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One of the toughest transitions for marketers making the move to digital is getting accustomed to data-driven decision making. Digital, at its core, is all about the numbers. All the talk about agile marketing, analytics, and using “test and learn” methodologies to improve your marketing depends on data. But it’s a common trope to suggest that folks who opt for careers in marketing do so at least in part as a refuge from math, not as the main way they plan to spend their days.

The funny thing is, this trope couldn’t be more wrong. Sophisticated marketers have always relied on data. It’s just a question of which data, and why, that we need to think about differently.

Here’s why.

Marketing Has Always Relied on Data

Think about your customers. What do you know about these folks? A ton, right? You’re undoubtedly very familiar with any number of intimate details about your very best customers. For instance, if you’re a B2C marketer and I asked you what your best customers look like, you might say something like this:

  • Female
  • Aged 25-34
  • Single
  • Household income $65K+
  • Generally located within 50 miles of your business locations
  • Concerned with health and appearance
  • Wants a healthy lifestyle, but doesn’t have much time
  • Enjoys going online in the evenings, big fan of Pinterest
  • Interested in travel, real estate, decorating her apartment, and improving her personal finances
  • Values time with a small group of friends

Those offer some significant insights into your customer, don’t they? They’re the type of demographic and psychographic data marketers have lived with for years. Again, demographic and psychographic data. This is good stuff. And marketers like use it because it helps you make more informed decisions about how to help your customer achieve her goals — and help your business achieve its goals too.

Again, it’s useful data. It makes you smarter and helps you make important decisions to grow your business. The issue with demographic and psychographic data, though — and firmographic data for B2B marketers — is that they’re often not predictive. You might have thousands of customers who match this profile: 30 year-old women, focused on their health and appearance, who make more than $65,000 and live within 50 miles of your locations. By every metric available to you, there should be no difference. But some of those women buy and some don’t.

Why? And more importantly, how can you tell the difference?

That’s where the data most common to digital comes into play.

The Rise of Behavioral Data

Where digital differs from traditional marketing practices is that it generates enormous amounts of behavioral data. And nothing is more predictive of future behaviors than what your customer has done in the past. Digital marketers — and data-driven marketers generally — constantly look through this treasure trove of data and information for insights to help predict what their customers will do next and to develop tests that validate those predictions. We don’t necessarily care that the customer is a 30 year-old woman. We care whether she clicked on Offer A or Offer B. Because your data can tell you which of those is more likely to lead to a sale. And that’s true whether you’re selling diverse sets of goods to individuals or to businesses.

Terms like impressions, clickthrough rate (CTR), sessions, bounce rate, average revenue per user (ARPU), conversion rate, exit rate, statistical significance of A/B tests, and the rest may seem foreign to you, but they’re just additional insights around your customer designed to help your marketing work more effectively and efficiently.

Nothing about this reality invalidates demographic, psychographic, geographic, or firmographic data. In fact, those data types can provide critical overlays to help you generate messaging that resonates intellectually and emotionally with customers at each stage of their buyer’s journey. They become more powerful when paired with behavioral data because you’re better able to put those messages in front of your customer when and where they’re most prepared to receive those messages.


Successful marketers have always relied on data to understand their customers and reach those customers with the right messages at the right time. The behavioral data favored — and produced in volume — by digital marketers helps ensure that your messages do just that.

Yes, you’ll have to learn some new terminology. That’s OK. In fact, it’s what’s likely to keep you employed for as long as you care to keep working. Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve always used data. You know how important that data is to help you make better decisions for your brand and your business. So, don’t think of it as transitioning to digital. Think of it as learning more about your customers. And that’s something you know you’ve always done well.

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About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

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