Thoughts on Decoding the Digital Consumer

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 | 10:35 AM

Next Monday I’m speaking on a panel at the NYT Small Business Summit. The theme of the panel is ‘Decoding the New Digital Consumer’ and since I know you can’t all be in New York, I wanted to share a few thoughts more widely.

We all know that online technologies have completely changed the way we find information. If I wanted to buy a new bike, for example, I’d visit a search engine to research my options and scour websites to educate myself on specific models. I might event visit YouTube to see bikes in action or check Twitter to see the latest announcements from certain bike manufacturers. When it’s time for a test ride, I would likely look up locations of stores and more information on my mobile device.

As a digital customer, I have endless ways to access information. And as a small business owner, you have more options than ever to reach me when I’m looking for your product or service. More options can also mean more effort. Here are some tips for understanding and engaging online customers:

  • Research your company. The first thing I tell any small business owner is to research your company online (yes, Google yourself! And also search on YouTube and Twitter...) to see where your customers are engaging with your brand. What are people saying about your company and where are they engaging on the web?
  • Go local. One out of every five searches on is location-based. Verify your business address on Google Places so you can appear on and Google Maps. With Places, you’ll receive a monthly email with insights on how customers are interacting with your page.
  • Talk to your customers. For businesses that fit well with two-way engagement (tip: not all do!), Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all great channels for social interaction. You can ask for feedback, promote special offers to loyal customers, and even provide product education for zero to little cost BUT a significant effort can be required.
  • Measure your efforts. Use a web analytics tool such as Google Analytics to understand your customers. With a simple piece of code, Analytics allows you to see which sites or search engines your customers visited before they arrived at your site. You can also see aggregated information on your customers’ geographic locations. So, for example, if you see a lot of visits coming from a certain city or state, you can target online ads to that region or make a special call out to these folks on your social media channels.
The online world has really leveled the playing field. Now, small business owners can reach customers they would not have acquired when marketing was limited to expensive TV and print ad campaigns. I encourage you to spend time researching your online customers and some of you should consider building and interacting with an online community of customers and prospects. Without even spending a dime, you can build an online presence and potentially expand your customer base and your business.

Posted by: Claire Johnson, VP of Online Sales