SEEKING: Audiences who are what they love, FOUND: Starcount

18th November by Jo Hastie

Published on


Earlier this month, AAW hosted an event which introduced our exciting new partnership with the big data agency Starcount.

For several years, Starcount have been helping the commercial sector find new audiences and deepen their engagement with existing ones using a fresh approach that customs and combines social media behaviours with social and household demographics.

Partnering with AAW, they are now bringing this tool and approach to the not-for-profit sector.

Significantly, Starcount’s data and modelling reveals how likely postcode areas and digital audience recipes are to care about specific causes. This has been based on social media behaviours and household demographics from 30 million UK consumers. 

Below AAW’s Jo Hastie interviews the company’s CEO Rowena Humby on how Starcount came about and the opportunities it offers to charities for marketing, engagement and fundraising activities, as well as how these can apply to both large and small organisations.

Rowena Humby image

Can you tell us how Starcount came about?

Starcount was founded on the belief that what consumers care about is the ultimate driver of their behaviour. The founding team Clive Humby and Edwina Dunn – my parents – were actually pioneers in customer data science, who met back in the 1980s at the data and technology consultancy CACI, building Acorn – the first UK wide classification of consumers, based on census data and essentially a classification based on You Are Where You Live.

Clive and Edwina went on to found dunnhumby in 1990s, a global company focused on customer data science and analytics and based around You Are What You Buy. That resulted in the Tesco Clubcard with a loyalty programme based on classifying consumers on the items they love to buy. However, this type of loyalty was very functional, just giving customers money off what they needed.

We know that the real success point for a company is to identify emotional loyalty. And that's what Starcount was founded to do, championing You Are What You Love.

As consumers, we don't engage with adverts or brands because of who they are, we engage with them when they talk about what interests us or reflects what matters most to us whether that’s our health, environment, the society around us, our family, animals, sport, music, etc.

Traditionally, surveys have been conducted to try and understand what people really care about and they do provide good, rich insight. But you can't activate that data because it's based on small panels of people, it’s a static snapshot at a point in time and most importantly, you can't match that back into any marketing databases. And that’s where Starcount can help. We’re recreating the science of what you put in your shopping basket, but rather than it being in Tesco, it’s what you put in your social shopping basket. And that really is what you love and care about.

Can you explain a little about the different settings Starcount is being used in and the type of work you are doing?

Companies have knowledge of transactions their customers have made with them in the past to help them understand a bit more about what to send or market to them next, but it doesn’t help them explain why consumers buy things. Starcount can help organisations understand their customers, what they care about and how they live their lives. The resulting data can then be used for everything across customer data strategy, product development and marketing and to ensure that the customer has a brand experience that resonates with what matters to them.

For example, that could mean understanding why someone is buying an electric vehicle; is it because they are conscious about the environment or because it has financial benefits? When they are buying insurance, are they caring most about their health, family, a discount?

So, our clients use that data to really enrich both their understanding of their target market and their existing customers for developing propositions and marketing that help make them market leaders in their field and with the fundamental aim to connect emotionally with customers, encourage loyalty and to generate that lifetime value.

How did the relationship with AAW come about?

During lockdown we analysed our data of 30 million people in the UK. Everyone was stuck at home and we heard a lot about people changing their views and interests, so we wanted to take a very close look at our data to understand what was changing in terms of social media behaviour.

And we saw that the fastest area of growth – and unparalleled with any other area – was of people engaging with different causes.

That included issues such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, spending more time in the British countryside, mental health, and concerns about our ageing community. Around 15% of social media users now engage with a cause - that's 4.5 million people in our dataset. We know that this data is very exciting for our commercial partners as many are looking at their sustainability and purpose marketing, but the commercial market is still at a point where they are conflicted between wanting to do good and still being able to deliver on price.

But we knew there was a great opportunity here for the charity sector and we wanted to find a partner with relevant experience, that knew how to translate our data and insight into strategy for fundraising, for proposition development and for an individual charity’s market. AAW fit that bill – they loved our data, and we loved their appetite for innovation and trying something different.

Since the 1980s, the charity sector generally has had only one tool for targeting donors based on demographics about who someone is around affluence and life stage. They may have some insight around propensity to give to charity that has been modelled from surveys, but there has never really been a tool that allows them to lead with the cause and identify people that care about particular issues. We know from social data that younger people really do care about causes and we know that the sector is looking at diversifying donation models and fundraising, so I'm excited to work with AAW to help bring this tool to the market.

Can you tell us about your work with the Make a Wish charity and how that can be utilised by other charities?

One of the tools we offer is bespoke segmentation that can help charities understand and uncover audiences they don’t expect. For the charity Make A Wish, we segmented their entire donor database and supporter postcodes against our data and identified new audience segments they didn’t know about and which were abundant in their own database.

It’s been great to help them think about their longer-term strategy in terms of who are the different audiences that are engaging with them and which of their products or donation models work for these audiences and which ones need a refresher. I know AAW is continuing to work with the charity to use this new data for rebranding products, new propositions, and creative content that they're pushing out into the market. I know they tested one proposition against our data and realised it wasn’t going to be as successful, but an alternative is proving to be a much better route for them.

What we did for Make a Wish can be applied to a wide range of charities to help them tap into new audiences and develop products that match donor interests and values, with fundraising that is led by cause mindset not product or income stream.

How can smaller, more localised charities with smaller budgets gain from Starcount?

What we did with Make a Wish was very bespoke and included a UK-wide segmentation, but we can also offer the capability to act on a much more local level. Because we've mapped our data to the postcode level, we can identify the customers that care about a small organisation’s cause within their catchment area. Data at postcode level that anyone can use either at a national or local level, offers a much more affordable price point and offers a solution to organisations across the entire market.

We are also not restricted to UK charities. In terms of segmentation against your database, we can currently do that in any market in the world apart from China and we are looking to expand our postcode level product, hopefully into Ireland and in the US next.

To find out more about Starcount and how it can help your charity, please contact Tobin Aldrich at