How to utilise audience data (featuring Netflix’s Stranger Things)

If you’ve read any article or blog recently which predicts the ‘big trends for 2018, you’ll have noticed that in one way or another ‘audience data’ features on almost every list.

Put simply, data is almost certainly going to be the biggest ‘trend’ of the year ahead, with many brands and businesses looking to make use of their audience information to drive forward marketing strategies and website offerings.

However, it can be difficult for brands and businesses to know exactly what we mean when we refer to audience data, and it can sometimes seem impossible to comprehend how we can plan an entire website build or marketing strategy based upon the information we have about users. Hopefully, we can help!

Utilising audience data

To begin with, what do we mean when we talk about data? Quite often, marketing specialists and data analysts overcomplicate what data actually means for most brands on a day to day basis.

At its most basic level, data refers to the sensitive contact details such as a user’s email address, or phone number. This data is becoming increasingly regulated (with the GDPR on the horizon) to protect users, and to prevent companies from abusing this data.

Beyond this, however, there is data which marketers should use on a day to day basis to inform their work. For example, audience demographic understanding such as age, gender, and geographical location, or even the type of device your customers are using. Information such as this is readily available on platforms such as Google Analytics, or Google Search Console.

In fact, both of these systems are now pretty much standard for almost every website, and chances are this will be on your website, even if you don’t know about it. In essence, this means that every time a user visits your website, Google Analytics will collect information about who that user is, what device they’re on, which browser they’re using, what they searched to find your website, which pages they visit the most, and when they’re most likely to leave your site.

audience data GDPR compliant

Audience segmentation

Of course, with Google being Google, all of this information is segmentable, and custom reports can be created to understand your audience. For example, if you wanted to know which users were most likely to purchase from your site on a Tuesday at 3pm, Google will tell you. If you want to know if males over 55 on an iPad are more likely to purchase than a female under 24 on her mobile, Google Analytics can tell you. You can even see data on how long it will take people to convert (take an action on your site, such as purchasing or getting in touch), and with the latest Google Analytics update, you’ll be able to see the probability that one user-type will convert over another. So, if you’re unsure as to whether or not you should be marketing your website to males on iPhones, or on a Samsung Galaxy, Google will be able to tell you which has the higher probability to convert.

Whilst Google tries to provide as much data as possible to brands and businesses, this does often have the effect of seeming entirely overwhelming. Quite often, brands choose to overlook their audience data because processing, understanding, and drawing conclusions out from data can seem something of a minefield, and the cost of hiring a data analyst or strategist is pretty hefty. However, as a data analyst, I really can’t do enough to highlight the value of the data available to you on who your customers are, how they behave online, and how you can best position your business online to appeal to them.

Although there are a number of benefits from utilising data within your marketing strategy or website optimisation campaign, we’ve tried to boil this down to the two most important:

  • It simply isn’t enough to execute a marketing campaign or website build based upon long-held assumptions in 2018, and expect success. Take it from us, the very best websites and digital marketing campaigns within your industry will be founded upon a comprehensive understanding of the audience they’re marketing to.
  • Data ensures your brand can be there for the right users, in the right place, at the right time. There are actually two benefits here really. Firstly, by creating a profile of your most engaged users with the highest probability of converting,  you get to connect with the customers your business cares about most. Secondly, though, it can also serve as an opportunity to drive efficiencies and avoid any wasted advertising spend on markets with a lower probability to purchase.

Let’s consider then, how those two advantages alone would help us given the context of the digital market in 2018.

big trends for 2018If you’re still not sold on data, how about an example?

audience data

You’ve heard of the Netflix show Stranger Things, right? Of course, you have, it was watched by almost 16 million people within its first three days. Hell, almost 400,000 of us (myself included, sadly) streamed the full series within a day. Now, here’s the question – do you ever remember seeing an advert for it? No? Not even one in between the football? Oh, actually, you heard about the show from a friend didn’t you? That’s because Netflix utilised its audience data to create a marketing campaign straight out of the upside down (sorry, that’s a show-joke, please ignore).

Netflix knows what content you like to watch, and when you like to watch it. It knows the time at which you’re most likely to binge a box set and the time at which you’re probably pausing to go and make a brew. Importantly, Netflix will also know if you’re a person who’s ahead of the trend, or if you’re the kind of person who watches shows based upon what you hear from Anna in Marketing three weeks after they’re released.

The result – Netflix managed to use its users as advertising. By pushing the show heavily upon users who were most likely to try something new, and influence others, they ensured that you didn’t hear about the show from a billboard, or a Twitter ad, but rather from a friend or member of your family, whose opinion you trust way more.

If Netflix had promoted the show through scaled advertising, it wouldn’t have had the same buy-in and cult-sentiment that it ended up having. More importantly, however, if Netflix had pushed the show on the wrong people, at the wrong time, they wouldn’t have had a show that had 1m more viewers than the season finale of Game of Thrones (and think about how much they spend on advertising). It was only by fully understanding its audience through data, and marketing appropriately, that Netflix was able to make Stranger Things the success that it was.

Whilst Stranger Things is obviously a fantastic example, it is completely at the ‘huge multinational’ end of the scale of utilising audience data in marketing. However, the principles of what Netflix achieved were essentially the very same: understand your audience, and streamline your marketing based on this understanding.

If you’d move away from an assumption-led methodology and would like help in utilising your audience data to inform a new website build, or shape marketing activity, get in touch with our team today.


Written by David Berry

Head of Performance & Analytics