Evolving the Concept of a Customer

/ / Marketing

Written by Jillian Maffeo, edited by Yifei Xu, Carol Huang

This is a recap of a FocusKPI Analytics Leadership Forum event. Join our  LinkedIn group to learn more.


Speaker: Jillian Maffeo

Jillian is an Analytics Manager at Vistaprint focusing on the enablement of Marketing channels (launching new features, building reports, consulting on vendor onboarding) and team development. Starting with a Communication & Spanish liberal arts background, she became an analyst at W.B. Mason before joining Vistaprint in 2012 where she has since worked within several departments as a Data & Analytics team member.

Setting the Stage

Vistaprint is the marketing partner to millions of small business owners around the world, empowering each one to live their dreams. For more than 20 years, Vistaprint has helped small businesses look and feel credible through high-quality marketing, including promotional products, postcards, business cards, signage, apparel, websites, and digital marketing. With Vistaprint, small businesses can create and customize their marketing with easy-to-use digital tools and design-templates, or by receiving real-time, expert graphic design support.

The company’s focus is on helping small businesses project a consistent and cohesive brand image that makes them look at their best in-store, online, on-site, and on-the-go. Design especially, plays a strong role in the customer experience, and design in many ways is tied to the purpose of a customer account (ex. saving a product design in progress, ordering logo concepts, etc.).

Customer Matrix 1.0

The original concept of a customer at Vistaprint centered on account creation; in order to purchase or receive email marketing, a customer-first needed to register. It was a norm when asked a question around “how many customers…?” to start the analysis with account holders, with the primary clarifying question being if the business wanted to know about buyers and/or non-buyers.

This approach was straightforward, most analyses were about account holders who all shared common data traits like user ids and registration dates. While nice for analysis, it could be rigid, narrowing the ways in which a customer could engage with the site. At that point if a customer wanted to receive email campaigns but wasn’t ready to create an account there was no option for them, neither could they check out as a guest.

When Normal Doesn’t Cut It

Addressing those questions was important, and features were in team backlogs, but they were slated as longer-term optimizations to the current normal experience which served many of Vistaprint’s customers well. However, as we have all learned, a pandemic often forcibly shakes the status quo, requiring new thinking to meet new needs — and fast. In this “new normal”, Vistaprint saw a gap in the market and a similar gap in its product assortment. This led to the decision to start selling masks.

Vistaprint, known for design and customization, had to weigh the importance of launching with customization on day one or adding it as a product feature. What were the trade-offs here in terms of speed and effort? How much faster could the brand launch the new product without it?

Customer Matrix 2.0

To serve customers sooner, it was decided that masks would launch with static designs, and the teams would work toward customization. However, if the custom design wasn’t a day one feature, then what about account creation? If customers weren’t saving designs they had ordered or works in progress, additional short-term effort could be saved by streamlining the cart experience, and so masks went live with guest checkout. These decisions created echoes in data, leading to a more complex concept of the matrix which had been the norm for decades. Customers could purchase and sign up for email without registering, leading to brand new customer states and identity events entering the system in novel ways.

A Hypothetical Customer Journey

Let’s follow the journey of Sasha, a hypothetical visitor to the Vistaprint website. They own a café in Ireland and decided to make social distancing posters and new take-out menus. They navigated to Vistaprint and after browsing around, they saw Vistaprint was also selling masks. Without creating an account, they purchased masks for themselves and their parents with a personal email address.

Eventually, they navigated back to start designing the products for the café and saved their progress — creating an account using their business email. While visiting their parents in the UK, they finished their design on the UK site and checked out using their registered account. A few days later, curious to learn if there are any changes to shipping and delivery processes due to the pandemic, Sasha called customer service to learn more.

As time passed, Sasha kept an eye out for how other small businesses like theirs were handling the pandemic. On a grocery run, they saw a shop offering bottles of hand sanitizer to customers and they were inspired to do the same. They searched online and figured out that Promotique (a Vistaprint sub-brand) could provide them with a branded hand sanitizer solution. Although not ready to make a purchase, they signed up for marketing emails. This is where we leave Sasha’s journey.

A “Customer” in Data

This is how Sasha looks in data. At first glance, and possibly second glance as well, it is not clear that there is one entity, one “person”, behind these rows.

However, since we know this should represent Sasha, how might an analyst go about stitching these records together?

Building a House

Householding is not a new industry concept and it is a common practice when sending direct mail campaigns. By picking customer attributes — in the case of a print campaign, “address” — and grouping those records with the same value, a company can send out only one catalog per “household”; meaning they still reach the total target population while reducing marketing costs. Think of a guardian and a student browsing a college website under different profiles, but only one viewbook being sent their shared address.

This concept can also be applied to the digital channel space. In Sasha’s case, there may be a way to tie visitor ids, emails, and other aspects of their identity within Vistaprint to create the one entity of Sasha we recognize from the previous example. However, as with any aggregation, once a “many (identities) to one (profile)” relationship exists for Sasha, more questions arise, like:

When did Sasha become a customer-first order, email sign up, account creation? Which locale should be associated with Sasha-first, most recent?

Vistaprint does not want to limit how a customer chooses to interact with its site and also wants to speak to customers in relevant and cost-effective ways. More flexible site flows combined with profiles enable this by opening the door to smarter targeting and segmentation. Thinking back on the example of Sasha, individual aspects of their identity could be classified as making primarily “business” transactions while others seem to purchase for personal/consumer purposes. Without considering Sasha’s identities in a profile, Vistaprint wouldn’t see them as someone who has hybrid needs. In general, whether a customer is scored as a business, consumer, or a hybrid can impact strategy, which directly influences channel activities and marketing costs.

Having a fuller understanding of any customer journey also helps Vistaprint to spot emerging customer wants and behaviors which translate into more ideas for new features and optimizations backlog.

Where Things Stand

Vistaprint is currently working through the deeper questions related to the concept of a customer, how that relates to segmentation, and how to enable profile-based treatments with its current toolset. The Data & Analytics organization is balancing the needs of the business to effectively report on optimizations and trends while also accommodating features that allow for more flexible customer journeys. Getting the balance right will take some complex thinking and require strong partnerships with data and software engineers, but Vistaprint sees it as well worth the effort.

The pandemic accelerated an existing and ongoing shift towards more and more flexible customer-centric experiences; the way Vistaprint handles the concept of a customer in data is along for the ride. In moments like these, there’s no telling what may be around the next curve, but data and analytical thinking are ready to help solve the challenges to come.


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