The marketing superpower: customer-centricity

There are three ways to ensure that every member of the marketing team thinks customer-first rather than business-first.
27 March 2019
customer centricity
Kate Price

Partner, Client Services

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Modern marketing is more complicated and more competitive than ever. New technologies and competitors are coming fast and furious from anywhere and everywhere. So, it is ironic that the key to competitive advantage is the straightforward, back-to the-future notion of consumer-centricity. It is as simple as that. Thinking of people first is the best way of keeping up with digital disruption and of knowing what to do next.

Only by looking at people can marketers understand demand, or what people really do and want. Only by looking at how people interact with culture can marketers connect with what matters most to people. Only by observing how people use and apply technology can marketers figure out how to deploy and utilize digital capabilities.

Consumer-centricity is the super power of marketing. This is the central tenet of marketing because nothing else is as powerful. This is the first thing marketers are taught, yet it is often the very thing that marketers push to the back or take for granted. When donned like a cape, though, people and culture make marketing fly.

Some organizations have remade their entire structures to be more consumer-focused. But the most impactful shifts are simpler and more enduring. They entail new perspectives, new mindsets, better habits, and best practices around thinking of consumers first, and only then thinking about the organization.

If the whole team is using the same sort of outside-in vocabulary, then people-first quickly becomes business-first. There are three ways to ensure that every member of the marketing team has this super power.

1. Root strategy, value propositions, and new ideas in consumer and cultural insights.

Be relentless about this. Increasing advertising noise and exploding media fragmentation make it essential to find ways that resonate and break through. Brands that get noticed are the ones that find ways to join cultural conversations taking place already.

Think Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Think Burger King and the one-penny Whopper app. Think Ariel India and #sharetheload. None of these are risk-free strategies. But playing it safe isn’t risk-free either.

Successful start-ups like LOLA (direct-to-consumer organic tampons), Halo Top (diet-friendly ice-cream), and Allbirds (sustainable sneakers made of merino wool, eucalyptus fibers, and sugar cane) have disrupted the marketplace because they flexed their super powers to build propositions based on fresh, untapped consumer insights.

Every brand should copy this start-up, consumer-centric mentality of passionately delivering something about which people truly care. In a world where almost anyone can start a business in their garage, marketers must be relentless about an outside-in perspective that discovers and focuses on real consumer and cultural needs, and then pounces on them.

2. Frame objectives and KPIs in terms of consumer behaviors not company dollars.

Don’t live and die by market share or the P&L. Obviously, making money matters. But goals are the foundation for directing and channeling what marketing teams do.

The super power of marketing is to be obsessive about tracking the number of buyers and quantifying what they think about brands, products, and lifestyles. These observations must feed into business objectives that are quantified as human-centered objectives, not simply penetration, usage rates, and attribute ratings. Marketers doing business in these ways are automatically a giant step ahead of the competition.

3. Activate people first not technology.

The digital marketing revolution has unleashed an infinite number of things to do and activities to choose from. Consumer-centricity is the only thing that can reliably and profitably guide and prioritize these choices.

A disciplined, consumer-centric approach that is gauged by quantified goals enables marketers to track success in real-time and to design test-and-learn experiments around new channels and new technologies.

Consumer journey mapping based on people-based goals and objectives should be the central organizing framework for action. Done well, a consumer journey plan can seamlessly integrate messages and channels, facilitating proper choices about what to do at each stage of the journey. For example, even in 2019, if consumers are active on cable TV (instead of digital), then that’s where brands should be.

The growing use of journey- and audience-based programmatic media buying will only make this consumer-centric approach easier.

Here’s a tip. Get out of the office and go talk to people. It sounds easy and perhaps unsophisticated, which is probably why it is a rare thing with many marketers. But this is the super power of marketing in a nutshell.

The pace and proliferating choices of the marketplace often leave marketers feeling overwhelmed. But the way to take control is to understand and speak the language of consumers and culture. Marketers must tap into the back-to-the-future super power of consumer-centricity. Putting consumers first is the most powerful and most effective way to organize thinking, innovation, and resources. The path forward will become clear.

One last thing. The world keeps changing! There is no time to dawdle or get mired in analysis paralysis. Move now and move fast. Or rest assured, your competition will get there first.

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