Featured in Crain’s Cleveland Business by Laura Sheridan, President of Viva La Brand: Five hacks to connect with your customers | Viva La Brand

Here are five hacks to uncover insights that enable you to connect with them.

Hack No. 1: Conduct primary customer research.

You need to hear from your most loyal customers, your least loyal customers, your newest customers and your most profitable customers. Call them. Better yet, engage a third-party research firm to interview them. A third-party firm will also deliver actionable and unbiased insights. Customers often won’t share their real feelings about a product or service when they’re talking to their contact at your company.

Customer interviews should start with open-ended questions about their experience finding you. How did they hear about you? What made them check you out online? What keywords did they use during the shopping process? What criteria did they use to pick you? Then, follow-up prompts are used to uncover what drives their loyalty or conversely their decision to leave you.

By the way: If you’re using research from pre-COVID times to inform your marketing and media decisions, then you may be betting on the wrong horse. Your customers’ buying behaviors have changed, and for good. According to the EY US Future Consumer Index, which has been tracking changing consumer sentiment since the start of COVID-19, 54% of Americans agree that the new behaviors adopted during the pandemic now feel normal, and 49% believe that their lives will remain significantly changed in a post-pandemic world.

Hack No. 2: Mine the data you already own.

You have a trove of data about your customers from Google Analytics and other tools in your marketing technology stack. Google Analytics tells you what age groups are visiting your site, where visitors are located, if they’re on a laptop or phone, how they arrived at your site — organic search or paid ads — and so much more.

If you don’t have a Google Analytics account, no worries. There are a bazillion posts about setting up your Google Analytics account, including 95,200 videos on YouTube.

Hack No. 3: Uncover what your customers are doing online.

Start by setting Google alerts for your top keywords, most desirable customer segments and your company. You pick how often you want to receive email notifications and the geographic region of your search.

Next, explore Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Search using keywords, titles of your hot prospects and topics they may be talking about. Read what’s being discussed. Interact if appropriate.

If you’re overwhelmed with data, then it may be time to try an AI sentiment analysis tool. These tools provide a way to filter customer feedback. As text-based communication on social media and live chat are increasingly popular, there’s a real need for a sentiment analysis tool. Several offer free trials.

Hack No. 4: Identify the media channels your customers frequent.

Companies like SparkToro provide data on what your audience is talking about online and which websites they visit. That means you can track which industry e-newsletters your customers are reading, which trade association websites they’re visiting and other online media channels that you may not even know about.

Try SparkToro’s free software trial. Type in your customers’ titles or professions and see what media channels they frequent. Most media buying agencies subscribe to SRDS, the legacy media buying and planning tool. You may need both to get the whole picture.

Hack No. 5: Spark a dialogue.

One of the most direct and valuable ways to get to know your customers is to converse with them.

From surveys and polls to user-generated content (UGC), there are many ways to engage with customers. Around 85% of consumers find UGC more influential than your company’s photos or videos. Use hashtags to identify viral content that your audience might value. Engage with the creator and ask permission to share, and credit properly on your page. Then, repost and analyze the engagement.

It’s time to really connect with your customers. Follow these hacks and uncover insights to catapult the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Sheridan is president of Viva La Brand, a Cleveland-based brand and marketing strategy, research and agency search firm

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