Amidst the tragedy, challenges and uncertainty that has defined 2020, the year has also proffered opportunities for us to embrace. One unexpected silver lining has been a rethinking and realignment of marketing priorities.
Of necessity, marketers have become customer-obsessed. Agonizing over every message, tagline, image and campaign you put forth in the marketplace to ensure it is not tone-deaf or insensitive in even the smallest of ways. Pausing automated email sequences in favor of appropriately timed human interactions. Reshaping the connection between your brand and your customers. Articulating what and who your brand stands for, with and against.
Whether spurred by the pandemic, economic crisis or social movements, customer-driven marketing is back in vogue. And I am encouraged by the renaissance of marketing’s most fundamental role: understanding markets and consumers better than anyone else around.
How did we get so far off track?
Why did it take a crisis (or series of crises) to return us to the marketing tenet of putting customers first? It’s easy to point the finger at technology advancements. And, indeed, during the past decade the marketing pendulum has swung full tilt toward data and analytics, often at the expense of customer-driven marketing.
According to the recent Gartner CMO spend survey, martech spending as a percentage of the total marketing budget is 26 percent, rivaling what companies spend on media and slightly more than what they invest in labor.
An overreliance on data, analytics and automation produces campaigns that are technically correct but fail to get inside the hearts, minds and motivations of the humans on the receiving end of your algorithm.
Fortunately, the pandemic has served to course-correct the wild swing of the pendulum, restoring a better balance between data-driven and customer-driven marketing.
To be fair, an overemphasis on data-driven marketing is not the only culprit. There are other challenges—many of them internal—to becoming a customer-driven company. It’s tough to be customer-focused when budgets, resources and plans are allocated by product.
In most companies, the P&L resides at the product or business unit level—not with marketing. This leads to marketing campaigns that are designed and aligned by the internal client. Multiply this by the dozens of product lines and business units that exist within companies and you quickly have multiple marketing campaigns out in market not always integrated in terms of message, timing, sequence or audience. Is it any surprise, then, that the customer experience you’ve created is disconnected?
Start with the customer, not with the product
“You don’t find customers for your products. You find products for your customers.” ~Seth Godin
Until the great marketing reset of 2020, most companies still operated with an inside-out approach to business—where their company’s products sat squarely in the middle of the marketing mindset—rather than with an outside-in strategy that views customer value as its starting and end point.
Marketers must ensure this trend doesn’t reverse, starting with the traditional 4Ps of the marketing mix—product, price, place and promotion. Unfortunately, the 4Ps are firmly engrained in the marketing psyche. In a 2017 Marketing Week poll, 77 percent of marketers answered “yes” when asked if the 4Ps of marketing were relevant to their jobs today.
A much more relevant model, which you don’t hear much about, is the 4Cs. Robert F. Lauterborn, International Paper and GE marketing executive turned professor, proposed this outside-in marketing paradigm in 1990.
In Lauterborn’s 4Cs model, product has been replaced by customer needs. Instead of focusing on the features, advantages and benefits of your product, the focus is on your customers’ needs, wants and desires.
Price in the 4Cs model has been replaced by cost to satisfy that need, want and desire. This revised thinking realizes it is no longer just about the price but, rather, a myriad of value judgments and tradeoffs that accompany any decision purchase (psychological, political, economic and social good). This can take many forms including the packaging, the out-of-box experience, the ease of operating, the sense of pride, accomplishment or esteem, and the belief that your purchase is giving something back to a worthy cause or the environment.
Place has been replaced by convenience to buy. Consumers now decide how and when to buy your product or service through a direct sales representative, brick-and-mortar retail store, flexible online shopping options, intermediaries or third-parties… or even through vending machines.
The final C in the 4C model is communication. It replaces promotion and recognizes that today’s marketing is an engaging, integrated and continual dialogue with a customer.
Seize the silver lining
The quotation “never let a good crisis go to waste” has been attributed to Winston Churchill (though there is some doubt as to whether he actually used those words). This quote points to the fact that in times of crisis, there is more latitude to propose a new idea, establish a new norm, question an existing process, or demonstrate leadership.
To ensure the lessons of 2020 and the return to marketing basics doesn’t become a short-term aberration, here are ten ways to sustain and accelerate the momentum to customer-driven marketing:
- Make customers a strategy: Instead of just viewing customers as an audience, make them a strategy. Turn your marketing strategy into a customer strategy with VoC (voice of the customer) at its core. Turn your company culture into a customer culture.
- Get up close and personal: Each quarter, spend a day traveling (virtually for the time being) with one of your salespeople as they meet with customers or at a call center as agents interact with customers. Encourage your team members to do the same.
- Listen and learn: Continually monitor and collect insights from across all your key constituencies. Invite employees to share ideas for improving the customer experience. Analyze the digital data trail from your customers’ online and mobile interactions.
- Share insights broadly: Aggregate and share customer feedback throughout your organization, not just with the executive staff.
- Provide a daily dosage of insight: Start each meeting with a review of newly learned customer insights. In addition to gleaning valuable insight, this daily ritual serves as a powerful reminder to employees of what you value.
- Eat your own dog food: Ensure your employees are using your company’s products and services, if possible. Doing so provides an additional source of feedback and quality control, and it’s also a valuable form of testimonial advertising.
- Empower decisions: Empower your employees, especially those on the front line of customer service, to bend the rules on occasion when it is clearly in the best interest of the customer.
- Understand your customer’s journey: Map your customer’s end-to-end journey to not only understand and better synchronize every touch point of the experience, but also to identify any gaps. Do this as a joint exercise with sales, support services, operations, product development, corporate strategy, finance, IT and others.
- Be the change: Use customer-friendly language on your website and in all your sales and marketing pieces. Model the behavior and recognize others when they do, too.
- Take (focused) action: Not all feedback you receive is actionable or aligned with your company’s core purpose. Develop a systemic way of filtering the insights you receive and then take swift action on those that fit with your organization’s strategy.
2020 has given us permission to reset our marketing priorities and lead with the customer. It may well be the start of a renaissance of marketing’s most fundamental role: understanding markets and consumers better than anyone else around. But only if you chose to make customer-driven marketing the new normal for your team and for your business.
To help you on your journey, I’ve developed some simple steps you can take, starting today, to increase your customer focus and resiliency. I call these actions power moves and I’ve summarized the top nine in a marketing agility guide which is available as a free download.