GUEST COLUMN: Why do companies need to be more consumer-centric than brand-centric?

Shift in consumer behaviour has heralded a change in the marketing mantra.

Mumbai: Experts and professionals have long debated the merits of customer-centricity versus brand-centricity. I have to say that it’s not one against the other; instead, both complement each other. With the fast-changing business landscape, the tenets of marketing and brand value have evolved equally fast. Back in the day, when outbound marketing was the primary method of outreach, it made sense to put brand-centricity at the core as the outbound efforts involved advertisements via radio, TV, and newspapers. Mainly, the brand decided what to communicate and how; there was limited two-way communication.

But with inbound marketing taking centre stage, the marketing processes, tools, and funnels are entirely different. Digital has changed the game completely. Companies cannot afford to ignore the sheer volume of inbound traffic and how it’s suitable for the bottom line. Before making a purchase today, customers proactively do their research, which involves search engines, social media, peer-to-peer conversations, and more. This shift in customer behaviour has heralded a change in the marketing mantra from brand push to brand pull, from brand-centricity to customer-centricity. In essence, brand efforts are now a sub-set of customer-centric marketing.

‘Customers 2020: A Progress Report’ by Walker talks about customer experience overtaking both price and product as the key brand differentiator. This is a validation of what marketers already know. Similarly, Forrester Research has consistently highlighted how we live in the ‘Age of the Customer’, where the customer experience with the brand is paramount, and obsession with the customer is a defining change as per Exhibit one.

360-degree Customer Approach

To be truly customer-centric, it’s vital to have a holistic end-to-end understanding of the customer by mapping the persona, buying patterns, and using marketing automation to listen to consumer preferences and leanings. In a nutshell, deep customer intelligence and insights should become the prime focus. Marketers today are increasingly warming up to the fact that higher levels of customer understanding translate into unprecedented levels of customer engagement.

360-degree Organisational Approach

For any enterprise, the target customer needs to be at the heart of its marketing strategy and part of its DNA. Firstly, inculcating a customer-centric approach needs to start with the leadership. Secondly, internal restructuring needs to be aligned with the customer segments and needs. Thirdly, success and outcome need to be measured using key consumer metrics like customer satisfaction (NPS scores), order and delivery timelines, etc.

360-degree Execution Approach

The mantra should be to execute flawlessly and address the customer's pain points, demands, and expectancies by analysing all available information. Take the example of a famous ketchup brand that acted expeditiously upon customer feedback highlighting the need for increased convenience in daily use. Exhibit two is self-explanatory.

360-degree Customer Care

Training customer service teams to be the ‘best amongst the best’ is critical. In many cases, the customer experience is closely driven by first-hand interaction with the customer care executive/helpline. Building systems and processes at an organisational level that allow a single customer view so that specific details pertaining to each customer can be accessed is the need of the hour. Also, such information should be made available to all functions for empowering and aligning them with the customer-centric strategy.

360-degree Customer Feedback

While the customer feedback is provided through multiple sources like customer care and sales teams, websites, survey questionnaires, google forms, social media, etc, it is imperative to address each through a carefully created repository backed by a tech-oriented query resolution and product development process. This forms the backbone of a consumer-centric culture.

360-degree Content

Over the last few years, Google’s search engine has shown a preference towards human-friendly content, ranking it higher than just content that hits all the right keywords. Therefore, the more humanised the content strategy, the more it will connect with the target audience. 360-degree content, hence, is people-centric and adds value to the product features and business-led articulation.

To sum up, customer-centricity is the bedrock for businesses and in many ways decides their fate in terms of 'Intention to Purchase (ITP).' Brands, slogans, products, and media are only the spokes that help bridge the gap between the customer and the business and influence 'Top of the Mind Recall (TOMA).'

In essence, the brand reality today is defined by its collated perceptions and insights of the customers. Having said this, customer-centricity is a lifelong approach and needs constant attention to changing customer/market needs, perceptions and expectancies.

(Atul Raja is executive vice president, global marketing at Wadhwani Foundation. The views expressed in the column are personal and may not subscribe to them.)

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