Without it, our utterances are just noise.

It brings structure, coherence and convention to what would otherwise be just arbitrary sounds, symbols or gestures. It enables communication and understanding, negotiation and debate, discussion and learning.

There are more than 7 000 living languages spoken across the globe, but the one that should matter most to any brand or business is the one their customers (existing or potential) speak.

You know your industry, your product and your value proposition, but can you communicate that information to your audience in a way that actually engages, interests and resonates with them?

If not, you might as well communicate in Etruscan (which no one but scholars has spoken since 50 AD). And, if you're communicating in Etruscan, or in any other way that doesn't resonate with your audience, are you adding any value to their lives or your business, or simply adding to the growing din of digital noise?

In today's hyper-competitive landscape, the market will increasingly belong to brands that leverage data-driven insights to understand their audience and then captivate them with messaging that has a meaningful impact on their lives.

Here are tips on how to make sense of the data your current and future customers give away about themselves every time they get online.

Understand your competitive landscape

You couldn't manage, let alone be, a truly successful brand without knowing who your real-world competitors are. But surprisingly, few brand and marketing managers fully grasp the websites that compete with theirs for eyeballs.

Let's be clear: It's not just that other shoe or soft drink brand; consumers are searching for a wide variety of products and solutions, so bidding for space against the brand you think is your biggest competitor is no guarantee of getting those valuable eyeballs.

Tracking your online market share of search compared to that of your competitors — using tools like Rogerwilco's WOLF report — can provide a strong indicator of future commercial performance but also invaluable insights into what sorts of brand communications turn your audience on, or off and how you can do it better.

Create customer personas

These are archetypal representations of your customers (and subsets thereof) developed by examining their:
  • behaviours
  • motivations
  • goals
  • expectations, and
  • needs.

A customer persona is an excellent way of visualising your audience so you can communicate more appropriately and personally with them.

It should be based on actual, not just theoretical, research, which means conducting surveys and focus groups, interviewing existing customers, observing them in the market or at work and tracking their online habits in granular detail.

A thorough customer persona should include the following:
  • demographic data such as age, gender, income, location and occupation
  • behavioural data around brand and product interactions and purchase history
  • psychographic data that delves a little deeper into your audience to illuminate their values, lifestyle, interests and mindset, and
  • feedback data that helps understand their response to your product, gleaned from surveys, social media, reviews and the like.

Audit your search engine optimisation

Communicating with your customers the right way often requires taking a good, hard look at your SEO practices, including your:
  • keyword research
  • indexing
  • site architecture, and
  • that all-important user experience.

If your SEO doesn't measure up, there's a good chance your audience isn't picking up what you're putting down.

Keep an eye on social media

This one's a no-brainer.

Social media is a treasure trove of insights into what your customers think, feel and want — but also how they talk about these thoughts, feelings and desires.

Learning the answers to these questions will go a long way in helping you speak their language:
  • What sort of language do they use?
  • What are the most used words?
  • On which platforms are your audience most active, and how do their respective segments vary across these?
  • When are they most active?
  • How long do they typically spend engaging with content?

Read the data story

It's clear that to understand your audience — and ensure that they understand you — you need data. Lots of data.

But with so much data available, it can be difficult to structure it and spot trends.

Dashboards that draw together information from disparate sources are a good start, but they come to life when they're designed to weave all those data points into a rich, data-driven narrative.

A narrative-driven dashboard takes as its starting point the question, "What actually happened?" By following the story that unfolds from there, you can gain tangible, actionable insights into customer behaviour. Think of it as understanding their story so you can better tell yours.

A few years ago, a substantial 75% of consumers said in a research report that they didn't mind sharing personal data online as long as they got something valuable in return.

Consumers give away far more information about themselves than they realise, so while they're doing you the favour, why don't you reciprocate and give them the very thing the data tells you they want and need.

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