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3 Ways Customer Data Allows for Pinpoint Marketing Tracking where potential customers have been online makes for exquisitely targeted advertising.

By James Green Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Before the surge of data-driven advertising, programmatic marketing and real-time media buying, retail marketers faced challenges in effectively figuring out who was interested in purchasing their products.

Historically, inventing "personas" based on demographic information and CRM systems was the way this was done. It went something like "An affluent, mother in Delaware purchased my product, so let's find more affluent Delaware moms." In the contemporary digital marketing world, we know that personas and demographics are only rough proxies for the people who are currently in-market to purchase your products. Marketers who use personas alone risk not reaching, engaging and influencing high-valued shoppers.

By using data, we know that people are searching for and absorbing information about your products before they ever reach your website and make a purchase. We also know what they have already purchased or considered purchasing through on-site interactions. Data and mathematics often yield results that are not intuitive, especially when using statistical models – which are exactly the sort of models used to tract consumer intent at large scale.

A famous example is called the "birthday paradox": how many people do you need to put into a room before you have a 50/50 chance that two of them have the same birthday? Most people say about 150. But if you use statistics and probability theory, you'll find out the number is actually 23. We can't use our instincts to figure out what the right answer is because our instincts are not designed to operate at the scale that marketing works on today.

The most effective way to reach and influence your target audience is to observe the trails they leave on the web and on their devices. These trails leave behind intent data, which can enhance your marketing efforts in several different ways.

1. Enhanced acquisition.

A recent report conducted by Forrester on behalf of Magnetic showed that 64 percent of marketers claim that they need better data for prospecting and 67 percent cited that customer acquisition is more challenging than retention.

Additionally, the report also found that marketers are using both demographic and site level data for acquisition, neither of which is the best source of intent data for prospecting strategies. Intent comes in many forms and from multiple locations, including a retailer's web site, offline sales, product reviews, shopping comparison sites and search activity from thousands upon thousands of online entities. However, if you aren't using the right sources of intent for acquisition, you simply can't leverage digital to its full potential. Search data captured across ecommerce, pricing comparison and product review sites is one of the strongest signals of intent and best sources for new customer acquisition.

For example, a husband may want to buy a purse for his wife's upcoming birthday. The only way to know that he is in market for this is by looking for his intent clues across the web. Has he searched for a specific brand, product, price, etc.? You want to reach him before he concludes his research and moves on to make his purchase, either online or offline.

Using intent from outside retailers' properties will give your acquisition strategy a lift and competitive edge. Not only does it tell you when someone is in-market, but also it allows you to identify people who are interested in making a purchase based on real data, regardless if they are one of your brand's target audiences. If you tried to target using demographic personas you would not target this man as a probable buyer of women's purses!

Related: Here Is How to Get Customers With Limited Funds

2. Stronger retention.

Intent data can show a lot about what a person is looking to buy and even inform you about what they've bought in the past. However, coupling this information with other consumer signals, such as what channels (email, video, mobile web, etc.) and devices they engage with and peak times of day that they browse or buy, allows retailers to deliver information that people want, where and when they want it.

Cross-sell and up-sell opportunities also rely heavily on past purchase data and purchase intent. If you know someone purchased a new suit, and recently searched for a new pair of men's dress shoes, wouldn't you want to inform them of a special shoe promotion or offer them a tie to go with that purchase? Or, if you knew someone purchased a luxury item and saw that they are in market for a summer dress, wouldn't you want to recommend additional products to them across display advertising on mobile and desktop web, within email alerts, and customize their experience on your website?

If you can make the experience more efficient by delivering information that customers want, you can drive customer loyalty and strengthen your retention strategy.

Related: 5 Secrets to Increasing Customer Retention -- and Profits

3. Re-activate customers.

What happens when customers never return to your website and/or make a purchase offline? Observing intent data that is captured beyond a retailer's website helps marketers re-activate past customers.

For example, I purchased skis last year and have never returned to the retailer, either on and offline. However, this year I was in-market for a new helmet. If that retailer knew I was in-market, they could have delivered relevant information to me via email or display ads on desktop or mobile to try getting me to return to their store. Additionally, enticing customers with special offers on seasonal items or those items that have an expiration date is another way to boost re-activation.

The consumer you are reaching today might have entirely different interests tomorrow even though his or her persona hasn't change at all. Having access to intent data will give retailers a comprehensive view of their audience and help them ultimately expand their customer base and increase sales.

Related: How to Win Back Lost Customers

James Green

CEO of Magnetic

James Green is CEO of ad-technology company Magnetic, which specializes in retargeting. Prior to Magnetic he built and sold four technology companies including Sabela Media, GiantBear, PVI and Giant Realm. He started his career in the entertainment industry at the Walt Disney Co. and Pixar.

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