What Nuances Are You Missing With Big Data Segmentation?

Courtney Ackerman, 84.51°
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Key Takeaways

​What? Big Data can be enhanced with thick data, which is collected by speaking with consumers one-on-one.

So what? Big Data runs the risk of putting some consumers in the wrong categories and can fail to notice nuances.

Now what? Use thick data to better frame and personalize messages to the consumer, moving beyond predicting behavior to understanding why they buy.

​Aug. 16, 2017

Understanding customer motivation, beyond survey and purchase data, means swimming in the thick data that exists from talking with consumers one-on-one

I’ve had the luxury in my career to always have a strong set of customer data to build a 360-degree view of customers’ lives. In the agency world, we leveraged third parties who surveyed demographics to psychographics, clickstream to credit card data and more. This produced a robust persona to inform an effective media plan grounded in data.

As I now sit in the shopper marketing world, we can break purchase behavior down by a number of factors: segment, product, store, coupon behavior, digital engagement, etc. These data points provide key opportunities for personalizing communications to the customer for the things they buy. We can predict purchase behavior, but do we really know the “why” behind the buy?

Recently I had the opportunity talk to individual customers in their homes and as they shopped. Before meeting them, we pulled their data, looked at their purchase behavior and thought we knew a lot about them; however, talking with them and learning about their lives uncovered insights that help us not just communicate to customers about what they buy, but frame the message in the appropriate way to create more meaning for them. In my time with customers, I gleaned learnings to enhance how we think about using Big Data in the shopper world.

Think Beyond Segmentation

Picture this grocery cart: Macaroni and cheese, Lucky Charms, milk, bananas, pasta, fruit snacks, Gatorade. Feels like a quick family trip where the kids influenced the purchase decisions, right? Wrong. This was a young male customer with nostalgia for the brands he grew up with and still eats today. While his purchase behavior may have placed him in a family-focused shopper segment, he is actually just buying what he likes. If we were to communicate to this customer with a message focused on family, it would be a major miss and not at all relevant to him.

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No two fish in the sea are the same. Consider two moms profiled as high-income, married with children and produce buyers. One is willing to shop multiple stores to get the produce the way she wants it, and she knows which stores carry her preferred type of fruit. The second just wants to go to her primary store and see the selection she needs in stock. While these two moms appear similar on paper, their habits for buying produce are very different. Each would respond differently to messaging about produce overall vs. specific types of produce available.

Understand their motivations. Trying to eat healthy is on everyone’s mind these days, but the definition of healthy varies widely across customers. A busy mom who needs to rush home from work and get a healthy dinner on the table for her son struggles with what to buy for convenience. She goes to the organic frozen section and picks up the “healthy” macaroni and cheese to fill this need during the week. Compare this household to a single man who cooks a minimal amount but wants to eat well. He buys soups and adds frozen vegetables for a healthy meal. He stocks up on organic blend juice drinks to have a healthy snack on the go. He isn’t buying a ton of produce items, but would respond well to messaging about leading a healthy lifestyle.

These three cases show the benefits of adding thick data to a pool of Big Data stats. To know our customers better than anyone else means talking to them and understanding them in ways that allow us to communicate with them differently—as individuals. Some of these insights will bubble up to mass communication opportunities. For example, the new TV spot “going on a Target run,” showcases four different kinds of milk in the basket, based on individual family preferences for milk (almond milk, soy milk, skim milk, organic milk). It could also mean personalized messages to each customer; knowing they are struggling to balance healthy options and convenience all in one. 


 Target Run 2017 Milk


At the end of the day, customers are looking for solutions whether based on health, convenience or savings, and want to feel like a winner when engaging with retailers and brands. We need to understand the motivation that makes them feel like a champion so they can go about their lives with ease and appreciate the messages marketers put in front of them. That means getting to know your customers beyond survey and purchase data and swimming in the thick data that exists from taking the time to talk to them one-on-one.

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Author Bio:

Courtney Ackerman, 84.51°
Courtney Ackerman is media strategy director at 84.51°, where she focuses on optimizing customer communication strategies to solidify Kroger’s relationship with their best customers and define future media offerings to make customers' lives easier. Ackerman has spent her career in advertising and marketing working in client service and media strategy roles.
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