Especially if you're taking an integrated marketing approach, your customers need to be driving the decisions your company makes.
Otherwise, your brand could risk becoming irrelevant—or, worse, offensive—to your audience.
Just look at Puma's promotion of its Italy jersey for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It set up "confessionals" across the US and encouraged people to kneel before the "altar," snap pictures, and share them on social channels with the hashtag #StartBelieving.
Unfortunately, the stunt coincided with Ash Wednesday, and Puma's poor timing didn't go over well with its audience.
When customers are embedded in your DNA—from customer service to marketing to product design—you start to think from their perspective. As a result, you gain insights into not only what you could do but also what you should do as a company.
By harnessing your customers' wants and needs and infusing that knowledge into every marketing decision, you can establish lifelong relationships that will inevitably grow your business.
The customer-centric mindset is actually similar to a brand-centric one—it just starts with the customer rather than the brand.
To get in touch with your inner customer, start with the following four steps.
1. Shift the customer to the center
Instead of asking, "How can we make more sales?" position the question as "How can we delight customers or overcome pain points?" By pleasing your customers and simplifying their lives, you can attract more business and brand advocates.
Simple changes, such as hiring people who work well with your target customers or providing translation services based on customer profiles, can help shift the focus toward the customer.
Take Southwest Airlines, for example. The company works under the philosophy "people first, profits second." It understands that customers want prompt, hassle-free travel, complimentary checked bags, and a fun (yet safe) approach to travel. By doing everything possible to overcome travel woes, Southwest is rewarded with brand loyalty and repeat business that generates more profits for the company.
2. Join the conversation
Your customers are already talking about your brand, so why not join the conversation by soliciting feedback? Prompt them to voice their satisfaction and dissatisfaction freely and regularly to help your brand become more responsive to their wants and needs. If possible, invite them to brainstorm on improvements or prototyping. They'll feel much more connected to your brand as a result.
Customers sometimes don't know what they want, so gathering feedback is only half the battle. Conducting empathy interviews is a powerful way to tap into their desires, habits, and motivations; those interviews also enable you to uncover underlying needs and predict future ones.
It wasn't until FedEx began conducting customer dissatisfaction research that it discovered new ways it was disappointing customers. Now the company closely monitors customer feedback and even holds monthly customer experience meetings to stay proactive in creating a pleasant brand experience.
3. Let customers feel the love
Technology can only go so far in keeping customers satisfied. Exceed customer expectations by providing a "human touch" with superior customer service. It's one of the easiest ways to uncover new customer needs.
One of Zappos's goals is to create personal, emotional connections with its customers. It encourages its customer service staff to spend as much time as necessary talking to customers on the phone and helping them with any difficult situation, company-related or not. In turn, it has established long-standing loyalties and it has become more responsive in the marketplace.
4. Monitor customer trends
Understanding how customers use your products or services isn't enough; you have to adapt to their changing needs and lifestyles. Learn how they live their lives, how your product fits into the mix, and ways your product needs to change to remain relevant.
Empathy interviews can capture this information and enable you to get to know your customers, and they shouldn't be treated as one-time events; they should be conducted regularly so your brand can remain flexible and astute enough to change as needs change.
The ability to empathize with customers is an essential component of design thinking, which values whom a product is designed for, not whom it's designed by. Adopting design thinking principles not only makes your mindset more customer-centric but also improves your products to meet customer demands before they're voiced in a more public forum.
Know what your brand stands for
Before you can start putting customers first, you need to understand what your brand stands for and establish a company-wide goal of upholding that brand promise.
Mercedes-Benz has moved closer to customers physically and figuratively by opening inner-city stores to attract more foot traffic and lowering prices to appeal to younger demographics. By meeting the needs of its diverse audience, Mercedes has maintained a competitive edge in the marketplace and secured a reputation as a superior car company.
* * *
Once you (1) get to know your customers; (2) actively seek their feedback; and (3) understand how your products fit into their lives... you can segment customers and customize your messaging to truly resonate with them.
In turn, your audience will respond by investing in your company not just once, but time and time again.
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