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There’s not a marketer on earth who doesn’t want to know their customers better. If you could hear directly from current and prospective customers what they care about and use those insights to deliver a better, more relevant, more personalized brand experience—who would say no to that?
Declared data—information that is explicitly volunteered by consumers to a brand—is a straightforward solution to the problem of getting to know your customers. But where marketers can get lost is in translating the possibility of declared data into a concrete strategy for collecting and activating that data.
At Jebbit, we’ve coached hundreds of brands through creating and executing their own declared data strategies. This guide is the sum of what we’ve learned over that process and what we teach in workshops with clients: everything you need to develop a declared data strategy of your own.
Want to capture your declared data strategy as you go through this guide? Download the accompanying Declared Data Strategy Template.
Chances are good that you’re starting with a handful of semi-formed ideas, but that you haven’t hit upon the one path you want to take. That’s fine—as you go through these steps, you’ll lay out a lot of possibilities, then refine and prioritize them according to what’s most feasible, what best aligns with other initiatives already in play, and what you’ll see the most value from most quickly.
Before you start diving into the details, begin with a thought exercise:
If we only knew X, we could Y.
You might come up with several right off the bat. The point of this exercise isn’t to refine the list but to jumpstart your thinking as you continue through the steps.
We often have a natural bias towards what data: what products and services people want to buy, what life stage they are in, what city they live in, etc. The demographic, behavioral, and transactional data we are most used to tends to fall into this category, so the inclination is only natural.
As you consider what you could do with better information about your prospects and customers, don’t neglect why data, the emotional factors that underlie their buying decisions. A consumer’s preferences, aspirations, desires, and motivations can all influence your marketing strategy—and it’s likely information that you don’t already have, or can only guess at.
It may seem counterintuitive to start with identifying the audience you want to reach rather than the information you want to collect, but identifying an audience allows you to build a framework for prioritizing that information. The field of declared data you could possibly collect is incredibly wide; mapping that data back to an audience segment will allow you to narrow the field quickly and effectively.
The primary decision to make about your audience is whether you want to know more about a known group—meaning you can tie the information you learn to an existing profile—or an unknown group that you have not previously learned any information about. This decision will influence how you collect the information and how you plan to activate it once you have it.
Beyond the basic division of known versus unknown, how you segment your audience will likely vary depending on your industry and business model. Because you are selecting an audience in order to determine what kinds of information you might want to collect about them, consider segmenting by stage of the buyer’s journey rather than by buyer persona or demographic data, as you might for other marketing initiatives.
For example, within unknown audiences, you may differentiate between unknown audience that you are reaching via paid media and an unknown audience that is visiting your site for the first time. Neither group would have existing profiles, since this is your first time collecting information about them, but a totally cold audience versus one that has actively sought to interact with your brand will have different agendas and potentially yield different information. Similarly, you might segment known audiences into prospective customers, new customers, repeat customers, lapsed customers, subscribers, loyalty members, or more, depending on what makes sense for your specific business.
You might find that you have quite a few potential audiences when you begin segmenting according to your buyer’s journey. Eventually, you’ll want to choose just one audience to focus on, with two or three in reserve as you iterate upon your declared data strategy in the future.
For now, try to narrow the field as much as you can. You’ll want to focus on audiences where:
Once you have your shorter list, you’ll want to complete the remaining steps to the declared data strategy separately for each audience.
Now for the fun part—the declared data! Within the context of the audience you’ve identified, ask yourself: What do I want to know about them? Your initial brainstorm exercise should get you going, but don’t stop there. This step is an opportunity to put a lot of ideas on the table, without worrying about prioritizing them yet.
You almost certainly already have consumer data—but you may not have full confidence in the information you have. After all, data goes stale over time, and many times it is based on inferences from behavior that may or may not be correct. Ask yourself what data you already collect that you would validate directly from the consumer if you had the opportunity.
Next, consider what additional information you would want in order to have a better picture of the consumer. One of declared data’s strengths is its ability to add context that is lacking from other types of data. For instance, you might know that a repeat customer has purchased women’s running gear on several occasions, but you may also want to know whether she is shopping for herself or a loved one, whether she’s an avid runner or someone who just likes to wear athleisure, or what her fitness goals are.
You could easily be looking at a brainstorm of 20 attributes you’d like to know about your customers. While all of them are valuable, you won’t be able to collect them all in a single interaction without turning off the consumer, so you’ll need to focus on what’s most important.
To prioritize, try mapping your list on a two-by-two grid. On one axis, consider high versus low business impact—what could you derive the most value from, and what’s more, what would cause brand harm to get wrong? On the other, consider the effort it will take to use that data—in other words, can you begin getting value from that data right away, or will you have to wait while you coordinate with other teams and create integrations first?
From this grid, you’ll want to select three to five declared data points to focus on initially that are high value but low effort. Don’t throw away the rest of your brainstorm! The higher-effort data points can come into play in future iterations of your declared data strategy.
It should go without saying that the only reason to collect declared data is if it creates value. The question is, how?
In this step, you’ll identify how you’ll use the declared data you capture to create value for the consumer and for your brand.
Jebbit’s research into brand trust and consumer data uncovered that consumers consider a fair value exchange to be the main driver for trusting a brand with their personal information. For this reason, we advise that brands create a clear connection between the information that a consumer has shared and a differentiated brand experience as soon as possible. This could take many forms, including pointing consumers towards personalized product or content recommendations or following up via email with personalized offers.
These activations create value for the consumer in the moment, but you should also consider how you’ll continue to use the data over time as you build out a more complete profile. What can you do on an ongoing basis to create a differentiated brand experience and grow an individual consumer’s lifetime value?
As you plan your data activation, do a quick survey of what marketing initiatives are already on the table that you can piggy-back on or enhance through declared data. For example, if you’re already planning a back-to-school campaign, could you use the information you are gathering to validate and enhance your email segmentation, perhaps sending shoppers personalized product recommendations based on their self-identified wants and needs?
Particularly if you’ll need to work cross-functionally to bring your data activation to fruition, you’ll have an easier time getting buy-in and a shorter run-time to launch if you can integrate it with an initiative that is currently in play.
We typically discuss declared data on an individual level—how can we better understand a single consumer and provide him or her a personalized experience?—but don’t discount the value of audience-level insights. In fact, one of the fastest ways to see value from a declared data strategy is to consider the data in aggregate for market research, particularly if you don’t yet have the integrations set up to activate the data you’re collecting on a one-to-one basis.
The way to get declared data is to ask—which means that you’ll need to get creative in developing opportunities for consumers to tell you about themselves. Jebbit’s preferred method is to create interactive content through which consumers can offer information to brands, but within that framework is a multitude of possibilities.
To unlock the declared data you identified as priorities, you’ll want to plan a handful of content initiatives through which you can ask for that information.
No one is inclined to offer up personal information without knowing that they’ll receive some benefit out of it (a fact that explains the abysmally low response rate to most surveys). As you plan your content initiatives, always put it through the test of whether it offers the consumer something of value in exchange for their information.
The classic answer to this challenge is to offer some kind of monetary incentive, like a discount, entry into a sweepstakes, or member rewards. While an incentive can be worthwhile to increase response rates, it’s worth considering whether the incentive might actually incentivize false responses just so the consumer can unlock the reward at the end.
You can get around this by building something of value into the experience itself that gives people a reason to answer truthfully. Many times, it’s sheer entertainment value (personality quizzes, for example), but it could also be more practical. A shopper who is pressed for time will share their needs and preferences if the outcome is curated product recommendations. A buyer overwhelmed by a complicated purchase will share life-stage data and other qualifiers if it directs them towards the right solution for them. Someone seeking a brick-and-mortar location will share their location and information about their next purchase if doing so uncovers the nearest location that has the department or services they need.
Once again, it’s useful to look at the marketing themes and initiatives that are already in play so that you don’t have to start completely from scratch in planning your content. Building hype around a new collection? That’s a perfect fit for an interactive lookbook. Developing new resources to help customers get the most out of your products and services? Turn them into interactive editorial content so you can embed declared data questions in the experience. Start with the events already on your calendar and work backwards to turn that pre-built engagement into an opportunity to ask for information.
But just because the calendar is a great starting place doesn’t mean you need to be beholden to it. Consider also whether you have opportunities to produce evergreen content that is always relevant. This will most likely be the case if you are dealing with an unknown audience at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, or if you have an existing evergreen nurture flow that the majority of your audience passes through.
Once you know what messages and content types will uncover the declared data you are looking for, it’s time to decide where you’ll put it. Go back to the audience you’re speaking to—what are the channels you’re already reaching them through? Depending on your audience, this can vary widely: email, social, paid display, owned web, in app, even in person at a retail location or live event. Select the channels where you most expect to see engagement with this particular audience to launch your content and collect declared data.
The previous steps cover everything that you need to put your initial declared data strategy in place—but to continue to iterate upon and improve your declared data strategy, you’ll need to measure your progress.
The first half of what you’ll want to measure has to do with how well you are collecting declared data. Select a handful of metrics that will show you how successful your content initiatives are and allow you to pinpoint areas for improvement. These are likely to include engagement rates, completion rates, data capture rates, and lead capture rates.
The second half of what you’ll want to measure has to do with how well you are creating value from the data you’ve captured. While the leading KPIs of the launch metrics are apparent shortly after launching an experience, these lagging KPIs may take several months to materialize, depending on how you intend to activate your data.
Similarly, while leading KPIs will often be the same across declared data strategies, activation metrics will vary depending on your data activation plans. The ultimate goal will probably be an increase in lifetime value, but under this umbrella you may also track metrics like incremental revenue, basket size, trips, loyalty member sign-ups, and more. Select a handful of metrics that will best illuminate the progress of your specific declared data activation plans.
If at the beginning of this strategic planning exercise you selected multiple potential audiences, you’ll have gone through the subsequent steps for each audience and created a plan for each that includes data priorities, activation plans, content initiatives, and metrics. Prioritize this list according to what will have the most business impact and what you are best able to execute on.
From here, your last planning step is to map your content calendar: What content initiatives will launch when, and on what channels? What data will they collect, and what teams need to be involved?
At this point, you’re poised for success and ready to put your plan into action!
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