So just what is a new customer?

In my recent work, and in the industry that I’m involved in, the words new, existing, customer, and unique get thrown around rather frequently. And frequently, their usage is incorrect. Marketers, advertisers and publishers know what they want (generally), but they for sure do not know how to express it.

These are all terms bandied around in internet advertising. For obvious reasons people want to target their customers and give them different promotions or ad campaigns than brand new 1st time (unique) visitors to a site. It’s simple. Serve one campaign to people who have bought something before, and serve another to people who haven’t. So you segment based on whether that individual visitor is a customer, or not.

But then you want to get a little more specific, what about those people who’ve been in, on and around the site a couple times, but haven’t actually purchased (so they’re not technically customers). Should you treat them differently to the people who’ve just come there for the first time? Answer: Sure, you can, so why not give them something more targeted and specific. So now it’s a little more complicated, you’ve split up the traffic into customers and non customers, and then the non customer traffic into unique and returning – obviously you can drill down into the specifics of the returners’ sessions, but let’s keep it simple for now – okay?

So you understand where we’ve got to so far? Great. Now here come the problems? So I’d frequently get asked to target a campaign at ‘new customers‘. Great, so who exactly is that? The new implies that it’s their first time to the site maybe? The customers definitively implies that they’ve purchased before. So you want me to target people who’ve never been to the site, but have somehow managed to purchase something before? How does that even work? And then on top of this, you get requests for more segmenting – “We’d like to target the existing customers with a different campaign“.

So now somehow we’ve segmented the customer category into existing customers, and new customers. i.e. customers that have purchased before (so… just regular customers) and customers that haven’t (so… not really customers). What?

So, I beg you, before you embark on requesting ridiculous and/or impossible customer segmentation from your agency. Know your terminology:

A unique visitor: A first timer.
A returning visitor: A visitor that has been to the site before, who may or may not have purchased.
A customer: A visitor that has purchased previously.
An existing customer: The same as a customer. See above.
A new customer: THIS DOESN’T EXIST. Think about it.

p.s./closing footnote: Customers can, of course, be segmented. This can be done many ways; time to purchase, number of purchases, time since last purchase, but, sadly, not new vs. existing. Sorry.

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