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How to Use Online Community Software to Improve Customer Marketing

Written by Joshua Paul | on September 11, 2012 at 8:30 AM

What Should Online Marketers Know to Micro-Target Customer Segments?

Using Online Community Software to Improve Customer Marketing & SegmentationI recently asked a top-tier email marketing consultant about the one thing I can do to get the most improvement in my lead and customer email marketing? His answer: segment, segment, and segment.

In the "old days," you knew your customers' industry, geographic region, and the titles of each person who did business with your company. If your customer relationship management (CRM) operation was more evolved, you knew their company size and one or two sub-segments, such as whether their primary business was b2b and b2c. This was enough keep customers engaged and meet their customer communication expectations.

Things Have Changed

Email opens rates are down. The amount of information on public social networks that does not pertain to you is up. And customers' expectations are at an all-time high.

It an age when only the most relevant information breaks thought the chatter, reaching your customer with highly targeted online messages can make all of the difference in your retention, customer advocacy, and product management programs. Often times, even organizations with sophisticated CRM procedures are not capturing enough data to effectively micro-target their customer base.

Online Customer Communities Refine Customer Segmentation

Traditionally, CRM systems act as centralized repositories where people from across your company stuff information about your prospects and customers. This can range from "Prospect Anne is very interested in this one particular feature" to "CFO Jim's wife does not eat fish." This is demographic information.

Online customer communities feature a member directory where customers can build out social profiles, seek out other customers, and control the level of information that is displayed to other customers. Providing a self-service profile to customers allows your organization to capture more up-to-date information about customers since they maintain the data. It also enables organizations to capture more information than they would traditionally store in their streamlined CRM system. This may include things like their biggest business challenge, favorite blogs, or outside-of-work interests.

Behavioral Information Takes Segmentation Beyond Traditional CRM Data

Information ranging from city and state to which products they use and what they have told about themselves has been at the center of companies' CRM strategies for since the '90s. Online customer communities provide an important dimension to customer and lead intelligence €“ behavioral data.

Behavioral data charts each lead's or customer's activity in your online community to give you additional insight about their needs, understanding of your product or organization, and customer lifecycle stage. Behavioral data tracks activity in customer forums, which documentation people downloaded or videos they watched, as well as which online groups they are subscribed to, who has registered for certain events, and which areas of the online community that they have marked as favorites.

Here are some examples of how online customer communities enable businesses to micro-segment leads and customers more effectively:

Traditional Demographic Data

Demographic Data + Behavioral Data in Your Online Customer Community

Send an email message to all of the customers in Florida about the upcoming customer event in Orlando.

Send 3 email messages to customers in Florida.

  1. One for all of the customers who commented in the forum discussion about topics for the Orlando event.
  2. One for customers that have submitted product ideas in the online customer community's idea center encouraging them to set up one-on-one meetings with product managers at the event.
  3. And one for Florida customers that took neither of those actions.

Create a list of all of the customers up for renewal in the next 2 months for a calling campaign.

Create a list of at-risk customers that are up for renewal in the next 2 months who have not logged into the online community or registered for a live or virtual event within the last 6 months.

Promote your new 'how-to' guide to customers that seemed to be end users during the purchase process.

Promote your new 'how-to' guide to all of the customers that belong to the 'tips and tricks' group in your online community, have marked the 'how-to' video and document libraries as favorites, or have initiaited a discussion in the 'how-to' discussion forum.

Customer Communities Deliver Better Quality Data for Better Segmentation

Since demographic data in your CRM system is entered by employees not customers themselves, customer information is often incomplete and inaccurate. Even companies with the resources to maintain mutli-dimensional data elements struggle with amount of effort it takes to keep each customer's profile up-to-date.

Online customer communities not only provide better data because customers maintain their profiles themselves, but they also put customers in the position of self-selecting their segments. Though the preferences and favorites that customers select, actions that they take, and discussions in which they engage, customers provide information to your company about their interests, challenges, and role in using your product or service.

Leap Ahead By Combining Date Info with Behavioral Data

By combining the activity data that customers offer up with timestamps, your organization has a timeline of which issues are on the minds of specific customers during a given time period. Using activity and date information together tells you how fresh, urgent, and important certain customer needs are. This is the basis of breaking through the noise and providing relevant information to customers.

Online Community Takeaway

Look at your inbox. Examine the emails that you did not open and why you did not open them. Even when an organization that you have a relationship with sends you a message, it might fall on deaf ears if it is not highly relevant to you. That is how busy and focused you are and that is how busy and frazzled your customers are.

Segmentation is the key to engaging customers or members. There is not magic formula. It your message feels the slightest bit generic to you. It will feel that way to your customers.

Your online customer community software enables your company to segment on both expanded demographic information and real-time behavioral data to improve customer retention, create brand advocates, and get better market data for developing more profitable products.

The best metrics for marketers to track the ROI of their online customer communities.

photo credit: Tracy Hunter

Topics: Communications, Online Community Software, Customer Experience, Customer Success

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