Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

The “Social Graph” is all the rage in the social world. Ever since Facebook launched Graph Search in 2013 and the launch of OpenSocial in 2010, we’ve been talking about interesting and useful ways to use this new form of search and the data it can provide. We’re not there yet, but with the growing popularity of graph databases, the ideas behind the Social Graph are about to become very useful to sales and marketing teams.

graph databases

I worked with a client last year to develop a series of marketing campaigns based on events their customers experienced. They had learned that companies bought their type of marketing automation systems soon after certain events occurred. In their case, companies tended to buy soon after receiving B-round funding. The campaigns we developed were triggered by news that some company had received B-round funding.

This was far more effective for them than the traditional demographic- or persona-based marketing, and it tells us a lot about how to look at prospects beyond fitting them into a particular description.

It also leaves out a very important part of any sales or marketing effort: relationship building. While the company was able to offer the right solution at the right time, the hard work of building a trusted relationship never happened.

So how did we get to the point where relationship-building got left out? Let’s look at the evolution for the answer:

Demographics:

Rewind half a century(!) to Don Draper’s office, circa 1965. He’s just landed a luxury car account and is recommending a targeted direct mail (state of the art!) campaign. He needs to know where to send his brilliant mail pieces, and the best tool at his disposal is demographics. So he goes to the U.S. Census Bureau and pulls personal income data by ZIP code. He sends that mail piece to everyone in every ZIP code with an average personal income above a defined threshold.

Let’s say I am lucky enough to live in that ZIP code. Am I in the market for a new luxury car? Would I consider buying one if it met certain preferences? The answer is more likely “no” than “yes.” While the effectiveness of direct mail relied on a very low percentage of success, it also wasted the vast majority of the invested resources. No marketer or salesperson really knew if I was ready to buy a new car until I showed up at a dealer.

Personas:

Fast forward 30 years to the same agency with yet another new luxury car account. Now they have lots of data at their disposal. They can create a picture of the type of person who might buy the car. It might look like this: A well-educated home-owner who travels for pleasure two or more times per year and shops at other luxury stores. Combine that with income and credit data, and you have a much-improved chance of reaching the type of person who would buy this car.

Again, let’s say I’m that person, and I receive the advertising message by mail and maybe by email or online. But I just bought a competitor’s model last year, and it’s going to be a few years until I’m ready to buy another new car.

The point of this is we can know quite a lot about out prospective buyer but still miss the two most important things:

  1. Is the prospect ready to buy?

  2. Have we established a trusting relationship that will result in the prospect buying from us?

Solution: The Relationship Graph

The timing-based marketing programs I mentioned above are a good first step toward answering the first question. As you get to know your prospects, you can get to know their buying triggers. This allows you to focus your sales and marketing efforts on those prospects who are truly ready to buy (not necessarily the same ones who said they were on your registration form).

But what about building a relationship? Just pursuing everyone who matches your target persona will not work.

We are very good at some parts of relationship-building. We know how to find common connections on social networks such as LinkedIn and how to scour social media streams to find more information about a company or individual.

Let’s go back to the Social Graph. In my personal life, I can look at Facebook and ask  interesting and useful questions. Let’s say I were looking for someone to join me at the movies this weekend. I can go to Facebook and ask, “Which of my friends lives near me and likes newly released movies?” Questions like that can help me connect with people with whom I have established relationships (or even with those I don’t) who might be willing to engage in the way I seek engagement.

What if we did this for our customers? What if I, in my consulting practice, could ask questions such as, “At what companies do I have connections who enjoy reading white papers about customer relationship management?” Then, when I write a white paper, I’d reach out to those people. And maybe I’d ask for their feedback. And maybe, if they like it, I’d ask them to tell their friends.

What if I could go further and ask, “Which connections enjoy reading CRM white papers and have recently expressed concern about their churn rates?” That’s someone I can help, and I’d want to reach out to them.

Unfortunately, much of this capability is not yet built. But the technology exists. The data exists. And, probably most importantly, your relationships exist.

And you can put the information in your organization together in a way that mirrors the Social Graph and starts to answer this kind of question. I mean the kind of question that will help you better understand your prospect and help you to add value to their business.

This is, I believe, the next step in sales and marketing evolution.

Tell me what you think it would take to put those together and start asking questions that lead to you adding value for your prospects.

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