Be The Customer

Be The Customer

All the latest talk about customer-centricity and emotional marketing, as the dual, en vogue, focal points for B2B marketers these days, is, in essence, right.

But, I have a fear. It is that by relegating these two historic and mandatory fundamentals of marketing best practice and intuition, to process or function, they will become selective and sectioned as two parts of already compartmentalized marketing tick boxes, rather than as the absolute bedrocks of marketing itself.

By commoditizing customer-centricity and emotion, marketers will be, paradoxically, incapable of actually BEING customer centric or emotional. You see, these things both come from the heart not the head. They are ingrained in the DNA of the best marketers NOT learnt as a marketing discipline. They are the core of marketing and govern all aspects of marketing strategy and tactical action.

I’m reminded of a true story that I tell when lecturing on creativity and creative thinking. It comes from my days as a creative director, but its equally applicable to strategists, marketers, business leaders – in fact everyone engaged in business.

I was at a party on a Friday night after a particularly challenging day at work. Someone asked me what I did for a living. I thought for a moment then said the following – “Well, this morning, I was an 8 year old girl who had been raped by her uncle, then I was a 55 year old business exec thinking about how to grow my ego and this afternoon I was a mother of 3 small children, with a pile of dirty laundry, whose washing machine had just broken”.

This obviously created a certain amount of confusion and disbelief, so I went on to explain that I was an advertising agency creative director and that I’d been working on 3 conceptual campaigns that day – firstly to create a donations led campaign, profiling child abuse, for the NSPCC, then to create a product launch campaign for the new Mercedes-Benz ‘E-class’, then to create a new campaign for Currys, profiling 24 hour guaranteed delivery on Bosch White Goods.

I went on to explain that, although an adman, my actual job was to BE the target audience. To understand what THEIR lives, needs and wants really were, based on my best guess and a pile of relevant research about their lives and emotional state. I said that this was the only way I could create anything that would relate to them. The girls terrible story was not target audience but her experience was the hook with which I wanted to grab the targets attention. She was the subject of the campaign in the same way that the execs ego and the mothers laundry were. These were the heroes of the campaigns because they were central to the target audiences emotional and rational needs. The products or service that I was trying to sell were simply the answer to the customers emotional need.

The reality of course was that on some level and rooted in personal experience of friends and family – or my own, I was able to think like the exec or the laundry mother. I used these frames of reference to try and BE the customer by imagining similar things in my own life – my father was a Mercedes owning, business leading egomaniac and I know myself what its like to have children, dirty laundry and no washing machine – but neither I or anyone I know has, thankfully, ever been close to a situation like the girls. So, in this case, I tried to (painfully) picture my own daughters in this situ and how I would feel as a father facing this dread problem.

The point is that in each case described here, I didn’t only THINK like a customer, I tried to FEEL like a customer. I tried to BE them. It’s a way of working (being) that I strongly recommend to anyone facing today’s challenges around customer centricity. It’s a way of truly being customer centric rather than stating that you are. If you live your brands and offers through the minds of your customers, you will actually resonate with them, talk their language and gain their trust – and this is worth considerably more in terms of sales growth than any marketing process.

But it takes an important skill to be able to do this successfully. You need to think and act LIKE A HUMAN BEING not a marketing professional. The paradox is that the most professional thing you can do as a marketer is to STOP thinking like a professional marketer. The trick is to spend LESS time learning latest marketing processes and spend MORE time learning about people.

As an example in the real world of work, we’ve recently developed a strategy for a leading, global IT company as it drives its Infrastructure and SI technologies out to urban CTO and IT directors responsible for city infrastructures that desperately need to change and adapt in an urbanizing world.

Our start point was not the highly advanced and complex technologies/products, the marketing and sales ROI requirements, sales and other processes. It was imagining a mum trying to get her children to school in an urban landscape, then getting across the city to work on time, then home with children, safely and with all their needs properly catered for. The resulting campaign profiles multiple citizens in multiple cities around the world. It challenges the assumption that people are simple living within a city, and states simply that cities only exist to support, empower and liberate people – if they are to work.

This became one of the most successful and sustained brand and marketing campaigns our client has developed. Why? Because it is truly built not around the immediate customer, but the end customer, the human for whom everything is being done: the citizen. Once you start thinking like a human being its impossible to stop. Once you begin being the customer, you will be them all day, every day. Your work, results, career, colleagues and businesses will all be richer for it. So will you.


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