Understand Your Customer Better Than Anyone Else

Our top priority at World Vital Records is understanding our customers needs. A VC friend told me recently that if you choose a market and understand your customers’ needs better than anyone else, and meet those needs, that you will be successful.

In addition to monthly usabilty tests of our web sites, we now have a panel of 783 customers who are willing to answer any questions that we ask them. The first question we asked is what kinds of records they want us to add to our web site. Our next question will be what countries they want us to gather these records from.

We are also studying our site analytics regularly, doing A/B testing on our outbound email campaigns, and have begun using Google Website Optimizer so that we can test various landing pages in real time to see which ones perform best.

We have found by analyzing our customer database that 72% of our paying subscribers are women and 28% are men. Using Quantcast, we have a good glimpse of the demographics of our site visitors, what other web sites they tend to visit, and what keywords they are searching for.

Quantcast is an extremely useful tool and it will only get better. The founder of Quantcast emailed me recently and told me how many pixels they are tracking on a monthly basis. Their open system (where webmasters can opt in for validated numbers) will make their system better with time. As more media planners use their site to design interactive marketing campaigns, Quantcast will be able to play a key role in the ad selling process, and take a slice of that pie. To build audience, they’ll continue to make their audience measurement and demographic information free.

I love this service.

Quantcast is extremely valuable to understand all the companies in an industry. We can use Quantcast to learn the demographics of visitors to Ancestry.com or any other genealogy web site. Ancestry’s users tend to be over 45 years old, and more female than male.

I can start to see differences in audience composition and determine who is strong in what area. For example, World Vital Records already has a lot of users from a variety of ethnic groups, whereas Ancestry.com’s audience ranks high on Caucasian but low on most other ethnic groups. As we launch international databases and search engines, perhaps this gap will only widen.

We can use Quantcast to find hundreds of genealogy sites that are potentially good partners, where cross promotion could help us and them.

If you have not yet started using Quantcast, I suggest you set aside a few hours to do so, and write down all the insights you gain about your competitors and your customers, and what other sites they visit and what other interests they have.

In the traditional direct marketing industry you can use a service like Claritas which can provide you with a customer segmentation report if you provide them with the mailing addresses of your customers. They can answer questions like:

* Who are my customers?
* What are they like?
* What do they buy?
* Where can I find them?
* How can I reach them?
* How can I keep them?

They also have Data Enhancement services, which they describe as follows: “Claritas can help you learn all about your customers – their demographics, lifestyles, and consumer behaviors. We can append Claritas data to your customer file of names and addresses to give a richly detailed profile of what your customers are like and why they buy from you.”

Quantcast is providing a combination of Alexa/Hitwise/Comscore-like data along with free Claritas-like data. I’m a little surprised that it’s not getting more buzz than it is. I have found a few good posts on Quantcast, including this post on Rojo.com that says it may be a valuable tool for advertisers, and potentially an acquisition target for Google, but that it has been self-funded and may not have a business model fully figured out.

I suppose if it had venture backing then it would be getting a lot more media coverage than it is. Or maybe the company is lying low and perfecting its service until it is ready for prime time.

I blogged earlier this month about how Quancast is the best free tool for internet marketers in years, and I stand by that claim. The more I use it, the more I like it, and the more potential I see for it.

But back to our topic … understanding your customer. One more practice that we are going to start at World Vital Records is requiring all our executives to have regular phone calls with customers.

I remember when my brother Curt Allen was CEO of MyFamily.com and he asked his executive staff of 12 people how many had spoken to a customer in the past month. If I recall correctly, not a single hand went up. He was making a strong point that when a company is growing fast, it is easy to lose touch with the customer.

So when I ran the marketing department, not only did my staff each visit our call center every week to be involved in customer phone calls, but we also started holding group discussions with our customers to find out what they liked and didn’t like, and what they wanted us to do next.

It is so easy to get busy with housekeeping and putting out fires that you can completely neglect speaking with customers.

We are also planning to attend many, many national, regional, and local family history events. Not only are the people at these conferences the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they are so incredibly knowledgeable–some of them have been doing family history for decades, so they have so many insights and ideas for what would make their job easier.

A consultant friend of mine told me recently that third-party surveys are far more accurate than those conducted by a company itself because customers will be more honest with third parties for some reason. What do you think? I remember we hired Wirthlin Worldwide to do a major customer survey for MyFamily.com back in 1999 and the results were incredible.

Blogging keeps me in touch with internet entrepreneurs, but not with the family history community yet. I think I’m going to keep this blog focused on internet entrepreneurship and marketing (due to popular demand!) and start a new blog that I’ll probably publish at Worldvitalrecords.com that will focus on family history topics.

Bill Marriott claims that his new blog will help him do on a global scale what he has been doing for years: talking to the customer.

What are your topic 3-5 techniques for staying in touch with your customers and really understanding their needs? And how has this helped you achieve success in your business?

Please share….

Note: I have not been involved as an employee of MyFamily.com (now The Generations Network) since February 2002.

178 total views, 2 views today

3 Comments

  1. In Kristin Zhivago’s book “Rivers of Revenue”, she claims that companies can and should work directly with the customer to get needed feedback. The key is not to talk, necessarily, but rather to listen. If you are truly listening and not being defensive, the customer will open up and tell you what you need to hear. And she claims you only need to talk to about 10 to see the trends and get an idea of what you need to work on…

    And, I am happy to hear that you plan on continuing to blog internet marketing.

    Any ideas on what a one person shop can do to enlist reasonably priced internet marketing services–particularly in a low click niche?

  2. Paul,
    Thanks for the blog post! I loved it, especially about Quantcast. We have recently been thinking about methods we could use to determine the demographics of our user-base. The best way we thought of was to simply ask our users when they register, which would be more like optional questions. However, that entails some potential problems, inaccuracies, and difficulty in execution. Quantcast would be the perfect solution, and I would not have known about it without reading your post. Thanks!

    Joe,
    BoomYEAH

  3. Badri

    Paul,

    I can never say ‘enough’ to ‘Defining your Customer’ regardless of how many zillion times it has been said because it is the fundamental aspect of every business activity but probably and unfortunately the least focussed area.

    I invite you to my blog post and share your thoughts, given that you are so customer-focussed.

    I normally do not link my posts in others’ comments but given the high synchrocity of our thoughts, I did so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *