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How To Identify And Track Customer Buying Patterns Over Time

In Part 3 of our series on marketing campaign preparation, I’ll reveal the third and final question you need to ask yourself before launching a new campaign. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, here’s a quick recap:

The first question you should ask yourself before beginning any marketing campaign is “Who is my customer?” The answer to that question should be based on hard data, and it should include things like age, marital status, education, location, income, and buying habits.

The second question you should ask yourself is “What are my customers buying?” You need to know who’s buying what so you can develop effective marketing communications that speak to customers in the right way, at the right time.

The Third Question

The third question you should ask before starting a new campaign is “How is my customer’s purchasing behavior changing over time?” Knowing who is buying what is not enough. You also have to account for market fluctuations, changes in buying preferences, and changes in buying habits.

Tracking your customers’ buying habits and looking at how those habits change over time, should be built into your weekly marketing tasks. Some businesses may need to track changing habits even more frequently. Think of a grocery store, for instance. Seasonal items are constantly changing, people are constantly shopping, and a variety of events – from a holiday to the fact that it’s Friday night – have a huge impact on what people buy.

Other businesses may not need to monitor changes as regularly. Think of a clothing store or a furniture retailer (like office monster, for example) that sells furniture for office purposes only. Since most people don’t buy clothing or office furniture every day, or even every week, tracking changes on a monthly basis will suffice. However, it’s still important to look at trends in your sales each and every week, regardless of your industry because each day you could be acquainted with new customers.

How to Identify and Track Buying Patterns Over Time

1. Get the right tools

Make sure your data is organized and centrally located so you can get an accurate snapshot of customer buying patterns over time.

You’ll begin by opening a window in your database and creating a query.

2. Ask the right questions

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The first query you create should be simple. Let’s continue with the furniture store example from above.

You might ask “How many orders included a living room item over the past five years?”

You’re trying to find out how many orders included a piece of living room furniture 5 years ago, 4 years ago, 3 years ago, and so on. Can you spot an upward or downward trend? When does it occur?

3. Consider customer segments

Look at which customer segments were purchasing the most living room items, and in which years. Are you noticing any patterns in people’s buying habits?

4. Look at downward and upward trends

Let’s say that in looking at purchase trends across your customer segments, you notice that living room furniture purchases went down, and bedding purchases increased.

At this point, you know a lot. You know that certain customers stopped buying living room furniture, and started to buy bedding.

Next, ask yourself:

  • When did the trend start to shift downward?
  • Who was buying in year 4 that wasn’t buying in year 5?
  • Does this trend apply to all customers, or only certain segments?

5. Look for patterns

Look for patterns and trends in the data. You’ll discover which customers are responsible for growth, what they’re buying, and what they’re likely to buy next.

If you notice that 44 year-old single moms stopped buying living room furniture and started buying bedding, you can compare similar purchases from the past to see what they’re likely to buy next.

Keep getting more and more detailed with your questions until you see a pattern that makes sense. Next, share the trend with your team. Once you have a discernible trend, you can make smart choices about what action to take next, and incorporate what you know into your next marketing campaign.

Food for Thought: Sundried Tomato Pesto

I miss red ripe luscious tomatoes in the winter in Chicago. If I absolutely cannot stand it, I’ll buy a hothouse tomato in the winter to use in a recipe. However, I’ve found sundried tomatoes to be an excellent alternative during the winter.

When it comes to tomatoes and marketing campaigns, timing is everything. In the same way that the season can predict whether or not I’ll buy fresh tomatoes, time sensitive predictors can be used to forecast how your customers’ buying habits will change over time. Moving beyond who and what, and including when and why customers are likely to buy, will greatly improve your marketing communications.

In addition to using sundried tomatoes, I’m also discovering that you can make pesto out of ANYTHING! Here is a recipe for Sundried tomato pesto that goes into warm freshly cooked penne pasta with ease. Give it a try for a healthy twist on pasta dishes that usually contain creamy sauces. This recipe will make your brains fall out!

Need help answering these three crucial marketing questions before you launch your next marketing campaign? Contact Bonnie at (312) 463-1050 or by emailing us through our form.

Bonnie Massa is Founder and President of Chicago-based Massa & Company, Inc. She works with companies and nonprofits to make the best use of their information about customers, partners, donors and sponsors. With more than 40 years of experience in marketing and predictive analytics, Bonnie is passionate about helping clients make informed, data-driven decisions to increase the value of their customer base. She strongly believes that making pasta and ice cream from scratch are worth the effort, and she spends much of her free time testing and re-testing that theory.

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