Digital tracking, combined with other methods, can provide deep insights into not just what consumers are doing, but how, when and why they’re doing it.

Tsahi Ben Yosef, vice president of digital products, Toluna

Tsahi Ben Yosef, vice president of digital products, Toluna

Let’s say you’re a large global consumer packaged goods company looking to understand how consumers shop online for groceries. You’d ideally conduct a study, asking consumers a number of key questions, like how many times a day they purchase, where and why.  While they might make every effort to recount their online shopping history, it would be nearly impossible to be 100 percent accurate, (Think about it: Do you know exactly what you were doing and how you shopped?), or as deep as it might be if you layered in observed/behavioral data (You purchased diapers in addition to kids cereal, but from two different websites).

This is where behavioral data gathered through digital tracking can fill in the gaps, offering a much deeper picture that can be used to provide a higher degree of certainty to brand marketers before they shell out uncounted millions on a marketing campaign.

Digital tracking provides a precise record of what a consumer is doing at any given moment.

Digital tracking provides behavioral data which helps companies optimize their marketing channels, reduce costs, and increase ROI by understanding where consumers are online and uncover inefficiencies or new opportunities.  Digital tracking is ideal to help brands understand path-to-purchase (the consumers’ online journey), deepen consumer profiles that can inform segmentation, and help better understand the competitive landscape. My company, Toluna, tracks the online activity of a panel of consumers who agree to participate, as do some other companies.

Recording a Consumer’s Journey in the Real and Digital World

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Digital tracking provides a precise record of what a consumer is doing at any given moment, rather than a close approximation. In the case of the grocery shoppers study, marketers could follow study subjects from the real to the digital world and back again, gaining a clear understanding of touchpoints and brand awareness along the way.

Advanced tracking technology allows a marketing team to track a target population’s online search activity, e-commerce website activity, and shopping cart activity, in the process creating a comprehensive online journey enabling them to better understand how, when and why consumers purchased their product or a competitors. This can be an invaluable ally in determining how to use digital marketing spend.

Now let’s imagine the same consumer packaged goods company noted above successfully launched their new shopping portal, and now wanted to increase online revenue among the specific target of primary grocery shoppers who are 25 to 35 years old. By gaining a clearer understanding of their target segment overall, in addition to their online behavior—both within their platform and competitors’ websites—they can develop a cohesive digital marketing strategy to reach these customers when and where they spend their time online, with content and promotions best suited to trigger a purchase. Following the study, marketers were able to create a roadmap of the route consumers took that led to a purchase. Their digital strategies and spend were tailored as a result, which led to an increase in e-commerce sales.

Here’s an interesting note: Subjects in behavioral studies have often reported they found digital tracking much less intrusive in their lives than keeping track of their own actions. For example, rather than having to note and describe every time they shop online, a subject in a tracking study could let the technology do the work. It is then up to researchers to determine exactly what a subject was doing, make the appropriate inferences about buying behavior and use them as the basis of a marketing campaign.

Part of the New Insights Continuum – Infused Throughout

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It’s important to note that digital tracking and the resulting behavioral data are part of a continuum in next-generation insight gathering—even in cases where companies have access to behavioral data. In another example, the largest publisher of travel deals wanted to understand actions of its online users: browsers vs. buyers. In particular, they wanted to understand behavior outside of their control. This insight would give the company a more comprehensive view of consumers, and help with direction of web design and messaging.

This project collected behavioral data to understand how customers could be segmented, using not only data collected from their own website’s platform but from competing platforms. As a result of the findings, segments were developed based on the frequency of travel and which devices were used during the three stages of the travel planning process.

In addition to finding out the preferred device for travel planning, they also discovered a surprising parallel activity. While planning trips, consumers also viewed fantasy trips. Survey research was used to better understand consumers’ motivation for doing so, and largely leveraged the behavioral data captured using digital tracking to more aptly inform the study design, and respondent selection.  Armed with this new information, the company both optimized their web design and enhanced messaging and offers.

In this example, as is often the case, digital tracking was used as part of a blended approach.

Typically, researchers now use mixed methodologies (or an all-in-one insights platform) to gain a complete picture of consumer behavior. And, while digital tracking is generally just one component of a complete solution, more and more often it is becoming an crucial part of the whole.

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Toluna’s QuickSurveys allow companies to survey a panel of 21 million global consumers and receive results in 24 hours or less.