Everybody's got a mailing list these days - and for good reason. When customers opt into your mailing list they become top prospects. They have already extended some trust by giving you their personal data.
[shameless plug]By the way - if you want to sign up for my mailing list and get some marketing goodness in your in-box just go to my website here and sign up.[end shameless plug]
There are other important marketing reasons for capturing customer data. Generally speaking, get as much data as you can get without being invasive or creepy. When someone is paying their bill at a restaurant, they don't want the manager running up with a clipboard asking them how old they are and how much money they make. A comment card may ask for age and income levels (in broad categories. I personally fit into the 14-67 year old age bracket with an income between $2 and $4,000,000.
One of the most important questions you can ask a customer at point of purchase is: "What made you choose us." You may be surprised to find out the answers. You may find out that the benefits you tout the most aren't appealing to your customers. You may discover benefits you didn't know you had. The answer to this question can help steer your marketing in the future.
A friend and client of mine owns an auto garage. At the bottom of his invoices he had a question that reads, "how was our service today" and just a box to tick on a 1-10 scale. I don't think this is incredibly useful. I have advised him to change the survey to two open ended questions: 1. What did you enjoy the most about your service with us? 2. What would you change to make your service with us better? The customers that take the time to answer those questions will give him ways to maximize his benefits and improve his shortcomings.
I am a web stats junkie. I love to look at my web logs to see where people are from and how they got to my web site. Recently, I noticed a lot of traffic from Russia and Estonia. Why? I couldn't tell you. Will I get a translation service to translate my web site into Russian? probably not yet - but it's worth consideration. It's neat to know that I have subscribers to my newsletter from all over the world.
So, now you have a good chunk of customers data (we might call it demographics). What the heck are you going to do with it?
We'll, my auto garage friend captures the dates, service, address, make, and model of every car service. From that, and from general observation, he knows several things. They are slower when it rains. Their customers are very local. He also knows from talking to the owner that the restaurant next door gets very busy when it rains. A HA!
Now we are working on a way to get some advertising for the garage into the restaurant - maybe on the place-mats or at the front. I also suggested to work on a special where people can get an alignment and oil change done when they dine - just leave the keys with the host and the mechanic will come get the car and have it done when they finish dining.
I have a black belt in jujutsu and I know from years of teaching martial arts that if I call a class "self defense" I will generally get only women to show up. If I call the same class "martial arts training" I will get mostly men. If I call the class "women's self defense" I will get more men calling to ask if they can participate than if I just call it "self defense". I will withhold comment on some men's poor choices of appropriate places to meet women. Depending on the result I want, I might do split advertising - that is do two ads with different copy targeted at both sexes.
Big business thrives on marketing data. They do tons of testing, split advertising runs, and heavy market segmentation. Segmentation means they break their market down into smaller identifiable chunks. They know that 15 year-old girls from Southern California respond differently to marketing messages than do 78 year-old men in Wisconsin. However, both may be important markets for Coca-Cola and other consumer products.
As a small business owner you have the advantage of being hugely profitable with a much smaller niche market. I assume that you don't have the overhead of Coke - so you can go after smaller market and still get fabulously wealthy. (Just remember to have me as a guest on your yachting trips to Fiji - thanks)
Here's a secret: You can have more than one niche market. Whoa! Yep you can and should probably have several niche markets. You need to tailor your marketing to each one separately. If I am a dry cleaner I will service my local neighborhood. I might also go after restaurants,hotels and other businesses that need uniforms cleaned. I might also look at approaching high school bands who need uniforms cleaned. How about adding an office pickup and delivery service for professionals downtown? What about clothing stores that need to clean returned items and display items?
What data do you have, how can you get more and what are you going to do with it? Think data as an essential building block of your business.