Navigating the Path to Becoming a Customer-Centric Brand

December 18, 2020

This article originally appeared in Ad Age, co-authored by ForwardPMX SVP of Account Management, Andrea Timmerman, and Boden Head of US Marketing, Shanie Cunningham. 

We’re going to say it: This year has really thrown us for a loop. It’s been filled with challenges that have, at times, caught us completely off guard, both in our professional as well as in our day-to-day lives. If you have a job that involves communicating with and marketing products to other human beings, you’ve probably seen firsthand just how intertwined your professional and personal lives can be.  

2020 has very much been about showing empathy (and humility), listening intently and being ready to adapt when the moment requires it. This is what it means to be customer-centric—right?

As marketers, many of us had likely been hard at work developing our teams to strengthen the focus on the customer for some time before COVID. But going through the global pandemic has taught us that there is always more to do. In fact, it’s a continuous and ever-evolving effort.

Sure, you might have the grand vision of customer-centricity, with amazing brand values that are reflected in all that you do. And you might be keeping up with all of the latest tech that people are using, marketing in all the relevant channels with meticulously crafted personas, and even have the setup to gather and act on the insights. And, dare we say it—you’re also digitally transforming. 

But even with seemingly all the right components in place, are you really delivering on customers’ needs and how rapidly those needs evolve? Are you remembering that in every single decision or action you take, there’s an actual human being on the other end whose moods, preferences and life circumstances are constantly changing?

We’re going to dig into some of the key learnings we’ve gained on the enlightening path we’re navigating to put the customer first every time.  

Throw out what you “know” and take the time to learn.

 

One of the biggest hurdles to becoming more customer-centric is first recognizing how not customer-centric you might actually be—or, at the very least, recognize that there are improvements to be made.

In today’s technology-driven ecosystem, you might find yourself consistently asking, “What’s the best tech to have in place to ensure the customer can transact seamlessly with us?” But this year, we’ve realized we also need to ask, “What’s the best tech that helps us not only drive a sale, but also reach and engage the customer and help us collect those critical insights?”

Quantitative data is important, but qualitative insights—such as what the customer is thinking, feeling and saying—are essential for understanding their experience and how we, as brands, make ourselves authentically part of it.  

To give you an example, at Boden we’ve leveraged WhatsApp groups in the virtually focused environment. It’s certainly not the sexiest tech, but it’s an environment where customers can openly give us feedback, and this year more company stakeholders have become involved with reviewing the insights and learning to speak the language of our customers through it.

COVID has taught us that even though we’ve been weathering the same storm this year, the reality is that we’re very much all in different boats. We can relate to each other as human beings, but to be truly relevant, it’s important to get at what customers are really thinking, saying and feeling—and it might not always be what you think.   

Get the whole organization onboard.

 

Becoming a customer-centric company doesn’t just require the efforts of marketing, product or customer teams. It takes an entire organization’s dedication to putting the customer first—from your executive level all the way down to your most junior team members. It also takes a mindset that it’s OK to evolve and learn alongside customers while also staying true to your roots.

This year we’ve all been challenged to collaborate while apart and, in some cases, it’s created more pathways for different groups within businesses to come together when they normally wouldn’t have in a business-as-usual environment.  

When’s the last time you and your teams paused and really focused together on the “why” for your organization? Does that “why” involve the customer? If you haven’t already engaged in this exercise, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get a pulse check on whether teammates are staying close to the brand purpose and, in turn, really putting the customer first.

Make audience management an “every channel” imperative.

 

From an integrated audience perspective, we’ve also learned this year that it’s never been more essential to get your marketing channels working together. Better yet, it’s important to keep budgets fluid to be able to truly deliver on the right place at the right moment.

In a year where our marketing budgets might look a little different than in years past, being smart and efficient while also not losing entire channels (and the customers occupying those channels) has been a crucial balance to achieve. Evaluate marketing channels by really understanding the role they play in the customer journey. For instance, just because catalog and other offline channels might not seem to be all the rage, they could well be important vehicles to engage a very valuable subset of your audience that you don’t want to lose. Taking a customer-led, not media-led, approach will help you discover what levers need to be pulled from a channel perspective much more quickly and efficiently to ensure you’re where customers need you to be.  

Pivot—and pivot again.

 

Now more than ever, it’s time to challenge what may have worked in the past, bring new learnings into the future, and also remember that even those learnings could become less relevant in a short span of time.

A customer-centric business is one that is willing to constantly evolve, self-reflect and ensure that the customer truly is at the center. While this might seem like an endless, tumultuous process, we should remember that the people who love our brands are also dealing with an equally tumultuous experience of navigating whatever new normals lie ahead. This kind of customer-centricity is hard work, but it’s also the most important—and rewarding—part of being a brand that has a place in people’s lives.

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