Category Archives: Marketing

Great Marketing Tips

If you want your business to succeed, a powerful marketing department is essential, new research finds.

Strong marketing departments help businesses thrive in both the short term and the long term, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Marketing.

“Structurally, the marketing department not only improves performance by increasing a firm’s capability to perform marketing activities, but also directly increases performance, because they influence the strategic decisions made by the top management team and direct their attention to marketplace issues,” Hui (Sophia) Feng, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of marketing at Iowa State University, said in a statement.

Researchers designed the study to measure marketing department power, and a company’s ability to build and leverage brand equity and customer relationships, by developing a new scale using publicly available data for more than 600 firms in the United States over a 16-year period.

To determine the marketing department’s power, researchers compared head count, compensation, number of responsibilities and rank of job titles of marketing executives to executives in each business’s top management team.

The study discovered that despite a worry that marketing departments have been losing influence in recent years, its power has actually increased.

“Not only did it increase for firms that didn’t have a marketing department before and created one later, but also for firms that already have a marketing department,” Feng said.

To help measure whether specific company outcomes, such as sales, are a direct result of advertising or social media campaigns, researchers compared how well businesses used available resources to build brands and customer relationships, and their ability to turn those resources into cash flow. This allowed the study’s authors to estimate an organizations’ return on investment in building and leveraging its brand and customer relationships.

The research revealed that strong marketing department power is associated with strong short-term and long-term firm performance.

Feng said the study show that businesses should not be short-sighted and cut marketing budgets and staff because of a crisis or poor quarterly figures.

“Managers need to look beyond one quarter or one year and see marketing is important,” Feng said.

Although there are both short- and long-term benefits of strong marketing departments, company leaders need to keep in mind that it does take time and resources to build brands and customer relationships and that the return on that investment is not immediate. However, once the brand is established, businesses can leverage it to generate more cash flow, the research shows.

Feng said the study’s results have a clear message for businesses.

“It’s very straightforward — invest more in marketing and give marketing a stronger voice in the top management team,” she said. “It’s convincing evidence for marketing professionals to justify an increase in the budget and staff, request more seats and influence in the firm’s top management team, and show that powerful marketing departments create value both in the short-term profitability and long-term shareholder value.”

The study was co-authored by Neil Morgan and Lopo Rego, professors at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

How the social media help you for the marketing

The busy holiday season can make or break many retailers’ annual revenue goals. Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar store or an e-commerce business, the upcoming weeks will be critical for driving those important year-end sales.

Although you’re probably already relying heavily on social media to spread the word about holiday promotions, focusing on visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube can take your marketing efforts to the next level. That’s because images are an incredibly powerful communication tool: According to an MIT study, the human brain can process and identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.

“It’s anthropological,” said Apu Gupta, CEO of visual social media marketing platform Curalate. “Our ancestors communicated through pictures on cave walls, and now we’re doing the same thing [on social media]. There are so many things competing for our attention today, and you need shortcuts to process it. Images allow us to do that. They’re mental shortcuts that allow us to understand our world better and faster.”

If you want to use visual marketing to your advantage this holiday season, follow these expert social media tips. [Picturing Success: How Photo-Sharing Can Boost Social Marketing]

Use eye-catching images. Product images can be extremely valuable on social media, but if those pictures are small, uninteresting or low-quality, you’re doing more harm than good to your brand. Noelle Federico, chief financial officer of stock photo provider Dreamstime, advised using bright, vibrant images that jump out and catch consumers’ eyes.

“All of your social content has to have visual appeal and draw attention,” Federico told Business News Daily. “Pictures that aren’t done well or don’t look good [will only] deter people from shopping [your brand].”

Create video content. Video content is taking center stage in year-round marketing campaigns, and the holidays are no exception.A recent survey by premium video marketplace Tremor Video found that more than half of all consumers ages 18 to 34, and about 80 percent of consumers over age 35, describe product videos as very or extremely motivating when deciding what to purchase. According to the survey, consumers seek out videos of consumers opening, examining and using a product, as well as product comparisons.

“Leverage unboxing videos as part of your holiday marketing strategy,” said Ariane Gut, vice president and head of insights and analytics at Tremor Video. “To make them look authentic, enroll the help of actual customers or social media influencers instead of trying to recreate one yourself.”

Because consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to consume video content, Gut also advised optimizing your video for smaller screens. You can do this by leveraging short-form content, creating shorter ads that mimic content, and including close-up, clutter-free shots, Gut said.

Incorporate user-generated images. User-generated content from real consumers is perhaps even more powerful than brand-produced images, Gupta said. Customers love getting recognized by their favorite companies on social media, and in most cases, they’re happy to create and share content to be used by a brand.

“During the holiday season, it’s advantageous to run promotions that are all about your fans creating content,” Gupta said. “Having people take photos [of your products] around the holiday season that show how much they’re enjoying them is a great way to spread awareness.”

“By running a holiday social media campaign, you can almost guarantee an increase in sales,” added Nicole Bandklayder, co-founder and chief marketing officer of jewelry retailer Bijouxx Jewels. “[For example, host] a contest to win something, and [to enter], you have to post a photo with the campaign hashtag.”

If you do decide to run a contest, Bandklayder said, make sure to publicize it well across all social platforms, to ensure your followers know about it.

Pay attention to your analytics. As with any marketing effort, keeping a close eye on your metrics — to discover what works and what doesn’t — is the key to creating holiday social media campaigns that stick. This is especially true on Pinterest, where most pinned photos are taken and shared from brand websites, Gupta said. If your followers are sharing photos of specific products, you can use those insights to plan your next move.

Tips to Find E-Commerce Website for Holiday Shoppers

The holiday shopping rush is just around the corner, and retailers across the country are preparing for their post-Thanksgiving promotions. This is especially true of e-commerce businesses, which need to anticipate an influx of website traffic during what’s likely to be their biggest sales period of the year.

As a small e-tailer, it’s in your best interest to get your website in tip-top shape for the season, to help you keep up with your larger competitors. Frank Yue, director of application delivery solutions at Radware, a provider of application delivery and security solutions, said that if your site slows down, you have a lot to lose — 57 percent of consumers will abandon a site that fails to load after 3 seconds, according to Radware research.

“If the site doesn’t respond … [customers will think] it’s not worth it and go to another website to buy [the item] somewhere else,” Yue told Business News Daily. “It’s not just the [site] outage you have to worry about, but also the degradation of performance and delivery to retain customers.”

Yue and Debbi Lechner, vice president of product marketing and management for Web.com, offered the following tips for optimizing your e-commerce website for increased holiday sales. [Holiday Marketing Trends That Will Drive Sales]

Highlight your special offers and discounts. Make sure that your holiday offers are featured prominently on your home page, and update your website’s images, keywords and search engine optimization to help shoppers find your business in search results, Lechner said. She also advised frequently posting your special offers to your top social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

“Linking your posts back to your website will promote calls and orders, and drive more traffic to your website,” Lechner said. “You will also see increased awareness and followers of your social channels when customers share your offers with their friends.”

Make site speed a priority. Many online retailers focus primarily on the design of their website — how pretty the page looks, how big the graphics are, how easy the Buy buttons are to access, etc. The problem, however, is that all those large photos and interactive elements could slow your site down significantly.

“All that effort spent to make a gorgeous [website] could get wasted because the page doesn’t load in time for the consumer,” said Deborah Szajngarten, director of public relations for Radware.

Although a well-designed home page is important, businesses should also focus on finding Web solutions and hosts that give them the necessary bandwidth and speed to support higher holiday traffic.

“[You need] on-demand resourcing … to scale the capabilities of your online presence and quickly adjust the number of servers and customers you can support simultaneously [to remain] efficient,” Yue said.

Mobile-optimize your site. Lechner reminded businesses that the popularity of mobile commerce is continuing to increase. Be sure to provide your prospects and customers with a good online experience, regardless of whether they are browsing via a smartphone, tablet or PC. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to test out your site on a variety of devices and make any necessary fixes to offer a seamless mobile experience.

Prepare for security concerns. It’s not just shoppers who ramp up their online activity during the holidays — hackers are waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of the increased number of transactions. Yue recommended educating yourself and your team to recognize such cyberattacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, as well as invest in security solutions to help you handle any potential situations.

“DDoS attacks are a regular occurrence — expect them to step up during the holiday season,” Yue said. “They’re getting complex. You need [to be able] to mitigate the attack appropriately.”

Be ready with your customer support. Holiday shoppers want a positive customer experience, so make your contact details easy to find on all pages of your website in case customers have questions about their orders.

Strategy for marketing

images-19One of the most critical questions a marketer has to answer is what makes customers take action. What makes someone open a marketing email, click on a website and ultimately make a purchase? Rather than just guess and hope for the best, smart companies will use what’s known as A/B or split testing to find out exactly what drives conversions in their marketing campaigns.

What is A/B testing?

When you run an A/B test, you’re comparing two different versions of a campaign — whether it’s a marketing email, a banner ad or just a website page — to see which one is more effective with your target audience. Mohita Nagpal, a marketing specialist and author of a Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) blog post about A/B testing, compared the process to a scientific experiment that requires rigorous testing of a hypothesis.

“Do some background research by understanding your visitors’ behavior using Google Analytics or any other analytics tools,” Nagpal said. “The next step is to construct a hypothesis. An example could be, ‘Adding more links in the footer will reduce the bounce rate.’ Then, test out the hypothesis [by comparing] the original version against this new version without the footer.

In an infographic accompanying her VWO blog post, Nagpal outlined a few basic steps to running a split test: [How to Create an Effective Marketing Plan]

  • Make a plan. Determine your goal, such as improving conversion rates or getting more repeat purchases.
  • Pick a variable. Based on your research, choose an element of the site or campaign’s A version to alter in the B version.
  • Run your test. Roll out the two different versions to your test groups for a period of up to two months and collect data on how many users took action.
  • Analyze the results. If you found low conversions on one or both versions, determine which element — copy, calls to action, images, etc. — may have caused friction or prevented users from following through. This is the element you will need to adjust when you run the final campaign. You should also look at your test as a whole to make sure your results are sound. A poorly constructed test or one with too many variables may produce a misleading outcome.
  • Implement changes, then repeat the test. Running the test again in a few months will either prove that your changes worked, or show that there was another factor affecting your initial results.

 

Mistakes to avoid

Split testing can be a very helpful tool, but if you don’t utilize it properly, you may end up with results that are way off base. For instance, some marketers make the mistake of making versions A and B too different from each other. If you really want to drill down on the specific factors that lead to higher conversion rates, you should only test one element at a time, said Anil Kaul, CEO of intelligent analytics company Absolutdata. Yes, it will take longer, but you’ll get a clearer, more useful data set that can better inform future campaigns.

“If you change your subject line and at the same time you change your CTA [call to action], it’s difficult to determine which one of the parameters contributed to the most conversions,” Kaul told Business News Daily. “By testing one parameter, you get a clear picture of the changes you need to make and which one would be the most optimized [version].”

You should also make sure you’re running your test long enough to get useful results. Kaul noted that, to get an accurate reflection of what will happen when you launch the final campaign, a good A/B test should run for at least seven days. Most times, one week is long enough to reach 95 percent statistical significance, but if you haven’t reached that point, continue to run the test until you do.

“One should only be certain whether option A is better than option B when a certain level of statistical significance has been achieved,” Kaul said. “Testing can only prove to be impactful when you stick to the numbers.

“Stopping a test too early will distort the results, and decisions based on incomplete data are almost always bound to fail,” Nagpal added.

For more information on statistical significance and how to calculate it, visit this blog post on HubSpot.

Tips for split-testing success

Ready to run your A/B test? Here are a few tips to make your experiment go smoothly.

Get the designs right. No matter what variables you’re testing with your experiment, it’s important to make sure both versions have seamless, visually appealing designs. This will rule out overall design as a factor and make sure that end users are focused on the elements you want to test, such as different images or ad copy.

“Make sure that your versions are mobile-ready, functional and provide a great user experience,” said Leeyen Rogers, vice president of marketing at online form builder JotForm. “Buttons should be the right size and easily clickable from any device. Fine print and all text should be readable and the design should make the call to action clear.”

Eliminate “noise.” Nagpal said that “noise” is any outside influence that skews your data. For instance, your company launches a campaign for a free e-book that receives 1,000 downloads in a month, but you realize that one-third of the leads came from a group of students at a certain university. Since these students were not part of your core target audience, they are “noise,” she said.

What should you do for small business marketing

To succeed in today’s competitive business environment, more and more small businesses are prioritizing marketing, new research finds.

In a recent study from email marketing provider Constant Contact, more than 70 percent of small business leaders said external forces, such as the economy and increased competition, have forced them to become better marketers.

In addition, most of the small businesses in the study have become more active marketers. The research revealed that 68 percent of the small businesses surveyed are marketing more today than they did two years ago.

However, just because small businesses are spending more time marketing, that doesn’t mean they are spending more money on it. Just 34 percent of the businesses surveyed are planning to increase the amount of money they allocate to marketing in 2016.

Although the majority of those surveyed said their main marketing tactics today are word of mouth, email and websites, many have an eye on what the future of small business marketing may look like. More than half of those surveyed said streaming video is an emerging trend they think will play the biggest role in how they market in the years to come.

Other trends they expect to influence their marketing the most in the next two to three years include the following:

  • Internet of Things – 43 percent
  • Messaging apps – 37 percent
  • Podcasts – 22 percent
  • Sharing economy – 21 percent
  • Web-rooming/Showrooming – 16 percent
  • Big data – 15 percent
  • Crowdfunding – 15 percent
  • Wearables – 10 percent
  • 3D printing – 4 percent

“It’s exciting to think about what the future holds for small businesses and how some seemingly advanced technologies will be incorporated into their daily marketing in a relatively short period of time,” Christopher Litster, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Constant Contact, said in a statement. “The more comfortable they become with the power of technology to fuel their growth, the shorter many of the adoption cycles will become.”

The study was based on surveys of 893 people running a small business who participate in the Constant Contact Small Biz Council, a research panel of U.S. small businesses and nonprofits recruited from the Constant Contact customer base.

You should know about consumer behaviors

For many new businesses, the biggest challenge is standing out in a sea of competitors that all do the same thing. Restaurants, retail shops, service providers and other similar types of businesses need to distinguish themselves and show customers what makes them different.

But some companies, especially those in the tech space, have the opposite challenge: What they do is so inherently different that consumers are completely unfamiliar with it. Therefore, to succeed in the market, these startups need to convince potential customers to try a new product or method of doing something.

This is rarely a simple obstacle to overcome. After all, not every consumer in your target market is an “early adopter,” and many may even be skeptical or hesitant about making a switch.

“Let’s be real — nobody is looking to change their behavior,” said Adam Padilla, president and chief creative officer of Brandfire creative agency. “Humans are a race of habit formers, and we are notoriously slow to adopt new ones. Many new businesses set out to create a new habit, where the smarter move would be to leverage an existing habit and have consumers try your product instead of one that they already use.”

If you want to encourage consumers to try — and eventually come back to — your new product, here are a few tips from business leaders who know how it’s done.

Know how to educate consumers

With any new product, marketers usually first think about how to explain to consumers why they should use it. This can be doubly challenging for businesses trying to encourage a new behavior or purchasing pattern.

“If you have a product or solution that solves an issue that people don’t know they have, then not only do you have to get your product in front of people, but you also have to educate them about the problem they have, so you can solve it,” said David Glickman, founder and CEO of Ultra Mobile, a provider of mobile phone plans. “What’s much easier is to find a common friction point that customers are actively seeking to solve, solve it for them, and in doing so introduce them to the added value that you offer.”

Padilla agreed, and said that when you introduce a new product, you must examine the primary use case for it, and which brands own that space in consumers’ minds. For example, if you’re introducing a new hot beverage that’s meant to take the place of coffee or tea, you’ll be unsuccessful if you advertise as a selling point that the beverage is “nothing like coffee or tea”, Padilla said.

Your customer base likely has no need for a new, unfamiliar hot beverage, and your drink has no place in their psyches. However, they might be willing to give it a shot if you said that your drink replaces their morning coffee with more alertness, no caffeine jitters and added fat-burning protein, he said.

“Finding your lane is all about finding the most relevant accepted truth and habit to your product, and then capitalizing on the existing knowledge in the consumer pool to differentiate your superior product,” Padilla told Business News Daily. “This is what will ultimately shift their purchasing pattern from their current default choice to your newer, better offering.”

“[Focus] on the known problem your product or service solves, rather than the really cool features that people will end up loving but don’t even know they want yet,” Glickman added. “Once you find common ground, influence the decision points in the path-to-purchase to convert the sale, and then over-deliver when you do get your customers to give you a try, so that they become your brand ambassadors.”

Start small and prove your worth

Big changes often happen in small increments over time, and encouraging a new consumer behavior is no different. Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing campaigns and trying to secure huge, long-term business deals right off the bat, it might benefit you to start small and expand from there.

Michael Sachse, senior vice president of marketing, business development and regulatory affairs at Opower, said that his utility-industry software company won some of its biggest customers by signing them on for small-scale pilot programs, which then grew into valuable multiyear contracts.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and resources creating a platform that helps [utility companies] present their customers with an expertly designed user experience that delivers actionable insights in the most engaging way possible,” Sachse said. “Once [we could] show utility companies that we can create a customer experience that can deliver tangible benefits, like energy efficiency at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions, the market creates itself.”

Revisit your business model if necessary

Your first attempt to bring a new product and associated behavior to the market isn’t always going to be successful, and if it’s not, you need to be ready to rework your approach. Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at visual discovery app Blippar, said that his company started with a hypothesis about consumers’ current search behaviors and evolved their offerings to adapt to what users wanted.

“As we experimented with variations [of Blippar], we looked at how people behaved on the platform,” Hiwaizi said. “We launched in a way that the only thing you could interact with was brand touchpoints. Consumers usually tried to ‘blipp’ (search for) six or seven other objects in the room. This told us that people are curious about everyday objects, [not just brands].”

Hiwaizi also reminded entrepreneurs that it’s not technology that’s disruptive, but the businesses that find new ways to use that technology.

“When you’re iterating [a tech product] and looking for a behavior change, you also need to iterate your business model,” Hiwaizi said. “There are lots of technologies out there that weren’t disruptive until someone worked out a business model [to] monetize it. Remember, the tech that powers Uber was all available before Uber came along.”

So you need prescriptive analytics on your business

Big Data gets a lot of buzz in the business world. It’s true that data analytics can give you deep, useful insights into your business and its customers, but only if you use those insights to their full potential.

There are three main components to business analytics: descriptive, predictive and prescriptive. Descriptive analytics — the “simplest class of analytics,” said Lithium Technologies’ chief scientist Michael Wu — is your raw data in summarized form. It’s your social engagement counts, sales numbers, customer statistics and other metrics that show you what’s happening in your business in an easy-to-understand way.

Predictive and prescriptive analytics are the next steps that help you turn descriptive metrics into insights and decisions. But you shouldn’t rely on just one or the other; when used in conjunction, both types of analytics can help you create the strongest, most effective business strategy possible.

“Predictive by itself is not enough to keep up with the increasingly competitive landscape,” said Mick Hollison, CMO of sales-acceleration software company InsideSales.com. “Prescriptive analytics provide intelligent recommendations for the optimal next steps for almost any application or business process to drive desired outcomes or accelerate results.”

“Predictive analytics forecasts what will happen in the future. Prescriptive analytics can help companies alter the future,” added Immanuel Lee, Web analytics engineer at MetroStar Systems, a provider of IT services and solutions.”They’re both necessary to improve decision-making and business outcomes.”

Analytics in action

Both types of analytics inform your business strategies based on collected data. But the major difference between predictive and prescriptive is that the former forecasts potential future outcomes, while the latter helps you draw up specific recommendations.

“Prescriptive analytics builds on [predictive] by informing decision makers about different decision choices with their anticipated impact on a specific key performance indicators,” said Thomas Mathew, chief product officer at influencer engagement platform Zoomph. “Think of [traffic navigation app] Waze. Pick an origin and a destination — a multitude of factors get mashed together, and [it advises] you on different route choices, each with a predicted ETA. This is everyday prescriptive analytics at work.”

Guy Yehiav, CEO of business intelligence company Profitect, said that as the retail landscape changes, businesses can use prescriptive analytics to clarify predictive data and improve sales.

“Predictive analytics is great, but it’s for the people who understand the report at the end,” Yehiav told Business News Daily. “What it’s missing is … execution. Prescriptive give answers to the questions you don’t know how to ask.”

To clarify how both types of analytics can be used together, Yehiav gave the example of a retailer that offers free expedited shipping to loyal customers. Based on past customer behavior, a predictive model would assume that customers will keep the majority of what they purchase with this promotion. However, one customer purchases eight items of clothing but decides to keep only one.

“The retailer paid for expedited shipping with the assumption that there’s this great consumer out there who bought eight items, so they’re willing to invest and lose a little margin [on shipping],” Yehiav said. “The algorithm didn’t take [return] behavior into account.”

For this retailer, reducing its losses on “outlier” customers who don’t follow what predictive analytics forecasted means having policies in place to cover itself. Using prescriptive analytics, the retailer might come up with the options of giving an in-store-only coupon to customers who make returns (to encourage another purchase in which shipping isn’t a factor) or notifying customers that they must pay for return shipping, Yehiav said.

Arijit Sengupta, CEO of automated business analytics company BeyondCore, offered another example of how a nationwide sporting goods store might use predictive and prescriptive analytics together. The store’s forecasts indicate that sales of running shoes will increase as warmer weather approaches in the spring, and based on that insight, it might seem logical to ramp up inventory of running shoes at every store. However, in reality, the sales spike likely won’t happen at every store across the country all at once. Instead, it will creep gradually from south to north based on weather patterns.

“To flip the switch on massive running shoe distribution nationwide would be a huge mistake, even though the predictive analytics indicate sales will be up,” Sengupta said. “But, with prescriptive analytics, you can pull in third-party sources like weather and climate data to get a better recommendation of the best course of action.”

Putting analytics to work

Our expert sources offered a few tips to help you make the most of your analytics programs.

Start small. There’s a lot your business needs to think about in data analytics, and you don’t want your best insights to get lost. Lee advised thinking big with your overarching analytics strategy, but starting small tactically.

“With the complexity of big data and the systems that manage and process data, we can easily overlook the fact that sometimes there’s a solution in the simplest thing,” he said. “Small wins will help earn support for long-term analytics projects.”

Create rich data sets. Running and marketing a business comes with a lot of “what-if” scenarios, and as demonstrated in the example above, predictive analytics doesn’t always account for those alternate scenarios. Mathew said looking at your predictive analytics more closely to create richer information sets — accounting for demographics like gender and age, for instance —will yield better results from your prescriptive recommendations.

“For example, social media marketers care about maximizing engagement and reach on their social posts. Prescriptive analytics can make data-driven recommendations such as use of a specific hashtag or emoji to maximize social traction with a specific audience segment,” he said.

What is you need in Marketing Software

There are two good reasons to adopt email marketing as a core component of your marketing campaign: It’s easy and inexpensive to create and it can deliver an impressive ROI ($44 for every $1 spent). Few marketing tools offer so much for so little.

To figure out if email marketing is right for your business, it’s critical to understand exactly what it is and how what your options are. Here’s what you need to know:

Understanding email marketing

  • Email marketing is essentially the online version of direct mail. Instead of sending fliers and coupons to a customer’s home, email marketing sends those same items digitally to a customer’s inbox.
  • Whereas the impact of direct mail can be difficult to track, email marketing lets businesses see exactly who is opening their mail and which emails are leading to sales.
  • Businesses can use email marketing in a variety of ways, from building brand loyalty and finding new customers to encouraging loyalty and repeat business.
  • With email marketing, you have a choice of do-it-yourself software or full service agencies that do all of the work for you. You can read more about the differences between the two below.

What the experts say: “Email marketing is one of the most effective methods of direct communication between a brand and its customers,” said Seamas Egan, manager of revenue operations for Campaigner. “It is the leading generator of ROI over any other type of direct marketing and can be used for multiple use cases, including promotions, informational content, social sharing, relationship management and more.”

Target Customer Plan Tips

If you’re starting a business, you’ve probably defined your “target customer.” You know their age, gender, location and perhaps even their income and education levels. But demographics alone won’t give you a complete picture of who’s buying your products.

“Understand intimately who your customer is,” said TJ Parker, CEO and founder of PillPack, an online pharmacy and medication management service. “If you don’t know your customers, it’s hard to … communicate [your product’s] benefits so they react positively.”

So what else should you be learning about your customers, aside from basic demographics? Here are the top three things you should find out, and how to incorporate that information into your strategy.

This is perhaps the single most important piece of the customer puzzle. No matter how well you’re projecting your customers’ values and interests, you ultimately won’t succeed if you don’t show that your product or service solves a problem for them.

For example, PillPack has succeeded because it has invested a lot of energy into understanding the hassles that people go through every day while trying to order, refill and manage their prescriptions via a traditional pharmacy, Parker noted.

“How do you build relationships with customers [and] get to this place where the customer feels like [you are] like a friend?” Parker said. “You can’t do that unless you understand the problems they deal with.”

Their values

When you know what your target customers care about, it’s much easier to create marketing materials that resonate with them. Jennifer Borba von Stauffenberg, founder and president of Olive PR Solutions, said that figuring out your audience’s values and attitudes is crucial, because connecting with your customers on this level allows you to develop an authentic, long-term relationship with them.

These same core values can also help you develop your brand “voice” or personality.

“In order to communicate to your target audiences, you have to ensure you are clear about your brand by defining its personality and voice,” Borba von Stauffenberg said. “[By] which voice would your target audience be most influenced?”

Their online browsing habits

When potential customers visit your website and social media pages, how are they interacting with your brand? Are they sharing certain types of posts? Searching for specific content features? Most importantly, what ultimately leads them to click through to your product pages? Tracking these browsing and search activities can help you figure out the best way to drive traffic where you want it to go.

“[Our company] sells very special works of art and luxury items that have great stories,” said Kristen Yraola, vice president and digital marketing directors at Christie’s art and luxury auction company. “We leverage these stories into digital content to create consideration of our sales. We look at engagements with all types of content articles — How To’s, Specialist Picks, Living with Art — to figure out which content types ultimately drive a viewer to visit our online auction.”

Finding and using customer information

There are two primary ways to extract this information. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is pulling and analyzing data. Modern marketers have numerous data sources, tracking tools and analytics programs at their disposal, so be sure to take advantage of what’s out there.

“Data is a marketer’s best friend,” Yraola said. “Being able to understand who is visiting our site, what they are doing [there] and then where they go after they leave [the site] has helped us to effectively market by targeting similar consumers throughout the Web to increase awareness of our brand.”

The second method — which requires a little more effort but is just as, if not more, beneficial — is to speak with customers directly to find out what they’re looking for. Parker, who has a background in the pharmaceutical industry, noted that approaching his market research with a “beginner’s mind” helped him figure out how to best reach PillPack’s customer base.

“The longer you’ve been in an industry, the easier it is to think you have all the answers,” Parker told Business News Daily. “It’s productive to sit with customers and [have them] interact with your product, website, etc. to see how they react.”

Once you’ve identified key traits about your customers, you need to devise a marketing plan that helps you bring it all together. Above all, that strategy should strongly, proudly and reliably reflect the brand image you want to portray.

“It’s really about identifying your organization’s values and aligning with a target market that shares those values,” Borba von Stauffenberg said. “Through your marketing, you should be delivering consistent messaging that confirms over and over again who you are.”

How to improve your business as well

In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to get away with not having a website for your business. Even small, local businesses can benefit greatly from having a simple Web page that provides potential customers with more information. And it’s not a matter of having a website in the first place — your website needs to be built with quality and customers in mind in order for it to be effective.

So how do you create a website — or improve your existing site — that will build up your business? We asked business owners and Web experts to share their advice. Here are five simple tips for achieving online success.

Plan your website thoroughly before you build it

You may want to get right into the creative process, but it’s important to take the time to plan the structure of your site and your goals before you start building or revamping your design.

“My No. 1 tip for creating an effective website is to spend adequate time on planning and strategy at the beginning,” said Anna Stout, owner of Web design and marketing company Astute Communications. “I’ve seen so many Web designers skip the planning process and jump straight into design. By doing this, you end up with a product that might look good, but it doesn’t serve any particular goals.”

By outlining your goals and priorities and mapping out your site architecture first, Stout said that you will create a website that will actually be an effective tool for your business.

“To that same end, creating content first, and designing around that content will allow the business to feature its important messaging, rather than trying to fit its message into an existing design,” Stout said.

Stout’s company uses a 6-step process for each Web project. This process starts with planning, research and goal and priority identification, and is followed by creating a sitemap and user flow diagram that anticipates how users will interact with the business. Then, they consider the customer acquisition funnel, which is how a user moves through the site to a point of conversion, be it a sale or signing up for an email list, for example. From there, the focus is on content development, then the creating of a visual interpretation of the hierarchy of information on the site. The last step is the actual site design.

“Each step of this process informs the next,” Stout said. “Ultimately, by the time we reach the design phase, we have developed the inner workings of the tool that is your company website,” adding that the process eliminates any guesswork.

Track your changes

Just building a good website isn’t enough — you have to sure you’re keeping up with changes, too. That’s why it’s important to look at and understand your site analytics. You can use this information to improve your website and bring in more visitors.

“Measure — that’s the most important piece of advice I can give you,” said marketing professional Sharon Mostyn. “I have been working with websites for almost 20 years now, and with the numerous free and affordable website analytics tools, there’s no reason to make a change to your site and not understand what it impacts.”

First, Mostyn said, you need to decide on the metrics  you want to measure, and then track those over time.

“That can be anything from the number of site visitors, the number of sales, the bounce rate, where you’re ranking in organic search results, your quality score for pay-per-click advertising, or something else entirely,” Mostyn said. “Of course, to get a holistic picture, you should track all of these metrics and more.”

When you make changes to your site, pay close attention to how the metrics change, Mostyn said. You can also try this out in other ways, for example, with a split test.

“If you can, you may want to consider doing a split test before implementing a more permanent solution,” she said. “This allows you to compare results without making too big a sacrifice if the test doesn’t perform the way you think it should.”

The key is to test, measure, optimize and repeat, Mostyn said, adding that you may not even realize how much a simple change can affect business.

“Sometimes, changes that you think will have fantastic results will yield nothing,” she said. “Or the smallest changes may drive major results. One website I manage added a link to a video on the homepage and saw a 78 percent increase in conversions. We wouldn’t have known how that minor change affected things if we hadn’t already been tracking our conversion rate.”