Are broad demographics really relevant in the online world? Is customer behaviour far more insightful to delivering your marketing message?

Behavioural information allows you to develop a toolbox of techniques to improve the relevance of your online marketing, delivering for one client a 600% uplift.

Last year I attended an industry conference during which Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy UK, presented a very theatrical presentation on the weaknesses of marketers.

I agreed with a lot of what he said, but one part that has stuck with me since was his take on media planning.

He claimed that we are stuck in outdated metrics. Marketers are obsessed with “reach and frequency”. But are other metrics, such as “relevance, timeliness, engagement, proximity to purchase”, more revealing and informative in today’s online world?

This got me thinking about my approach to online marketing. For many years we relied upon broad demographics to decide upon media buying. MSN receives x% of this demographic, compared to x% on Yahoo!. We also used past customer purchase history heavily in our decision making.

But are demographics just too broad?

Is past purchase history really that useful? Just because I bought a 2 week holiday in Cornwall last June, really mean I will do exactly the same this year?

Measuring recent behaviour would be far more informative, and online is a great channel to do this. Which products is the customer researching today? Which customers are just browsing, versus those who are ready to make a purchase?

Delve a little deeper into your online marketing and the answers are already there. Comparing results on a daily or weekly basis allows you to uncover some interesting patterns, helping you understand the mindset of your customers today and what they are likely to buy next. These include:

  • Who opens your promotional emails, and which sections are they clicking?
  • What are the most popular search terms on Google this week?
  • Which banner creatives received the most clicks today?
  • Which pages in your website received the most visitors yesterday?
  • Is this a first time visitor or their 10th visit in the last week?

Using this data I began producing some very simple purchase funnels, broadly mapping out where customers sat in the path to purchase.

Sales conversion funnel  

Instead of just measuring the top-line number of visitors and conversion of the website, I could now break the journey down into more meaningful 6 steps.

I could measure the conversion and drop-off at every point, understand where the strengths and weakness were in the process. For example, were we losing a lot of people at the product selection stage as we didn’t have a strong compelling reason to convert today?

I used this model to communicate our approach to the management team. It was a great tool in weekly sales meetings; identify opportunities for tactical targeted marketing. Could we influence customers at stage 3 with a promotional offer in an effort to improve conversion?

Online targeting allows the message to be delivered

The concept is to understand the purchase stage of a customer, then target them with the most relevant message at the most relevant time. This involves...

Using information from:

  • Behaviour across all online marketing channels
  • Volume and frequency of interactions
  • Ad/creative message at interaction

Allowing us to:

  • Model the purchase stage of a customer
  • Deliver more relevant ads
  • Target at most effective time

It’s like delivering a personalised TV advert, with an exclusive offer, to an individual customer at exactly the right time. I refer to it as “below the line marketing in an above the line space”.

Although we didn’t know their names, addresses or email, we could target specific customers at a particular stage in the funnel with a relevant message at the most relevant time, delivered via our display banner advertising.

This meant that if a customer expressed a strong interest in Plasma TVs but did not convert, we could re-target them with a display advert containing a special offer for Plasma TVs, exclusive to them.

We not only looked at behaviour in display banner advertisers. With all our online marketing channels integrated into a single tag, we could track user behaviour across search, affiliates, email and display banner advertising.

A test of this approach with Warner Breaks delivered incredible results. On a campaign run during the summer of 2007, we saw a 100% increase in CTR (click through rate) and a conversion rate increasing from 3% to 19%, a 600% improvement.

Over time, it is possible to build up hundreds of segments for different products and different customer types, all based upon actual behaviour rather than broad demographics.

I look at this approach like a toolbox

As an Online Marketing Manager, especially in a highly sales driven environment, you need a box of tools to help plan your media, influence your creative messaging and target key customers.

With your toolbox, your Monday 9:30 sales meeting begins to feel a lot less painful.

Matthew Finch - view blog

Matthew Finch

Published 16 January, 2008 by Matthew Finch

25 more posts from this author

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Comments (2)

Garry Davis

Garry Davis, Director at Grow Digital Marketing


Firstly what a great article!

I often feel, like you, that demographic are too heavily relied upon. Surely it is better to intepret the potential customers position within the purchase funnel and engage at this point.

Yes, brand is important as part of this overall funnel but i would suggest that based on the work that we do as an agency, within search in particular, that having limited brand visibility does not weaken your position.

We see a devaluation of brand particularly within the SME community as clients look for a supplier that engages them as they show signs of purchase intent paticularly when the intent is location based. Often its is this 'interruption' that changes the path of the searcher to a supplier that can match their needs both in terms of size and location.

How many times have 'you' purchased from a brand you have never heard of who provided the right product, at the right time, at the right price, in the right place combined with the right message.

Garry Davis

over 10 years ago


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almost 6 years ago

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