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Welcome to the Age of the Customer

age of the customerIt’s really true:  Companies that are obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth.   If you work for Amazon or Nike or Mercedes Benz, you likely already know this, since it’s part of the culture.  For the rest of us, it is harder, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: No matter what our title, each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction.  Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value.  The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high value customers?”  If not, change it or dump it.

The shift of power to customers is driven by technology – no longer is information or access controlled by the marketer or brand. It is owned and exploited by the customer.  Digital marketing is central to providing value, since so much of what technology enables is digitally wired:  Mobile phone research in stores, programmatic advertising and re-targeting, location and local marketing, crowdsourced recommendations and online shopping.  In all the fuss about the 11 percent drop in Black Friday sales this past season, according to the National Retail Federation in  2014, we’ve ignored a key fact:  That in-store shopping has been on a steady decline for years.   However, it’s been more than made up by online buying.  People are not just online or offline shoppers. They are multi-channel, and expect brands to know them and serve them well across all channels.

The analysts are always pointing out our professional flaws, and so it was easy to find a report from Forrester Research showing that less than a quarter of companies have a digital marketing imperative to “Both create new sources of value for customers and increase operational agility in service of customers.”  I translate that to “An obsession with customer experience that leads to real value creation and innovation.”

Forrester cites by way of example  “… how Mercedes-Benz can use digital sensors to transform the driving experience; Rolls-Royce can use digital sensors in its jet engines to revamp its business model; and Procter & Gamble can test product packaging and shelf layouts in virtual stores before committing to costly manufacturing.”

Based on the Forrester report, here’s how you can start to make a difference in your own organization:

  • Re-think your customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with your owned media or brand touch points.  Collaborate with other suppliers and focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.”  TopRight CEO Dave Sutton recently gave a webinar on how to tranform your customer processes to adapt to the digital age, and the need for a nimble, non-linear customer engagement strategy.
  • Adopt a “Digital Is Everyone’s Business” approach.  Business transformation means that every person in every role has to participate.  You don’t have to have  big title to make a difference – great ideas and the seeds of change come from every person who is willing to try.  If digital is not “in your blood,” start small with one product or business unit, and build out.
  • Disrupt before you are disrupted.  Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry — learn to disrupt your own business. Big companies from Intermountain Healthcare to Target are already doing this, Forrester says. Their strategy: 1) Define a clear vision of what digital disruption promises and 2) seek a frank understanding of the obstacles your specific organization must overcome to embrace disruption.
  • Make mobile a priority.  The most urgent place to apply digital thinking is through mobile devices. One billion smartphones have trained people, including your customers, to turn to mobile first. Both consumers and business buyers have experienced a mobile mind shift: They expect that they can get what they want in their immediate context and moments of need.

Marketing transformation is hard – and requires a systematic shift in attitude, organizational agility and customer-centricity.  Are you confident that the latest plan or project you advocated puts  “the customer first”?  It’s a very good measure for how close you are to success, and a good start for moving your business into the #TopRight quadrant of your market.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on how important this is to your business, and what you have found successful.


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