Data is important. Having the right data can define the success of a marketing campaign. But all the data in the world means nothing if it’s not used appropriately. Not sure what that means? Look to your customers.

Today, more than ever, consumers are creating vast amount of data to enable brands – ideally, brands that matter most to them – to deliver valuable information, products, and services. By offering this data, consumers are effectively saying, “Learn about me, my needs, and my wants, then present me with something of value.” Easy enough, right?

Sort of.

This new and growing pile of data is also making it easy for companies to lose focus by over-mining and, as a result, getting lost in the data itself while failing to understand what their customers really want. At the March 2017 National Conference for Catalogers and Etailers, hosted by the National Etailing & Mailing Organization of America (NEMOA), the importance of the customer was central to the discussion, and we identified three primary components to help ensure the customer is driving your marketing efforts.

1. Meaningful Outreach

Most brands look at their customer data to expand their reach, but there aren’t enough brands attempting to define their prospecting outreach in a meaningful, beyond-the-numbers way. Often, high-level metrics are used to define an audience, but this ignores the nuance of the customer. In other words, higher conversion rates come from targeting on a deeper level, not casting a broader net.

The first step to better understanding your customers, current and potential, is integrating all customer data across your organization. From there, you need to understand who your prospects are, why you want to communicate with them, how this communication needs to occur, and when it should happen. For various reasons, including an increase in both technology and customer knowledge, the purchase path is no longer linear. Rather than getting customers straight from A to Z, you have to prepare for a cyclical experience, making the why and when especially important.

2. Embrace all Channels

 We know what you’re thinking: “I’m an ecommerce company, so I can’t live offline.” It’s easy to get caught in that trap, but it’s exactly that: A trap. Remember when we said how is a critical aspect of meaningful delivery? Good. This isn’t about your company or where you exist, it’s about your customers and where they exist as consumers, where and how they want to interact with your brand. Learn about your customer, then let the data drive your media.

It’s dangerous to write-off channels because you have preconceived notions of effectiveness or because efforts failed in the past. For example, we’ve seen digital brands find success with direct mail – an often overlooked channel that will soon have a resurgence thanks to technology and analytics – focused on ecommerce traffic. Simply put, there’s not a one size fits all approach, which brings us to the third aspect of remaining customer focused.

3. Test, Test, Test. Then Test Again.

There are two types of data: The data that helps you launch a campaign and the data you gather from the campaign itself. That said, don’t be afraid to experiment. Even if the campaign isn’t as fruitful as you might hope, you can gain a lot of information regarding the channel, the cadence of delivery and your customers. You can learn a lot from failure and, depending on perspective, can learn to see those failures as successes. If you remain agile and flexible, the data that results from testing can help you pinpoint the shortest path to success.

The overarching theme to all of this is the critical role of the customer. Despite prospects being the main focus of your marketing efforts, it’s easy to overlook their importance when crafting a message and delivering it appropriately. However, today’s consumer wants to be dealt with differently and the only way to understand what “different” really means is to understand the customer him/herself. By focusing on creating more value for your prospects through meaningful outreach, a multichannel mix (yes, including print) and a willingness to experiment and learn, you can jump ahead of the competition to resonate with your audience and prove that you know both your products and the people who buy them.