blog: customer-centric marketing

The 360º About-Face

I was once told that the furthest two points on a circle are right next to each other, because you have to travel the entire circumference to connect them. Sound silly? Try to draw a circle without connecting two points next to each other. You can’t do it. The paradox that the closest and furthest points of the circumference are adjacent is an interesting metaphor for how to miss or connect with customers.

As marketers we tend to look at the market through the lens of our brand, product or service and accept whatever filters through. We define the product based on its finest qualities and spin these into potential benefits, having first made sure of competitive qualities through price, performance or appeal. It is a product-centric model: the product is at the centre, and its radius is a function of market segment and reach. Customers fill in the area of the circle. Completely full is nirvana.

In a customer-centric world, your product is just one point on the 360º circumference of a circle that constitutes the entire customer predicament. Your marketing efforts travel inwards on a direct line to the centre. If you reach the centre it means they bought you.

So there is also a paradox between the product-centric model and the customer-centric model: to the marketer the product is a 360º totality but to the customer it is a 1º Maybe.

How can these two disparate models be reconciled? The challenge for the marketer is to travel the remaining 359º to fully understand the customer predicament and then apply that knowledge. Touch Marketing is the expression I use to envelope customer values, position the product properly and develop a marketing platform that builds a relationship based on shared values. In the 360º view of the customer price may not be important, features may not be important. Convenience and simplicity might be important but you won’t know until you do the 360º About Face, learn how your customer really sees their world and relates to your product within everything they do.

It takes some effort to wrench oneself away from the comfort of one’s own perspective. Nobody wants to have their ‘comfort-tree’ shaken. I am not talking about customer-satisfaction. Too many marketers pat themselves on the back with positive customer survey responses and remain in marketing stasis. I am talking about real-life relevance:
–> how to make your marketing more relevant to customer values so that they embrace not only what you are selling now, but also what you will sell in the future. If you do the 360º About Face, your next products will also support their values.

You have to go as far away from what you know and feel about your business or products to learn what it means to be customer-centric. Then you will have done the 360º About Face and be ready to pick up your product, brand or service and build a meaningful relationship with your customers.

In case you thought I was advocating going this distance with every single customer – that would be unnecessary. Customers form into segments also. The classifications won’t always fit the precise definitions of your marketing textbook. Go and find out. In each case it’s interesting and you’ll learn something to help you grow your business.

You shall not covet

I have always been puzzled by the biblical text that puts “You shall not covet” as the finishing flourish of the 10 Commandments, as if this is more heinous than murdering, lying, cheating, stealing. There is no action involved. It is more about attitude. What’s the problem here? And what does it have to do with customer-centric marketing? (The committed acolytes at this point will intone, “Customer-centric marketing embraces Life, the Universe and Everything” in 6-part harmony).

But if you think for a moment about what can transpire in the commercial world, based on the desire to achieve what someone else has (that you have not) then you have a frequent motive for businesses, sometimes egregiously, sometimes sublimely lying, cheating and stealing, to achieve their goals. In the geo-political and ethnic world, you get war.

So, in a nutshell, covetousness is a great way to kill any chance of a relationship.

When I speak about the Goals-centric enterprise (in contrast to customer-centric), there is a question as to the motive behind the goals of the enterprise. Covetousness, some would say, is the root of ambition, of aspiration, of even invention. If the emotion exists there must surely be a positive angle.

Relationships are also goal-centred. It just comes out that the goal of a relationship is to give to each other in a harmonious state of reciprocity, not to take from each other in a duel of one-upmanship. Coveting is also about exercising Control: to manipulate the relationship so as to exact the most reward for oneself.

Media and advertising are playgrounds for the exercise of control. Share of Mind: what is that? It is the calculated manipulation of media to control the consumer. Marketers talk about it as if it were a game of marbles. Hey, isn’t a game of marbles also about control? It is in the nature of competition to exercise influence and control in order to achieve your goals. But it can go wrong, because when the drive to control gets out of control something Evil happens.

Customer-centric marketing is about building relationships based on the customer’s values, separate from the latent desire to control. To control is inherently human, but to dominate is problematic. In friendships and relationships we exercise control to create an environment in which our wishes are shared. Competition comes from other potential relationships. The best, best friend is the one with whom we share such a harmony that other potential relationships cannot compete. There is some element of control in all relationships, but it is maintained within a healthy, bi-lateral state.

When your product, service or business fully embraces all the values and needs that your customer has for that slice of their life, competition cannot breach the relationship. BUT, when your product, service or business takes on that covetous, goals-centric mentality, the customer will get shorted out at some point, when the price goes up or the quality goes down or the services are cut back, for the wrong reasons. Relationships can even endure hardship, if they are based on maintaining shared values. There is a marketing technique for reaching out to these values and building relationships. I call it Touch Marketing, and I use it all the time.

Back to topic: so, the root of all evil is Covetousness. And the remedy is honest-to-goodness relationship building: in politics, in war, and in business.

Written By |Customer Focus, Marketing Strategy, Relationship Marketing, Uncategorized|Comments Off on You shall not covet

Selling Integrity to Truth-starved Customers

My log-cabin beach vacation, cooking with charcoal, without TV, cell phone or laptop, using my own paddling power for water sports has given me a reaction to returning to life as I usually know it. But here goes:

Q. How do customers evaluate marketing hype?

Perceived Customer Value = √ Brand Value Proposition (√ is the square root of)
Actual Customer Value = Retail Price LESS 40%

It is an automatic filter. We need the hype to penetrate any sense of value and we need the discount to feel it was worth paying for it.

Q. What is the reason that most customers don’t read either the blurb or the small print?

Because they make a choice to believe in the realm of mythical marketing. Tolerance for myth and brand legend has been drummed into consumers through mass media hypnosis (a.k.a. hype-nosis?)

Q. Aren’t money-back, satisfaction guaranteed programs assurances that the customer will be satisfied?

It’s a compromise, not a lure. Money-back warranties go hand-in-hand with unbeatable, lowest price promises. In contradistinction to the belief that it means the customer will love the product, the program only really gives you the choice to pay less instead of more for something better. It works because most customers are willing to lower their satisfaction in tolerance to the price. It is also provides a mechanism for the manufacturer to back out of customer revolt with impunity.

Throwaway Society
We have become a throwaway society because we have been lured by marketing hype into buying cheap, not-as-good-as and ‘only-the-latest’, letting hype fill the vacuum between availability and durability. This has destroyed our domestic manufacturing sector, since only the lowest-paid employees can build the cheapest products. And nobody wants to be the lowest-paid employee. We have put our blinkers on because the illusion of achievement is more appetizing than the reality. Latter-day historians who recall the feel-good 50s and the number of advertising icons that it spawned, should be able to measure the decline over the past 60 years in the value of substance over image by the rate of product refresh in almost every category of consumerism. If it isn’t new it isn’t wanted. And we now live in a world where the hype is not the mirror of society – rather society that has become the mirror of the hype.

Yet even as we ram our blinkers on to hide the obvious flaws, there is a hidden consciousness that we know what we are compromising and we grit our teeth wishing that we could get better value for less hype. This is evident in the increase in stress and depression and the disappointing failure of consumerism to provide true-life satisfaction. It is even more evident in the importance of self-image and self-esteem in the human psyche and its disastrous consequences in the teen community when hyped-up expectations are not achieved.

Where is integrity to be found?
Do the purveyors of myth still hold all the cards? Where is integrity to be found? Can marketers be scrupulously honest, deliver real value and retain customers through a cost of ownership that saves money over time, reduces waste through extended product lifecycle and builds a longstanding relationship between the customer and the provider? Are customers now even ready for integrity? Politicians, economists, marketers and advertisers might quote the immortal line: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Who wants to know that the unbeatable-value product’s true cost of materials is 10% of the sale price, or that the brand name sneaker doesn’t cost three times as much to manufacture. We have enough trouble absorbing the reality that a Canadian car cost 20% more than the US for no reason, or that the price of oil is not really set at the value of the supply, refining and distribution cost. Our flock mentality is a soothing anesthetic that keeps us grazing in the direction the shepherd is pointing – just so long as we can keep the wolves at bay we are happy to ruminate.

But there is a new movement in consumer behavior that is starting to redefine how marketers react to the voice of the customer. Twitter, the blogsphere, online consumer reviews, and the greater information research base available to consumers through the Internet provide customers with more knowledge power to make more guided choices. Social networks and the democratization of information have started to fragment traditional media. Marketers can see the effect of their mythical mishaps in real-time.

Life as we know it has not yet completely changed, but there is a backlash that is starting to form around the ‘customer as the centre of the universe’. It will take some time in gestation for the mass marketing industry to stop trying to leverage new media tools in order to regurgitate the same product solutions. The real Nirvana of customer-centric marketing will be when marketers start to align their product and service development roadmaps around distinct online communities that aggregate common values from disparate parts of the commercial and consumer universe.

How do you prepare your customer market to be resilient in the face of change? By selling integrity, making hype relevant, by identifying with and responding to customer communities as distinct market segments; by personalizing your message and values to the audience segment, which means rethinking your product deliverables and distribution mechanisms; by investing in your customers before you invest in your products; by delivering on your marketing promise or accepting failure as the result.

Integrity is not something you can manufacture on a large scale. It is something that is built, brick-by-brick, within communities and localities that has to stand the test of endurance, in relationship, satisfaction and repeated experience.

Are your customers ready?
Are your customers ready for integrity? Are you ready to put your customer’s claims ahead of your own? It is a new vista for marketing that triangulates customer expectations with affordable value and professional conduct. It is communicated through relevant networks and communications grids that the customer defines. And it requires a closer ear to the ground and more sensitive market intelligence than quantitative methodologies.

I don’t think of it as evangelism. I have the good fortune to apply real, effective and successful marketing campaigns selling integrity to truth-starved customers It is one of the most refreshing aspects of my profession to present truth as an alternative to myth and enable businesses to build successfully on their deliverables.

If you want to find the right route to your customer, build relationships and generate demand in a new era of customer-centric media than you need to re-engineer your hype and start selling integrity to a truth-starved marketplace.



Written By |Marketing Strategy|Comments Off on Selling Integrity to Truth-starved Customers
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