As retailers and marketing teams head into the summer months in the northern hemisphere, it's time to take a breath and ask, What have we learned about buyers and multichannel marketing in the first half of 2013?

One thing is front and center: Customer relevancy remains the Holy Grail of marketing. A study recently completed by marketing provider Lyris and the Economist Intelligence Unit found personalization was a top strategy of marketing executives surveyed (Mind the Digital Marketing Gap). But almost half of those marketers said lack of capacity to analyze "big data" is their biggest hurdle, behind budget limitations, when attempting to gain insight about customers. That could explain another finding: 70% of buyers surveyed said "attempts at personalization are superficial."

The Lyris/EIU survey underscores some big concerns about customers and how well marketers know them. Yes, buyers leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind them, in the form of data, with every online click or in-store interaction. But mountains of data don't solve a core problem. How do you use that real-time data for true insights into buyer behaviors? Can we identify what causes one consumer to buy and another to leave your site or Facebook page and never return? Can we apply predictive analytics to optimize those insights over time?

The answer to all three of those questions is, of course, "yes!" Marketers need to develop customer personas not just in broad categories but also in highly targeted groups by using rich, multichannel data sets to micro-segment the buyers they hope to reach. The goal: highly targeted and relevant information that delivers the right offers at the right time to the right buyer.

Where does the data come from?

What kind of data supports customer micro-segmentation and predictive analytics as a basis for effectively targeted, personalized campaigns?

Marketers have access to a tremendous amount of information about consumers' search and engagement patterns, demographics, and even social and interest graphs, along with campaign responses.

The content and news feeds we receive on many company websites are based on what we are searching for today, as well as our previous viewing, sharing, and purchase patterns. Search results and online ads are increasingly personalized, relying on information to "increase relevance" for the consumer—and to drive conversions. Social and mobile apps with their opt-in user bases further deliver a wealth of demographic, behavioral, and even location-based data. In addition, we now have the means to identify and target consumers who are not just likely buyers, but likely to spread the word on the value of their purchases to other potential buyers. Users with high virality share their experiences through social requests, Facebook wall posts, and other channels, driving in new users at no incremental cost.

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image of Pelin Thorogood

Pelin Thorogood, a new media marketing and analytics expert, is CEO and a board director of Anametrix, the cloud-based, real-time marketing analytics platform. Her career as a high-tech innovator includes leading the go-to-market strategy as CMO of WebSideStory (acquired by Omniture/Adobe) and extending Peregrine Systems' enterprise software business (acquired by HP) into Web-based applications.

LinkedIn: Pelin Wood Thorogood

Twitter: @PelinT