Author: Aldo Cundari
Publication: Marketing Magazine
Originally published on September 21, 2015
With 35 years’ experience running one of Canada’s most successful and respected independent advertising agencies, Aldo Cundari has seen a lot, learned even more and accumulated an impressive reservoir of industry understanding and wisdom. He’s applied that insight and knowledge to a new book from Wiley, Customer-Centric Marketing: Build Relationships, Create Advocates, and Influence Your Customers.
The book offers actionable advice for marketers trying to make sense of the consumer-brand dynamics radically reinvented in the digital age. Over the past few weeks Marketing has shared a series of excerpts from Customer-Centric Marketing.
Previously, Cundari shared the research work of former P&G marketer and author of Grow Jim Stengel to explain how brands are more important than ever in building connections with consumers. This week Cundari explains why most consumers don’t really want to “talk” to your brand and the importance of standing for something meaningful.
In the new marketing landscape, customers don’t really trust brands or want to talk to them, and they could care less about your branded content on- or offline—unless it has real value for them.
Marketers have hoped that social media would repair some of the relationship gap, but they haven’t quite caught up with the shift in customer thinking. Research shows that 70% of CMOs believe their online customer interactions are about providing brand information and letting customers express an opinion, and that the combination of those initiatives creates the kind of experiences that will connect customers to their brand.
That’s not how it’s working, however.
Most customers have a different objective. For them, this is a much more transactional experience—61% are looking for discounts, and 33% are making purchases. Only 33% are looking for the brand connection, at least for now.
Brand apathy is prevalent. Customers live in a saturated marketplace, and they are bombarded by brand messaging from the moment they open their eyes in the morning. It’s not surprising that they tune you out and instead rely on friends, social media, and other resources to make buying decisions. Google estimates that they connect with an average of 10.4 different sources when considering making a purchase. For you to make a meaningful and welcome connection with customers at this or any stage of their decision journey is a perplexing challenge.
So how do you break through? Here’s what Steve Jobs said on his return to Apple (leading to Apple’s “Think Different” campaign in 1997): “For me, marketing is about values. This is a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. So, we have to be very clear what we want them to know about us.”
What Jobs said then is even more powerful now in today’s message-saturated marketplace.
“A brand that stands for something more, something at the heart of the business, and something that resonates with customers has the potential to connect brand and customer in a meaningful, lasting way.”
The establishment of a corporate ideal, purpose, or value can play an important internal role in unifying brand messaging across all customer touchpoints. By establishing a brand’s core value across various media platforms, you also help set the framework for a consistent customer experience at every contact point. Talking to a brand is not on every customer’s bucket list, but when they do, what most want is a simple, positive experience. If a brand can help them achieve their goals, the upside is a group of satisfied customers who spread the word of their experience through their on- and offline networks.
Another factor in creating superior customer experiences is ensuring that front-line, customer-facing employees buy into the brand value story and use it to guide customer interactions and relationships. Unfortunately, many organizations fail at this basic level of cultivating a brand-inspired, customer-centric culture.
Forrester conducted research to evaluate this, and the results were less than inspiring. In an age when experiences rule, employees weren’t getting the support they needed to provide excellent customer experiences. The study results indicated that employees faced four roadblocks that hampered their ability to provide superior, branded customer experiences.
Incomplete understanding of brand attributes that should drive the customer experience: 60% of senior executives said their companies’ brand attributes are well defined; however, only 41% believe that their employees fully understand those key attributes, and only 45% said that these brand attributes drive how their companies design their customer experience.
Inconsistent image of target customer: While 60% of surveyed businesses said their companies have a clearly defined set of customers, only 24% of their employees have an understanding of who they are.
No reward for improving customer experience: 90% of those surveyed said customer experience is a critical part of their corporate strategy, but only 31% recognize or reward employees for improving the customer experience.
Poor executive role models: Just over 50% of those surveyed say senior executives regularly communicate the importance of serving target customers. More shocking is the fact that only 40% of these same executives actually interact with customers on a regular basis.
These findings make one thing abundantly clear: A customer-centric culture starts at the top—it must be endorsed and enforced to make it work at the bottom where the heavy lifting takes place. It’s easy to put customer centricity on a PowerPoint slide but not so easy to make it part of an organization’s culture and day-to-day delivery without strong leadership.
The new customer behavior has serious implications for all brands. If organizations don’t commit to meeting their customers’ expectations today, customers will go elsewhere tomorrow. For businesses that are still working with a traditional mindset, being customer centric requires a complete overhaul and review of business activities from top to bottom to ensure that the entire staff is united behind the brand aspirations of the business.