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What’s the big question for online marketing success?

One of the great things about online marketing is that there are so many paths to success. Some businesses succeed with search. Some rock the social sphere. And some achieve dizzying results with display. But these myriad opportunities can stop you in your tracks. Where do you begin? Well, I have some good news. The basics of online marketing are, actually, pretty basic. And while there are no silver bullets, there is one question that can set you up for success no matter what media you choose. So, what’s that question?

Simple. The
question you need to focus on is this: What does your customer care about?

3D Character and Question Mark

Image by 姒儿喵喵 via Flickr

That’s it. Get that question right and the rest is just details.

In the past, marketers focused heavily on gathering all sorts of demographic data, building consumer profiles using these attributes and blasting messages “targeted” at various consumer segments. Sometimes these campaigns worked. And sometimes, not so much.

Today, many of the companies I talk to worry less about demographics, and more about psychographics and behaviors. Now, don’t worry if you’re not familiar with these terms. There’s no need to fear them. They’re just fancy, five-dollar ways of talking about what your customers think and what your customers do. In other words, the things your customers really care about. Most people are creatures of habit. And nothing is a better predictor of what people will do in the future than what they did in the past.


For instance, a 55-year old Baby Boomer may act exactly like a 19-year old Millennial in how they shop for and buy music or a rockin’ pair of jeans. By the same token, almost anyone purchasing a crib for their first-born child is going to need the answers to many of the same questions whether they’re 22, 32 or 42. That’s not to say that demographics never matter (there are likely fewer customers for, say, life insurance among 18-year olds than among 45-year olds). It’s just that customers’ demographic attributes (age, race, sex, etc.) are less important than what they do and what they think. One of the reasons a “Do it Wrong Quickly” approach works so well is because you learn from your customers’ actions, not from assumptions about a given demographic cohort. When Volkswagen introduced its “New Beetle” in 1998, the company assumed many customers would match the profile of its earlier Beetle: young, cash-strapped folks looking for inexpensive, basic transportation. Instead, the largest group of customers, with almost 35% of purchases, were between 45 and 54. And the second-largest household income segment was those customers making $125,000+ annually. Behaviors (former customers who remembered the original Beetles fondly) and attitudes (“I’m still young and hip”) fueled purchases far more than age or income.

“OK,” you say. “Wunderbar for Volkswagen. How can apply this to what I do today?”

Actually, you have it easier than at any time in history to know what your customers care about. They tell you what they care about all the time, every single day. How? Just look in your favorite analytics tool at the keywords customers use to find your site. John Battelle famously referred to Google as a “database of intentions” and time has proven him right. Sure, you need to be careful about what your analytics won’t tell you. But, your customer literally demands Google—or if they suffer from “search overload” Bing— to answer their questions.

Once you know how they’re finding you today (i.e., the things they care about where you’re the right answer), free tools like Google’s Insights for Search or the AdWords Keyword Tool and paid tools like SpyFu or Compete can help you dive deeper into your customer’s search psyche to understand the questions you’re not answering.

Build tests of your ad copy, landing pages and calls-to-action around your customers’ questions—in other words, focus on what your customers have told you they care about. Apply these tests to media that fits your customers’ behaviors (yet another great learning from your analytics tools). And look at your path to success as a well-lighted trail, ready for you to take your first steps with confidence.

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs.

Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line.

An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association.

Tim currently serves as Senior Advisor at SoloSegment, a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies.

Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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