Online marketers often think of customer acquisition as more of an art than a science. That shouldn’t be an excuse, however, for failing to take a hard look at the numbers to better understand the success of your marketing efforts.

Getting to know your customer has always been at the heart of marketing, and marketers now have the tools and technologies to take a more rigorous, data-based approach to the task. Online retailers can now gain an unprecedented level of insight through some basic information that they can collect about their customers, tracked according to key metrics.

Much of the relevant data naturally comes from sales, with integrated marketing and payment systems making it easier than ever to acquire useful information. Beyond sales, the way your company goes about collecting customer data may be specific to your sector. For example, social networks have access to detailed demographic information, while online games publishers keep detailed information on player usage and community interactions.

Subscription-based businesses have a particular advantage here, in that the repeat custom allows them to build up statistics ranging from level to length of subscription, for a fuller view of the lifetime value of each customer. Each company and sector naturally has its own advantages and disadvantages, but all of them should be investing in systems which allow them to make the most of the data available.

One of the most important aspects of a data-focused approach to marketing is ensuring that you’re cross-referencing the numbers that you already have. A company that monitors registrations arising from its various marketing efforts (perhaps through two different promotions) needs to be aware of what proportion of those registrations convert into revenue and what proportion do not. However, another key data point is what proportion is fraudulent – therefore actively costing the company money. When these figures are taken into account, the relative success of each campaign might look very different. It can be easy to focus on the success of marketing campaigns that drive potential customers to your site, while neglecting to measure the ultimate impact each drive has on profitability.

Marketers who track these figures effectively and take a joined-up approach to analysing returns on their campaigns will find it easier to judge the success of marketing efforts, and to make more informed decisions about where they should direct hard-won resources. Suddenly, it also becomes possible to mould your marketing spend towards much more specific goals – such as building up a base of long-term paying customers, raising the company’s profile across a broad audience, or generating cash quickly.

Beyond assessing the success of marketing campaigns, customer information can also be key to planning new outreaches and even making major structural decisions. One simple and important example is geography – it can be crucial to know which customer purchases are coming from which locations. For example, a surge of new activity in Hong Kong would be a good basis for pushing marketing efforts there. You want to have the built-in flexibility in your billing systems to begin billing immediately in the local currency, rather than having to add functionality one country at a time.

There is also a huge opportunity to market more effectively to existing customers; pushing out promotions targeted at specific customers, depending on both their profile and actual usage, means they are saved from being bombarded with irrelevant promotions, while the business is likely to have a much higher take-up on a given offer. Ensuring that customers are targeted only with relevant information at every stage allows companies to make the most of their “customer touches” to create new sales opportunities.

Using data in this way already currently offers marketers a competitive edge, in terms of acquiring and retaining customers, and in marketing to them effectively. With the steady development of tools to channel sales data and other information directly to marketers in a usable form, data collection is becoming cheaper, easier and more effective all the time. As the process become standard practice for any business with an online element, we expect a data-focused approach to marketing becoming an absolute necessity for businesses sooner rather than later.

Sanjay Sarathy

Sanjay Sarathy


Sanjay Sarathy is Head of Marketing at Vindicia.