floor and OC Tanner started emailing hundreds of companies in large cities—addressed to the human resources manager but CC-ing the CEO—congratulating them for being nominated as one of the coolest companies to work for in that city, and asking them to tell them why they were a cool company to work for.

About half responded, Gray said, and those responses were screened and the top ten were collated into a blog post. Those ten companies were notified with an email, and sent an award badge to put on their websites—a badge that was linked to the blog post on OC Tanner’s website. The sales representative from that area also hand-delivered a physical award to the winning companies and followed that delivery up with a pitch for OC Tanner’s employee recognition program, which resulted in many new clients.

“Not only do we get our blog post shared out on the company’s network, but all of the employees’ networks, as well, and then times that by ten,” he said.

OC Tanner saw a 4,000 percent leap in web traffic, and their blog posts were the top result for searches about companies to work for. The program also got enough attention that companies were nominating themselves, and those nominations helped the company decide the next city to profile. Gray said the reason the campaign was so successful was because it appealed to the human resources department—an often overlooked and undervalued part of the corporate structure—gave companies and employees a chance to brag about the businesses, and gave OC Tanner the opportunity to introduce themselves to new partners.

Gray said the OC Tanner and Twitter keyword examples both demonstrate the need to understand customers. He cited a 1970s Dodge truck ad that spent a full minute boasting about the truck’s double-walled construction and the fuse box right in the cab, and contrasted that with the company’s 2013 Super Bowl ad that showed a series of pictures of farmers and rural scenes as Paul Harvey read the poem “God Made A Farmer”. The ad found explosive popularity, as well as a resulting spike in sales, because it connected with the identity of farmers and those who respect them. It’s a lesson that can be applied throughout marketing, he said.

“It’s saying, we understand you. Of course there’s a fuse box, of course there’s double-wall construction—don’t worry about that. We’ve got you. We understand you,” said Gray. “It looks like it’s art, but it’s data. The data is in the art.”