Sharketing 101: How to Tag & Track your Customers

When you hear the word SHARK, what comes to mind?

Maybe the movie Jaws?

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” and all that?

Or Shark Week?

Or maybe a shark you’ve seen in person, either at an aquarium or in the wild?

But you’re probably not thinking about marketing, right?

I’ve always been a fan of sharks. I think they are amazing creatures, and as a child, they captured my imagination. This was before Shark Week came along, so I actually had to read books (gasp!) to learn about my beloved sharks. Even today, if left to my own devices, I’d probably make my way to a beach and look for shark teeth.

Plenty has changed in the world of marine biology since I first started devouring every shark book I could find. One thing that hasn’t changed much, though, is how little we know about some species of sharks, including the Great White.

Some scientists are working on changing that, including the good folks at OCEARCH. They are doing some amazing work tagging, releasing, and satellite-tracking great whites and other large sharks. In fact, you can go to their global tracking site and see exactly where a specific shark has pinged in, then click to learn more about that shark. Cool stuff. Thanks in part to the efforts of OCEARCH scientists, we’re starting to learn more about these gorgeous animals.  Including this: if you live in this particular South African beachfront community, think twice about that morning swim.

Up for a swim? Me neither.

Up for a swim? Me neither.

[Graphic courtesy of]

Which brings me back to marketing. No, I’m not going to suggest that you pull your customers out of their natural habitats, affix transmitters to them, and then release them back into the wild. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and actively discourage that.

But if you’re handling marketing for a small business, online or offline, you can probably relate to the life of a shark tracker. Your customer pops up on your website, or at your store counter, then disappears.

Three months later, he’s back.

Then six months goes by before he reappears, and then he’s around twice a week for two months before disappearing again.

Where’d he go? Why was he gone so long? What made him come back?

You may never know for sure, but the more data you collect, the more you can learn about your customers and their habits. The payoff? You are in a better position to anticipate and respond to your customers’ needs.

Sidebar: There’s a difference between “anticipating and responding to your customers’ needs” and “annoying the crap out of your customers.”

Getting there is a three step process:

  1. Set up a database that lets you document and track customer behavior. It can be as easy as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a customized CRM software solution. Think about your customers and the type of information you can easily observe or obtain, then build those variables into your database.
  2. Collect data. Religiously. Things like…
    1. Ask your prospects how they heard about you so you can discover your best sources of new customers. And note, those two aren’t equivalent. Not all prospects become customers, and some sources of prospects will have higher conversion rates than others.
    2. Watch what your customers buy. Look for patterns.  Are they buying the same things?  Are they buying more as they grow more comfortable with you? Is there a common product or service that tends to kickstart more profitable customer relationships?
    3. Watch when your customers buy. Are there predictable patterns – times of day, days of the week, once a month, twice a year? Do they only respond to promotions or specific campaigns?
    4. Finally, use surveys. Comment cards, full page surveys, SurveyMonkey, phone calls, whatever. Want to find out who your competitors are? Where else your customers shop? How they use the things you sell them? Why they like you enough to keep coming back? Ask them! But remember, just having access to survey tools doesn’t make you a survey expert. Ask for help if you need it.
  3. Look at your data. And if you’re scared of numbers, hire someone to do it for you. All the data in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to look at it.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Sure, it’s not easy, but at least you’re not taking blood samples from a two-ton fish with razor sharp teeth.

How’s that for perspective?


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