Sacramento Bee makes “big data” available to small businesses


As demonstrated, the past few years have been a perfect storm, combining a deep recession with incredible advancements in technology and consumer adoption.

The result is a consumer that is more value/price sensitive and more technologically connected and savvy, and businesses that understand there is value in understanding their customers.

We know that small business operations may continue to change significantly as they learn how to take advantage of customer data and evolving consumer marketing channels.

Within the changing B2C world, the common denominator, the variable of greatest interest, remains the buying consumer. But, while every customer is important, not every customer has the same value.

Interest and requests are rising for insight on how to better understand and how to connect with consumers in today’s fragmented economy. We hear daily about the virtues and pitfalls of “big data,” the latest buzz phrase related to the vast amount of information being generated today.  

Small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) will take note if you can show them how to gain their own customer insights from their own data. These are insights that most think are only available to the big boys in retail.  

We can put real power behind our marketing proposals if we have done our homework by completing a thorough needs assessment and delivering a plan that connects consumers through channels that will build sales.

More and more local businesses are compiling basic information on their customers, like a U.S. Postal Service street address, zip code, and possibly volumetric amount spent data.  With this, we can offer an SMB an easy and fast way to quickly learn more about:

    • Who their most valuable customers are.


    • Where they can find more of them.


  • And how they can develop programmes and processes to keep bringing them back to buy more.

Through our relationship with CustomerLink, a local technology provider that has set up a co-branded site with The Sacramento Bee/, we are beginning to offer local businesses this opportunity. This free, self-serve, online customer analysis and reporting tool delivers powerful insights into who their best customers are.

Reports can aid the business in designing stronger marketing programmes that focus on consumer segments with the greatest return.

Jim Bonfield, vice president of product development and business strategy for CustomerLink (and former online business development manager for The Sacramento Bee) has developed this programme that is also featured in Small Business Marketing Kit for Dummies, by Barbara Findlay Schenck.

An SMB can establish their contact, business type, and upload your own customer file:

The business receives access to online dashboard reports from its CustomerLink analysis.  These simple reports illustrate where customers are coming from and what type of customers (segment) exist in the business’ file.

The current customer section of the report summarises the major lifestyle segments contained in the customer file and a more detailed description of each customer type.

Also, for those who do not yet collect this data or can’t be bothered to upload it, there is a “do it yourself” area that asks the owner what his best clients “look like” and then applies that data to the segments and makes a recommendation based on the educated guesswork of the SMB. Emotionally engaging, to be sure, and actionable from a purchase standpoint. 

What does The Sacramento Bee want out of this relationship?

The opportunity to have a conversation with the business decision-maker about how to connect the dots between the report on their most valuable customers and the local media channels that can be best leveraged to drive business.  We want to deliver a proposal, based on the results of the data.

For added conversation value, we have access to lifestyle segmentation through Scarborough Research, so we can tie the retailer’s segment of highest value back to Scarborough information to illustrate tendencies to use particular media channels (national study level for sample stability).

Key points:

  • This is a complimentary approach to the real successes we’ve realised with customer file segmentation analysis at The Bee with larger local accounts (see my November blog, “Sacramento Bee delivers to struggling advertiser”) But individual offline projects are time-intensive and, for that reason, cannot scale.
  • The CustomerLink/Sacramento Bee self-serve approach opens the door to more possibility to scale:
    • The business can very easily upload its file online (in Excel csv format).

    • Resulting reports present the opportunity for more SMBs to take advantage of easily and quickly learning from a great resource, their own customers.

    • By requiring less time from a Bee analyst to do the work, he or she can spend more time interpreting results for meaningful sale proposals. 
  • A conversation about different customer segments that use various media channels lends itself to why we have a diverse portfolio of market-leading digital and print options.

It’s the kind of conversation that can help build business, theirs and ours.

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