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Say What? For Small Business Owners, Comments Matter More Than Clicks


Say What? For Small Business Owners, Comments Matter More Than Clicks had the honor of sitting down with Tal Koutnouyan, one of the world’s most prestigious thought leaders in the analytics space. Her innovative analytics methodologies have led to millions of dollars in revenue for household name brands like Xbox, Facebook, and more. Today, she serves as the VP of Strategy and Analytics for Influential, an influencer marketing agency.

For small and mid-sized business marketing, click-through rates (CTR) don’t matter. Neither do the number of likes or engagements on your social posts.

We’ll wait while you read that again.

This isn’t just some half-baked attempt at clickbait. HTB sat down with Talin Koutnouyan, a marketing, analytics, strategy, creative, and data science guru whose mind-bending, forward-thinking insights on audience segmentation will completely change the way you develop your next marketing plan.

“I feel that [small businesses] get more value by being qualitatively tapped into the data rather than quantitatively,” Talin said. “Instead of being ultra-focused on the numbers, just be focused on the type of feedback and the types of questions and comments that you’re getting from the market.”

In other words, tap into what your customer service teams are discussing with customers most often and pay attention to what your followers on social media are saying — not how many of them say it.

Audience, creative, and reach
Currently the VP of Strategy and Analytics at Influential, Talin works with Fortune 500 companies to optimize their marketing plans, especially when it comes to influencers. Her focus is on three main areas:

  • First, helping brands figure out who the right audience is, “Because every brand has a limitation in terms of the number of people that they can go after,” Talin said. “Their resources aren’t unlimited, so I help them find the bullseye.”
  • Next, developing creative (a marketing campaign’s imagery and messaging) that has a voice and tone that will resonate with the target audience.
  • Finally, creating a media plan (for when and where that campaign will be published online) that ensures the creative actually reaches its intended audience, whether that’s paid media, retargeting, social media or some other channel. “Essentially, it’s trying to de-risk their marketing investment dollars as much as we can to drive higher ROI,” she said.

But wait, you say. This website is for small and mid-sized businesses.

“You have more in common with the Bigs than you think,” said Talin, who also consults for smaller organizations. “If you think about the common challenge that most businesses face, it’s revenue.” (Revenue is a metric that tells the story of the number of customers you have, how often they buy, and how much they spend.)

And while this happens on a bigger scale at a Fortune 500, it also happens at a startup. Whether you have 5,000 employees or five, Talin sees three things in common:

  • Getting enough customers
  • Keeping them
  • Getting them to spend more

Psychographics are the new demographics
Xbox was launching a new-generation console and a roster of new games to go with it. But they didn’t corner the market because Nintendo had just released the Switch, which was enthralling a younger generation of gamers. Their goal was to make sure their upcoming ad spend was driving results with gamers.

A marketer’s traditional first thought might be, well, let’s find out who these gamers are — age, location, income, education, and all the other demographics. But Talin had a different idea: How do these gamers think, feel, and believe?

At the time, IBM Watson had just opened up its code for everyone to use, so she took all the textual data she could find (comments, questions, reviews, etc.) going back five years and fed it into the system. (Think of it as analytics with a side of machine learning and data science.) What she got back was a terabyte of data that grouped gamers by psychographics.

“Everyone that’s human has a personality,” she said. “We have needs, we have wants, and we have things that motivate us.”

And, since most people choose to share what’s important to them on their social channels, analyzing 12 months of posts can create an accurate picture of who they are and how they portray themselves to the world.

“If they keep talking about their family, for example, you could assume that bonding was important to them,” Talin said.

What did she discover? There are 12 different segments of gamers, including:

  • those who put a lot of stock into tech specifications of their console because they want to be able to achieve,
  • those who want to play games that are as close to reality as possible,
  • those who don’t care what they’re playing because they just see it as a way to bond with friends and family, and
  • those who want to isolate themselves and do all the things they can’t do in real life.

It changed everything about the way her team targeted their audiences and developed their creative. “To try to resonate with gamers and make them feel seen and heard is going to be very different across the different segments,” she said. “To make them say ‘Oh yeah, Xbox gets me.’”

Their marketing campaign, based on this type of segmentation, created 25x ROI. (For every $1 million they spent on ads, they generated $25 million in sales!) And the results continued to exceed benchmarks even when they expanded to an audience beyond just gamers.

Today, thanks to advances in machine learning, this type of clustering can be done automatically. But the concept remains the same – divide audiences by who they are, not what they are.

Talin’s framework turns traditional analytics on its head, and if you ask her, that’s a good thing. “Analytics platforms don’t always deliver data that matters. They just deliver data that’s easy to measure.”

How can small and mid-sized businesses benefit?
With all of this information in hand, Talin has created a three-part, psychographic-based marketing roadmap for early and growth-stage companies to follow. Here’s how it goes:

Step 1: Excavation

Gleaning audience insights: You may not have the same level of access and the same tools as a Fortune 500 company, but you should still be able to answer four questions about your business:

  • Who’s your audience?
  • What do they care about?
  • What do they already know about your product or service?
  • What do they want to know?
  • Bonus questions for overachievers: What’s the mindset of my audience? How do they feel about the thing I’m trying to sell?

Real-life example: Talin once needed a freelance video editor, but worried that finding and supervising this person would require a tremendous amount of oversight and time. She was hesitant. But then she found a freelancer who understood the mindset of busy business people and addressed all of her questions up-front on their website, including a breakdown of how the process worked and how long it would take.

Understand your audience’s level of knowledge: What do they already know about the product or service you’re trying to sell? This is especially important in the B2B space, where many products require some level of education.

Real-life example: There’s a new type of toothpaste on the market called nano hydroxyapatite toothpaste, and it’s fluoride-free. But we’ve been told our entire lives that toothpaste should have fluoride in it, so the product is going to have to educate us on why we suddenly don’t.

What are your audience’s expectations? What they consider valuable can be very different from what you, as a business owner, do. Do they like to be educated through entertainment? Are they a “just the facts” kind of crowd? It’s important to understand how they expect to be approached.

The good news is that small and mid-sized businesses don’t need fancy, expensive data tools to be able to answer these questions. They can become clear over time, or you can glean them through trial and error. For example, posting content on social media to see what gets people talking, or making sure that you have a feedback loop (and checking it regularly, especially from a customer-service aspect)

“You want to make noise and then listen for a signal,” Talin said. “Customer service holds the key to understanding some of this stuff.

Step 2: Strategy and Planning

Choose your media channels: Once you know your audience it’s time to create a plan for how to go to market. This includes understanding the media channels you want to use to reach them, and how you want to prioritize your budget. “You have to be able to say, as a small business owner I can’t be across all media channels,” Talin said. “I’m going to pick one or two where I feel like it’s sustainable for me to maintain consistency.”

In practice, this looks like sharing various types of posts and experimenting with content to see what entices your customers the most (make noise, then look for signals). Collect all of the information you can, and if a post really bombs – try something else.

Develop your creative: “Which is a fancy way of saying ‘Find 100 ways to say the same thing’,” Talin said. “There’s no silver bullet to content because different things resonate with different people. Her advice? Make some content that’s data-heavy, some that’s story-heavy, and some that’s very simple and straightforward.

Real-life example: The personal development industry is a $43 billion industry. If you first look at what the OG life coach Tony Robbins says, and then look at what other people say, you’ll discover that they’re all saying the same thing – just in a different way.

Create a phased timeline: Too many posts and customers feel spammed, too few and you may end up out of sight, out of mind. Create a plan for the entire year that includes a publishing schedule and remember that you’re not the only priority for your consumers. “No one’s on their phone or laptop just waiting for you to put content out so they can buy from you,” Talin said.

Step 3: Analysis

This brings us full-circle, to the whole idea of ignoring your CTR.

“I don’t normally recommend that (small business owners) focus on how many likes they got or how many engagements, especially to start,” Talin said. “That could be very demoralizing, and the goal is to help them to be consistent in a sustainable way for as long as possible, because that’s how they achieve breakthrough.”

What she recommends instead is to pay close attention to the type of feedback and questions that you’re getting from the market. If you’re getting a lot of comments or a lot of emails, Talin considers that a win because it means that the audience is curious and leaning in. The same goes for customer service – what are people saying from a product and service standpoint that you can learn from?

“I know it sounds counterintuitive,” she said “But that’s what I’ve seen work really well for small and mid-sized business owners.”

To learn more about how Talin uses data to shape her world, watch her Tedx Talk.

I feel that [small businesses] get more value by being qualitatively tapped into the data rather than quantitatively.

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