Customer-Centric Marketing: Align for Growth

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customer centric marketingCustomer-centric marketing has several layers of meaning. The most popular layer means personalization of communications, toward increasing customer lifetime value. Without the other vital layers, though, much potential customer lifetime value will be squandered.

First Layer: All Customer Touch-Points. Communications is only one touch-point of many that marketing has with customers. Channel partners, alliance partners, market research, events, customer engagement and loyalty marketing are other touch-points with customers that certainly should be customer-centric.

Apply the essence of “customer-centric marketing” to all of these marketing areas. Stand in your customer’s shoes to determine your approach, with the overall goal of maximizing customer lifetime value. To see your work from your customer’s viewpoint, absorb customer insights already on-hand and talk frequently with customers.

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How can you apply customer insights to your event marketing and alliance partners and other areas? Go beyond the “what’s in it for us” to the “what’s in it for the customer”. Go beyond “the deal”. Find customer insights about “the how”. How do customers prefer these marketing efforts to be delivered: your motives, policies, coordination, consistency and seamless execution. What is conveyed to customers, explicitly and implicitly, about your interest in their needs above your own needs?

Every touch-point marketing has with customers must be customer-centered if you want to be considered a customer-centric group and reap associated growth. Any marketing endeavor that’s designed by what’s best for the company or someone’s agenda or what’s always been done may be missing the mark for customers. Like a bad apple in a barrel this taints the other customer-centricity achievements. This discourages customer lifetime value behaviors that could otherwise help grow your business.

Second Layer: Consistency. Branded customer experience is about maintaining consistency across locations, offerings, time, and your array of marketing efforts. Consistency breeds trust. In turn, trust builds relationship strength, which is the source of customer lifetime value: ongoing repurchases, price elasticity, share of budget, lower cost to serve, faster sales cycles, and recommendations.

Consistency is also about delivering on the brand promise. Alternatively, it’s about promising what the brand can consistently deliver. Anything that’s inconsistent fosters doubt. That’s the opposite of marketing’s charter. Doubt and mistrust erode the potency of precious marketing budget and talent and cumulative goodwill.

Third Layer: Serving Customers. Mature marketing goes beyond common practice to instead use customers’ goals as the compass to make decisions, putting the long-term interests of the customer above short-term conversion goals. This mature approach aims to grow customer lifetime value and long-term sustainable competitive advantage1, as pointed out in the first article of this six-part series: Customer-Centric Marketing: Step Up Performance.

This is a paradigm shift from “how can we get customers to behave in ways that benefit our company” to “how can we serve customers toward achieving their goals”. The latter is rare enough that you’re likely to stand out in your industry by adopting a “serving customer goals” framework for every marketing endeavor. Focus on their goals:

  • What are they using your product/service toward in their business/life?
  • How well is each marketing effort contributing to those ends?
  • How well is each marketing effort minimizing their total costs: money, time, stress?

Do you believe that by contributing to their goals they will help you meet your goals? Why or why not? Is your belief validated by objective data? Experiment with this paradigm shift. Conduct A/B testing in all of the customer touch-points marketing manages. Talk to customers to double-check your assumptions and to validate your conclusions. Minimize your biases. Go beyond interactions to what’s behind the scenes for customers. Understand and evaluate the full customer experience in which you are playing a role.

This is how your management of customer experience will yield more substantial advantages in differentiation, preference, share of wallet, repurchase, recommendations, co-innovation, and so forth.

Fourth Layer: Managerial Rituals. How can you inject customer-centricity into your marketing staff meetings, budgeting, planning, performance reviews, hiring, succession, recognition, and so forth? Anything behind the scenes that’s in conflict with what’s described above (customer-centricity of the first, second and third layers) is sure to squelch customer lifetime value.

Center your managerial rituals on customers by prominently featuring customers’ goals in each of them. What you put first on your meeting agendas, templates, and lists of criteria speaks volumes to your team about what’s valued and what gets people ahead. How can you start every meeting, training session, and internal communication with something specific to your customers’ goals? How can you start every template and criteria list with a tie-in to your customers’ goals?

Take the challenge to experiment with featuring customers’ goals in all of your behind-the-scenes marketing management. This is the core of customer-centric marketing.

Ask customers to evaluate the customer-centricity of your rituals. As described in part 1 of this 6-part series, “pace-setting CMOs … routinely invite in high value target market buyers to collaborate and validate market strategy”.2

Aligning the Layers: Predicting Growth. The more your 4th layer is customer-centric, the more your 3rd layer will follow suit. The domino effect continues for the 2nd and 1st layers. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, redirect your primary attention to the 4th layer. This is the opposite of common practice, yet it’s what’s logical.

In the instant gratification era, we’ve grown accustomed to pushing a button, and voila, results are achieved. Unseen behind the button is a value-chain of cause-and-effect that’s programmed into it. Not everything can be programmed into a button. We see that in all human interactions, and in what’s needed to learn, develop and manage our bodies, minds, households, yards, communities and businesses.

Where it can’t be automated into a simple button, we must pay attention manually to the chain of events that lead to the symptom we see or the goal we seek. Furthermore, primary emphasis must be at the beginning of that chain, not the end!

If a student wants to improve testing performance, the best plan is not to focus on test-taking techniques, but rather, on getting sufficient sleep, concentrating on lessons, and so forth. The vast majority of things in life and business operate by these principles. Short-cutting them short-cuts the value that could otherwise be ours.

Rise above the temptation to apply customer-centricity to customer touch-points alone. Substance from the 4th, 3rd and 2nd layers will have a multiplier effect (positively or negatively) on the sizzle of your 1st layer of customer-centric marketing touch-points.

Develop the habit of value-chain thinking: if you want a certain outcome, “peel the onion” layer by layer to identify the real “control panel” at the core of your endeavor.

Customer-centric marketing management rituals lead to a “serving customers mentality”, which leads to 360-degree consistency, which leads to customer-centric marketing touch-points with customers. And that leads to strong customer lifetime value behaviors, which results in business growth on a continual upward trajectory.

Align the layers of customer-centric marketing to more confidently predict growth. Focus on how your managerial rituals serve customers and foster customer-centric thinking and doing. Centric means “in or at the center”. Customer-centric means customers’ well-being is central to all you do. Customers will notice how different you are from their other brand experiences and keep coming back to you, fulfilling both their goals and yours.

1Customer Satisfaction Research Study, MarketingSherpa, December 2016.
2Going Beyond Customer-Centric Marketing, Forbes, Christine Crandell, 2015.

This article is the first of a 6-part series as an exclusive CustomerThink Advisors column: How Customer-Centered Marketing Steps Up Your Performance & Influence.

Image licensed to ClearAction by Shutterstock.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great article! Absolutely EVERYTHING needs to be considered from the perspective of the customer and how they will receive the information or be helped/hindered by changes.

    When companies embrace what you’ve outlined above, they can only surpass their business and growth goals.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kristina. Yes, it turns out that Customer Experience is something in business similar to Budget/Fiscal Responsibility. All of a manager’s decisions are influenced by fiscal impact. Likewise, all of a manager’s / employee’s decisions should be equally influenced by customer impact. When that happens you know you’re customer-centric . . . and as you say, you’ll surely surpass your business and growth goals accordingly.

    It’s simple logic like how you guide your kids to do well in school: decision-making influenced by what will result in good grades. So you find your decisions about bedtime, study time, etc. revolving around that, and accordingly, you see great results.

    This new thinking might be aided by discovering the natural customer experience metrics that customers automatically use: https://clearaction.com/measure-customer-value/

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