What a Customer First Strategy Means for Marketing’s 5Ps


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All marketers know their 5Ps: people, product, price, place, promotion. But do you know what a customer first strategy looks like in each of these? Here are some examples for you to adopt – or adapt.


This is the easiest of the 5Ps for a customer centric organisation to adapt because a customer first strategy is all about your customers. However in recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the importance of employees, some even suggesting that they are more important than customers!

I discussed this in detail in a post a couple of months ago, Called “Customers Care About Products & Value, Not Employees.” Click the link to read my perspective on this topic.

Personally, I believe that customers are your biggest asset, as they are the ones who pay your wages and make your business thrive. It, therefore, makes sense to know them intimately. If you have a different perspective I’d love to hear it; just add a comment below.

In C3Centricity we use the 4W™ template to record and describe the customer personas of our clients’ brands.

If you still haven’t downloaded our FREE persona template, CLICK HERE.

In addition to knowing and describing your target customers in detail, the other tip I give my clients is to start and end every meeting by asking what your customers would think of the decision you are about to make/have just made. This one simple idea is incredibly powerful in identifying actions which are not customer centric. I will give examples of these in the remaining 4Ps below.

So a customer-centric approach to your customers is both thinking about them in every action you take, as well as knowing them as deeply as you can and keeping this knowledge constantly updated.   


This is often seen as the most important “P” for many businesses. In fact, it is usually the one they think about day in and day out. But it’s not the most important in a customer centric organisation.

Think about it. Without knowing the P for people in great detail, you won’t be able to optimise your offer in terms of the other four Ps. That’s why it’s a customer first strategy that works.

Without knowing the customer in great detail, you won’t be able to optimise your offer Click To Tweet

Here are some examples of how companies get it wrong and a couple of right actions for inspiration: 

WRONG! Any business that reduces pack content without informing its customers of it and the effective price increase. Read JD Roth’s “Hidden price increases at the grocery store” for more on this.

WRONG! Exaggerated claims or twisting the numbers of contained calories by having unnatural serving sizes – seven potato chips anyone? Or saying a product is 95% fat-free, but it refers to the weight, not the calories! I once heard that everything written on the front of a pack is a lie! Check this out with any pack and you’ll see what I mean; there’s sure to be something not strictly correct on it.

I once heard that everything written on the front of a pack is a lie! Check this out with any pack and you’ll see what I mean; there’s sure to be something not strictly correct on it. Please share any funny or annoying examples you find in the comments below.

WRONG! Making variant identification difficult for customers. Have you ever bought the wrong product because packs were the same colour and just the names changed? I know I have. Or tried to understand the differences between variants that have five or seven descriptors?

WRONG! Running frequent product tests only comparing to the latest version. Although this is standard procedure, if you make regular tests for small changes which go unnoticed in the short term, they can amount to a big, noticeable change over the long term. Better to compare results also to past best ones than only using the current benchmark.

WRONG! Any company that makes it difficult for its customers to use their product. Think large bags of pet food or kitchen rolls without easy-carry handles; salad sauce or shampoo bottles which are impossible to open with damp hands; sealed bags which split when opened and need to be stored in a different container.Tropican pack change

WRONG! Making pack or logo changes without finding what your customers like or dislike in the current one. Think about the much-publicised Tropicana disaster back in 2009, or the Gap logo change.

Coke holiday edition white canOr more recently the Coke holiday edition white can that consumers confused with the diet version, and were understandably disappointed when they realised they had bought the wrong variant.

RIGHT! Taking the customers’ perspective when designing your packaging. Think deeply about how your customers will purchase, open and use your product. Don’t make them struggle in any way, whether to carry, open, close or store it.

RIGHT! Working with your customers to perfect current and develop new products. This is by far the best way to guarantee that you stay connected to changing preferences.

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RIGHT! Be transparent, in your operations, your actions and your plans. If you aren’t, whatever you try to hide will eventually be uncovered and then made public on social media, probably with an accusation of unethical behaviour. United have discovered this many times.

A customer-centric approach to product is therefore once again thinking about your customers and involving them in your decision-making whenever possible.


You may think that a customer-first price is the lowest possible. It’s not. People estimate the value of products and services they purchase, based in part upon its price.

How many “cheap” products have you bought on sale, only to wonder why you ever bought it when you were home? You’d bought on price alone, excited by what appeared to be a “good deal” and then realised your purchase didn’t meet your needs or desires when you contemplated it more rationally at home.

Research shows that customers value a better experience above price and it is expected to surpass both price and product by 2020. (Source)

Customers value a better experience above price and it is expected to surpass both price and product… Click To Tweet

Retailers like Aldi and Lidl have used their pricing strategies to position themselves against more traditional competitors. In these new super-discounters, consumers accept limited choice for the sake of rock bottom prices. However, as they expand their offering to include more well-known brands, they have positioned themselves to appeal to a growing target of purchasers.

However, many manufacturers lose out as their margins are stripped to almost zero. This is why we are now seeing a slow realisation that there is a better way to do business than mere price cutting. Both retailers and manufacturers are adapting to new consumer demands of value and not just low prices.

Consumer goods companies, in particular, have for too long relied primarily on price promotions to meet their sales targets. Amazon has forced pricing down in most other categories because people now check online before buying in many categories. However, as Amazon starts trialling their Fresh online groceries and their bricks and mortar stores the whole world of retail is about to change forever.

As if lowered prices is not challenging enough, people expect to receive something for free in exchange for their personal information online. Data has become the trading currency between consumers and product or service providers. This has resulted in many companies even changing their business models. Just one example of this is telecom that has become geolocalization data providers to many other industries.

A customer centric pricing strategy will enable businesses to continue to grow, by understanding how to fix pricing levels more carefully. Knowing the value of what you offer and the importance of brand or service will enable retailers and manufacturers alike to continue to thrive.


This is a major difficulty for every brand, especially if they have a lot of variants. The answer to improving your distribution is your customers – of course!

The more variants you have the more difficult it usually is to gain a wide distribution. If you know your customers as deeply as you should, then you will be able to identify their differences by region. You can then use these to make decisions about what to sell where.

Since most retailers provide limited shelf space to each manufacturer, it is best used by showcasing your top selling variants in that area, plus eventual new offers to test their acceptance.

Another “place” that it is important to understand today is social media. The Pew Research Center provides a 2016 US analysis of the major channels by demographics which is a great starting point. Ideally, you should know both where your customers are and when. That way you can be present when they are open to messaging. But more about that in the next topic.

This P is relatively easy for a brand to be customer centric. You just have to offer what your customers need, where and when they need it.

To have customer-centric distribution, you just have to offer what your customers need, where &… Click To Tweet

I know it’s easier said than done when you don’t have full control over your distribution. This is one reason why many manufacturers are now offering their products directly to their customers through online shops.

The change will certainly have a significant impact on retailers and it is only a question of time before they increase the prices of making goods available in physical stores. In so many categories today, outlets are mere showrooms for people to see before they buy – online.


As with place, knowing what messages your customers are interested in receiving from you and even more importantly where and when are one of the keys to successful communications.

Whether it is advertising, price promotions, social media sharing or other advertising activities, understanding your customers deeply is the other foundation of success.

  • An organisation which makes it difficult for customers to connect using their preferred channel is not customer-centric.

An organisation which makes it difficult for customers to connect using their preferred channel is not… Click To Tweet

  • Take a look at your own website contact page. Does it include email, postal and street addresses? Does it have a telephone number or live chat option? It should.
  • But if not, then I bet it has a contact form with possibly a drop-down menu from which a customer chooses their reason for reaching out. You probably also ask them for all their details, while not providing them with yours. Definitely not fair play is it?
  • Another related area of promoting your brands is PR. Quickly owning up when you’ve made a mistake, rather than trying to hide it. This builds trust and customers will even forgive companies that do this. Honesty is definitely the best policy when it comes to your customers.
  • A customer-centric organisation provides their customers with valuable information where and when they need it. They also communicate in ways which enhance their relationship and shows they value their business. If things go wrong they own up quickly, inform the public, say how and why it happened and what they are doing to put things right. They then go on to do just that by taking the appropriate actions, all the while informing their customers os their progress. 

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What Do You Think About a Customer First Strategy?

Did you notice that the alternative way of thinking about each of the 5Ps involves the customer? Thinking and above all following a customer first strategy is the new marketing objective.

Thinking and above all following a customer first strategy is the new marketing objective Click To Tweet

I believe that both manufacturers and customers will benefit from a customer-first strategy. In fact, research from both Forrester and Gartner has now proven this; customer-centric organisations grow seven times faster and are 60% more profitable. Makes you wonder why companies are not rushing to change, doesn’t it?

Marketing has been working with the 5Ps and 7Ps for decades, so perhaps it’s time for an update. What do you think? Should they be translated into customer-first strategies? Why are some businesses still hesitating about moving to a customer-first strategy? 


  1. If every place you mention “customer centric” you allow me to suggest replacing with “customer driven” then this makes total sense. To get your marketing strategy to be driven by the customer, you have to get inside the customer’s head and learn to think like him/her. Then all things marketing relates to the customer because it is all driven by the customer and how he/she thinks.

  2. Customer centric, customer driven, customer first, it’s all the same to me. As long as the customer – consumer, client – comes first, companies will grow more profitably.
    Thanks for the comment Jim. Yes so easy to do if you think customer first.
    And with so much research showing the significant ROI, I don’t understand why most companies still hesitate – do you?

  3. Hi Denyse, as Ryanair CEO Leary once commented ‘If I’d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.’

    Now Ryanair is still about low cost. There is a difference between tactically being ‘customer centric’ and meaning it. From that perspective it is not all the same, I guess. But then you are right in saying that there are lots of buzzwords around.

    2ct from Down Under

  4. Thanks for your comment Thomas.
    Being customer centric is not just for high cost companies.
    Customers want value and experience is becoming an ever larger part of the mix. As I mentioned, it is expected to overtake both price and product by 2020.

  5. I ran a study a couple years ago and found that people use the terms “customer-centric”, “customer focused” and “customer driven” somewhat interchangeably. I think we could add “customer first” to that list.

    To each his own. What’s important is not the term, but how the company organizes its behaviors. Amazon uses “customer-centric” and has done pretty well, most would agree. But would it really matter if Amazon executed the same way, and said it wanted to be the most “customer driven” company? Or “best experience” company?

    “Customer experience” is another term we can throw into to the mix. To some it means “interactions” and others use it much like customer loyalty — all the things that customers perceive of value — product, price, and interactions.

    To me, being “customer centric” should mean that customers get what they want and company gets the benefits of a loyal customer. In the case of Ryanair, what’s puzzling to me is that customers got the low costs they said they wanted, but then rated the airline poorly on customer service. Eventually the CEO figured out that being nice actually mattered.

    By contrast, Southwest also had a low cost strategy, but incorporated friendly caring employees. These days not rock bottom prices, but customers love the airline and Southwest keeps making money.

  6. Denyse, sorry if I formulated myself imprecisely. It is not about high cost vs low cost. The point is rather that i do think that Ryanair is ‘tactically’ friendly to customers instead of strategically. My statement is that I do not believe that customer orientation is part of their DNA.

    Now you might say that from an outcome point of view there is no difference whether I am customer oriented tactically or strategically. And on the short term you might be right. On the longer term, and this is my firm belief, customers will find out that this is a facade – and react accordingly.

    As to words, I am mainly with Bob – except that I do think that customer experience is an outcome 😉 – as opposed to attitudes or behaviours that are described by the other terms.

    For the sake of the discussion: You cannot manage customer experience, but you can influence it – via engagement or non-engagement.

    2 ct from Down Under relayed from Dubai

  7. Hey Bob, absolutely agree. The term doesn’t matter much, but the actions definitely do.
    The Ryanair Southwest comparison you mention illustrates this perfectly.
    What the terms all do have in common is the word customer and after all that’s the most important word of all.
    Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  8. As organizations become more customer-centric, moving from from simple customer awareness, through greater sensitivity and focus, finally arriving at customer obsession, they will be well-advised to add four new P’s to their toolbox:

    Permeation – Dedication to providing optimize value must be absorbed into every nook and cranny of the organization. Further, it must core to shared enterprise values/superordinate goals and be an essential element of its DNA.

    Proaction – Organizations can no longer be content to passively, tactically, and functionally react to customer needs and concerns. They must take the initiative in understanding what customers require as value delivery.

    Partnering – James Unruh, former chairman and CEO of Unisys Corporation, said: “…partnering with customers promotes a deeper understanding of customer concerns and of areas for improvement. Partnering relationships can create a seamless interface between an organization and its customers.” Smart and evolved companies create value in partnership with customers, and value is as likely to come from people and information/content as it is from products and services. If companies practice ideas such as ‘creating interdependence’ and ‘building equity’ with their customers, they are strategically differentiating themselves from competitors and making it more difficult for their customers to leave and begin a relationship with a new supplier.

    Paradigm – There are, to be sure, many ways in which an exemplary, world-class organization can be defined. From my perspective, it is an enterprise which creates trust, especially in stakeholder (customer, employee, and supplier) experiences, and in reputation and image. These are critical to optimizing customer value delivery; and inherent in such cultures is the ambassadorial, trust-building behavior of employees (with customers and each other) and customer-forward processes.

    And, somewhat per Bob Thompson’s comment, these new 4P’s are consistent with a customer-first enterprise stsategy

  9. My apologies for misunderstanding your comment Thomas. But you are right that customers will discover the truth sooner or later. Therefore in today’s technological world it is even more vital to embrace a customer first strategy.
    Thanks again for adding to the discussion Thomas.
    PS You get around Down Under!

  10. Michael, this is the first time I’ve seen these 4Ps proposed and they make sense, so thanks for sharing.
    They in fact cover most of if not all the points I mentioned.
    At the end of the day Customer Centricity is as simple as thinking about the customer in everything an organisation does. Simple to say but apparently very hard to action, based upon the limited evidence of it in business today.

  11. Denyse,

    Your post is always inspiring.

    What if Michael O’Leary did listen to the voice of customers and understand their critical needs, but he still decided to focus his resources on ‘cheap’ airfares but not better ‘service’.

    What if Ingvar Kamprad did listen to the voice of customers and understand their critical needs, but he still decided to focus his resources on ‘good-value-for-money’ furniture but not better ‘service’.

    They *listened to VOC* and *understood the critical needs* of their target customers. Are Ryanair and IKEA adopting a ‘customer first strategy’? Why? Thanks.

  12. Thanks Sampson.
    I feel the same about yours, although you are more courageous in your posts and comments than I usually am!
    You can’t have a partial customer first strategy. They are either the first you think about or not. And thinking but taking no action doesn’t count, but unfortunately so many organisations are in this exact position.
    From my experience it is because they just don’t know where to start as almost every department has to change to make it happen. Therefore they struggle to take that first step.
    What do you think?

  13. Denyse,

    Thanks for your nice words as my comments might sometimes be a bit rude and always be too direct. Many ‘experts’ just take a deaf ear or play some ‘word’ games when discussing the controversial subjects or inconvenience truths. You’re rare as you always respond, honestly and with an open-mind. You should be treasured by whom interact with you and your audience.

    So, if I understand you correctly, *listened to VOC* and *understood the critical needs* are not enough; companies have to improve or focus their resources on ‘service’ in order to be qualified as adopting a ‘customer- first strategy’.

    Let’s talk about Starbucks and IBM.

    How about if Starbucks did listen to the voice of customers and understand their critical needs, and decided to continue to focus their resources on any ‘service’ related to the “Third Place”, but not lower their ‘prices’.

    And how about if IBM did listen to the voice of their B2B customers and understand their critical needs, and decided to continue to focus they resources on ‘service’, but not lower their ‘prices’.

    FYI, ‘price’ was rated as the lowest satisfaction attribute (i.e. the pain peak) among 26 sub-processes derived from the Global Starbucks In-store Experience Research; ‘price’ was rated as lowest satisfaction attribute (i.e. the most severe pain point) by 757 IT managers through the Mainland China B2B (IT Solution) Experience Research.

    In this case, Both Starbucks and IBM *listened to VOC* and *understood the critical needs* of their target customers and to focus their resources on ‘service’. Are they adopting a ‘customer first strategy’? Or, are they just adopting a partial ‘customer first strategy’ like what you said on the presumed IKEA and Ryanair cases (since Starbucks and IBM didn’t satisfy all the critical needs of their target customers, i.e. they didn’t lower their prices)? Thanks.

  14. Isn’t it strange that when there’re any pain points related to ‘service’ appear, it’s always a no brainer for the CX professionals to voice out loud that these pain points should be addressed or eliminated.

    Take, for example, Ryanair. Just Colin Shaw, he published three posts re Ryanair’s poor service:




    For IKEA, after my post “Stop Trying to Eliminate Customer Effort” is published on Customerthink.com and LinkedIn, numerous CX professionals objected to my idea that Good Efforts should be allowed.

    However, when there’re any pain points related to ‘price’ appear, there’re seldom or never, any CX professionals to say anything; they’re so quiet. Why?

    ‘Service’ is the pain peak and ‘price’ is the pleasure peak of Ryanair and IKEA; while ‘price’ is the pain peak and ‘service’ is the pleasure peak of Starbucks and IBM.

    As ‘service’ is a critical need of customers during an experience and so is price, why IKEA and Ryanair just satisfy ‘price’ not ‘service’ are adopting a ‘partial’ customer-first strategy; IBM and Starbucks just satisfy ‘service’ not ‘price’ are adopting a ‘complete’ customer-first strategy. What kind of logic or rationale is it?

    As a CX consultant, if your clients asked you the above question, how you’re going to respond to them?

  15. Never apologise for being direct Simpson.
    It means you have an opinion and are not scared to share it. So refreshing these days and a man after my own heart!
    For me listening is not enough; understanding is not enough; you need action to be customer centric and this is exactly where many organisations fail.
    You mention price, which research shows will become less and less important. I believe it’s value that matters. Together with experience or service, of course.
    In the case of Starbucks, it’s not the coffee that provides the value, it’s the total experience of relaxing in a home environment.
    Listening to the customer doesn’t mean just blindly following what customers say they want. You know that.
    Thanks a lot for keeping this discussion so interesting Sampson.

  16. Sampson, it’s easy to disparage any idea by taking it literally and looking for counter examples.

    Let’s take your “pain is good” idea. Taken literally, it makes no sense at all. Pain is not good — it’s something that people avoid. No one like to suffer.

    But I’m sure you don’t mean it literally. When you discuss PIG in detail it’s clear that you mean companies can’t be all things to all people and shouldn’t do everything that customers ask for — if it’s not the brand that the company wants to build.

    I agree with that, and so do people that practice “customer centricity,” “customer first” and “voice of customer.” You expect people to not take your words literally to mean what the language says, so I ask you to offer the same courtesy to others.

    I’ve researched and interviewed top brands for the past 15 years. I can guarantee you that they understand that “customers first” doesn’t mean ignore making money for they company. Customer-centricity is not just being nice and saying “yes” to everything.

    “Listening” to customers is an input to a decision-making process. If something is broken it should be fixed, that’s the easy part. But smart brands also know they need to handle more strategic issues more carefully. Southwest, for example, says “no” to requests to make changes that would undermine is low cost brand promise.

    Ryanair is an interesting case study. They managed to grow with a simple brand promise — “we’re cheap!” But even with that simple promise, they failed. Because customer reviews don’t rank them highly on value / affordability. Why? Because the pricing is deceptive – full of “gotchas.”

    Companies can grow with unhappy customers if other options are not readily available. Or if there is a constant stream of new “novice” customers that don’t know about the gotchas.

    One last thing, regarding this statement:
    Isn’t it strange that when there’re any pain points related to ‘service’ appear, it’s always a no brainer for the CX professionals to voice out loud that these pain points should be addressed or eliminated.

    The CX industry does not in my view always advocate for “better” or “great” service. The key is delivering the level of service that is promised and expected. Although I agree that “pain point” is used too casually by consultants and vendors.

    But I think there is a big difference between a low level of customer service that just does the basics (e.g. self service) and truly “painful” service that enrages customers to the point of complaining on social media and spreading negative word of month. Very negative experiences should be eliminated because they stimulate defection and negative word of mouth.

    Again, if I take your “pain is good” literally, I would go out of my way to antagonize customers in one of the value dimensions (service, price, product, … ). Just so that one of the “pleasure peaks” stands out more in one of the others. Is that what you’re advocating?

  17. Well put Bob – as always.
    However from our exchanges with Sampson a few weeks ago, I think his concept has some merit, it’s just the word pain that is wrong. Perhaps it should be effort?

  18. let me chime in once more in reply to Sampson and the question that he formulates:

    Key for a positive experience, or any experience, is something that I would call a simplified Maslov pyramid. First you need to effectively deliver to the (main) needs of your customer (effectiveness), secondly, you go for making it easy for the customer to get these needs resolved (efficiency) and from there on you can make things exciting, joy – if you decide to go that far. There is no point in striving for exceeding customer expectations, least of all continuously. But it is possible to excite customers once in a while, after proving to be effective – which includes being reliable and accurate. Some companies, like Ryanair, in my eyes focus on this basic level and customers get exactly that, with ‘that’ being low prices in the Ryanair example and some fig leave of being kind to customers.

    2 more cent from Down Under

  19. Denyse, as I said, you’re rare; thanks for your leniency. As I still have some issues with the customer-first strategy, since I’m now responding to Bob’s comments, if you don’t mind, please jump in and contribute at any time.

  20. Thomas, I liked you using “Maslow” to explain the Ryanair case. I may use it in my response to Bob’s comments when we come to Ryanair. Thank you!

  21. Bob,

    First, I’ve to thank you for your advice and I’ll alert myself to offer the same courtesy to others. Second, I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from your comments, as they always make sense and are usually made from an unbiased perspective.

    In order to dive deep, I’m going to respond to your comments by three topics. Since Ryanair is the most difficult one, I won’t touch it until the end:

    I. What are our divergences on customer-centricity
    II. Does Mainstream CX always advocate “better’ or “great” service
    III. Is Ryanair a “bad” or the “best” practice in CX

    Let’s start with the first topic.

    I. What are our divergences on customer-centricity

    Our common grounds:
    #1. We should listen to the voice of customers
    #2. We should understand their critical needs
    #3. We should focus our resources on some of the critical needs but could be, and have to be, “relax” on the remains because no firm has unlimited resources to satisfy all their critical needs
    #4. We should focus our resources on the critical needs that reflect or align with our brand values (though there’re different terms like “on purpose”, “strategic values”, I don’t think we differ much on this issue)

    Our divergences:
    #1. Why “service” is always the more preferred critical need than the others, say “price”?
    #2. To what extent we’d be “relax” on the remaining critical needs, i.e. my approach is allowing pain points or efforts as far as they’re not falling into the unacceptable elvels of customers and by allowing them substantial amount of resources could be saved; Mainstream CX is eliminating all pain points or efforts (except expensive prices)?

    For divergence #1, take Starbucks and IKEA as examples, if you asked the Mainstream CX, most likely they’d say Starbucks is a customer-centric company and IKEA isn’t, because the former has provided better or great service to customers, but the latter isn’t; although Starbucks has its valley at “price”.

    I understand clearly that customer-centricity is not about satisfy all needs of customers. But does it mean that some needs (service or service-related needs) are more preferred than the others (say price), in terms of adopting a customer-first strategy? Or would Bob’s CX say both Starbucks and IKEA are customer-centric?

    For divergence #2, for example, through the responses of my article “Stop Trying to Eliminate Customer Effort”, the efforts of the IKEA in-store experience are “Good Efforts” to me and should be allowed; but for the Mainstream CX, they’re pain points and have to be removed. As I stated in the article, if IKEA followed the conventional CX approach to eliminate those “Good Efforts”, customer pleasure would be reduced, brand loyalty damaged, and brand homogenized.

    Then, what’s the point to take a customer-first strategy if it would produce negative outcomes to both customers and your brand? Or in Bob’s CX, what should IKEA do in order to be claimed as, and actually be, a customer-centric organization?

  22. Mas I would add surprise to your list or delight and surprise as I like to stay.
    Agree you can’t do it continuously, since customers today quickly go from excited to bored with new things.
    By not always going above and beyond you keep the excitement of feeling special through exceptional service or extras.
    Love this exchange; lots more still to say!

  23. Denyse and Thomas,

    Have you come across any brand or company who has successfully transformed their DNA from product-centric to customer-centric? If yes, how difficult it was to do that? Thank you in advance for your sharing.


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