If you haven’t read Jeff Bezos’ latest letter to his shareholders, put it on your to-do list pronto. There are many takeaways from his letter, but one that stands out to me most is this: “Obsess over customers, not competitors.”
Most companies are obsessed with their competitors. Their mission statements might suggest that they are dedicated to their customers, but in reality, all they do is constantly check up on what their rivals in business are up to and try to emulate them. Here’s the thing though. What works for their competitors, may not work for them even if they are in the same space. Moreover, it won’t work for their customers. As Bezos pointed out, the key to success is not to copy, match or one-up the rival. It lies in listening to your customer. Amazon listened, every step of the way and this is reflected in all that they do.
It is critical that brands develop complete empathy with customers to succeed and grow. This is not for overnight success and profit, but for genuine and sustainable growth. Brands that have been quick on the uptake are showing a remarkable strategy towards this. They have shunned the old-school strategy of choosing their chief operating officer from the general project management backgrounds. Instead, they are headhunting among PR and marketing professionals to be their commander in chief.
So why this shift?
PR and Marketing officers have the tough job – selling the brand. To do so, they have to understand the market and more importantly, their customers. It is their communication strategies and messaging that determines the brand’s success and ultimately sales.
We live in the age where the customer rules. You cannot interrupt customer experience to ‘push’ your agenda anymore. You have to learn to add to their experience and ‘pull’ them in. To do this, understanding the customer’s point of view is imperative. Marketing is all about understanding and enhancing the customer experience. Marketers have long been the perfect liaison between the between the customer and the sales teams. They understand their customers deeply. They have become intuitive about customer experience. They know how to identify the right buyer segment and make a product or service relevant to them. Irrelevance is dangerous, and in the digital age, downright suicidal.
As Bezos’ put it, one has to develop ‘customer obsession.’ Just being customer focused won’t cut it, it’s not a passionate stance enough. He says that customers are never really truly satisfied so there’s always a learning curve, always a knowledge gap one has to fill. This leads to more innovation, and better sales result in the long run.
Digital trends have changed the way they operate, and the advent of social has completely disrupted the usual processes. Marketers are now doing PR and vice versa. Tools like social and content marketing have become all pervasive in campaigns, and by extension in the way a company communicates today. This convergence now warrants that the person at the helm of affairs has deep knowledge of not just marketing but the customer as well.
It seems, therefore, that the phenomenon of PRs and marketers getting the CMO and CEO roles is here to stay. Industry experts say that this part of a larger trend that will soon be manifested by most MNCs. In fact, many believe that PRs are better positioned for leadership roles than the traditional marketers themselves. They have always operated by listening and then delivering emotive storytelling instead of interrupting, shouting and ramming their message down the customer’s throat.
If you are wondering why this trend is picking up, then you have to first understand how PRs work. They do not pay for the media space they want to occupy. Instead, they work hard to impress journalists with newsworthy stories that are relevant to the readers. This is where they become masters of emotive storytelling and real engagement. A notoriously hard to measure field, PR needs disciplined and intelligent professionals who are always customer focused, extremely agile and always ready to face challenges.
PR professional at the management level would also mean averting unnecessary risks since they are crisis management is an intrinsic part of their jobs. They always weigh the pros and cons of a campaign and anticipate what could go wrong before they begin, a trait that can be a boon when in charge of the entire brand. Once the stepsister of Advertising, PR has now become the more valuable tool for marketing. The rise of copy, content and social, has made it imperative that experts who have a blend of editorial and PR skills are the right people to lead.
In the heart of all these, lies their core skills of empathy. They train in empathy, for the brand, for the journalist they approach, for the market, the reader and the customer. This innate skill is the reason why they are rising stars of brand management today. A management that thinks from the customer’s point of view is the most likely contender for business success.
Let us know if your role has changed to focus more on the customer or are you all still obsessed with comparing yourselves to the competition?