The 1954 book ‘Horton Hears a Who’ by Dr. Seuss tells the story of Horton the Elephant who, in the afternoon of May 15 while splashing in a pool, located in the Jungle of Nool, hears a small speck of dust talking to him. It turns out the speck of dust is actually a tiny planet, home to a city called ‘Who-ville’. ‘Who-ville’ is inhabited by microscopic-sized inhabitants, ‘Whos’, and led by a character known as the Mayor. His motto is, ‘a persons a person, no matter how small’ – I think we should take great lead from the Mayor’s motto and apply it to our online marketing.

Marketing is all about the ‘Whos’ – it’s about building and maintaining relationships (and sometimes breaking them) between a business and its customers. The customers are the ‘Whos’ of course, no matter how small they may be.

Many of us treat our ‘Whos’ more like ‘Whats’. We count them, we corral them, we segment them – but we don’t listen to them. They’re just numbers to us – 15,000 names on an email list or 42,000 hits on our web site. For these marketers, success is measured by an increase in activity of the ‘Whats’ – a better response rate to the email campaign, or a percentage increase in time spent on each page on our web site. But that is not effective in building relationships with them – rather it reminds me more of the opinions of ‘Vlad Vladikoff’, the ‘Wickersham Brothers’ and the ‘Sour Kangaroo’ in the book. We don’t believe they exist as people because we can’t see or hear them – so we don’t market to them as people.

But the ‘Whos’ do exist – behind every email address and every click on your web site there is a living, breathing person with their own special needs, likes and dislikes and opportunities for you to reach out and make a new friend for your company.

You need to make an effort to get to know them. Find out who they are. It’s not hard – they are all dying to tell you about themselves – every time they click on something on your site, fill out a form, watch a video, type something on your company’s Facebook page, or fail to respond to an email blast – every time they interact and/or choose not to interact with your company, they are telling you something about themselves. The trick is to listen.

Are you really listening to what your customers are telling you? I mean really listening, as if your relationship with them depends on it (it does you know!)? Are you developing the relationship by tracking and profiling your ‘Whos’ so that you can remember what they have previously told you, and so you can then give them what they want, when they want it? Or are you just counting them – treating them as ‘Whats’ instead of ‘Whos’?

At the end of ‘Horton Hears a Who’, all the ‘Whos’ get together and make a noise so loud that even Vlad, the Wickersham Brothers and the Sour Kangaroo could hear them. Of course, they all lived happily ever after.

Don’t wait until your ‘Whos’ gang up and tell you what they want through leaving your site, never to return again – start listening now. And always remember, ‘a persons a person, no matter how small’.

This is my personal blog. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent those of my employer, Coremetrics.