Adnalysis: From customer centricity to customer practicality
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) To be a bigger brand and a leader in any category, you need to lift customer or consumer expectations.
Everybody talks about customer centricity, but that’s as impactful as corporate values that hang on walls like art pieces bought for display. Unless you pass the wall or read the company values, you won’t really remember them.
Customer centricity suffers the same feat. Many companies talk about how the customer is important to them, but there are no real tangible and practical solutions to ensure that, indeed, the customer is front and centre. The most-vivid time that the customer plays a key role is mostly in strategic conversations that are high-level but have no grasp of true consumer needs.
Do customers know what they really want?
I once had a conversation with Kabelo Lehlongwane, FCB Africa head of strategy, about the understanding of consumers. He mentioned that people don’t really know what they want; that, as custodians of brands, it’s our duty and role to decipher consumer needs and tailor services and products to meet those needs. He used a practical example to illustrate his point which I’ll use, too. Look at the item of clothing you’re wearing right now: if that item were to be described to you, and not merchandised, and you were asked to decide whether you wanted it or not, based on the description used, would you say yes to it? Chances are, you’d have a difficult time to confidently agree to it.
The point is that clothing you’re wearing now needed to be made, produced, transported to the store, and you had to actually take a trip to the store, see the item, pick it, review it and decide that you like it and, therefore, purchase it. The underlying principle is that most of the thinking was done for you; you just had to decide. based on your need for the item, whether it was relevant for you or not. This means that someone almost single-handedly decided for you but you didn’t even know it.
The same sentiment was supposedly shared a century ago by Henry Ford.
People may not always overtly say what they really want but, when they do, brands need to take notice and pay attention.
Domino’s is a globally relevant case study: its business was tanking, so it did what any good organisation needs to do when faltering —listen to the people, its customers. Adhering to the authentic feedback, it changed how it used to do everything and completely overhauled its product: the base, the sauce, the cheese, it changed all its ingredients to create a better pizza product. Perhaps of more significance was the change in how it came to view itself: as a technology company that happens to sell pizza. As a result, it became the first company that allowed people to order pizza through Twitter, and to do so using a pizza emoji. All of this tapped into the consumer/customer’s deep-seated need for convenience.
When people say what will resonate with them or why they no longer like your product, you must take heed as if your life and business depend on it.
“Data” is one of the most-ubiquitous words today. Some data points are simple and tell a story; some require work to decipher or to articulate a story. Some are accessible; some aren’t. Yet it’s is also argued that the best innovations are not based on consumer feedback but, rather, a leader having foresight and vision that can’t be replicated (think Steve Jobs). At the core, it’s purpose that drives this vision.
Data has the power to redirect you to the specific area where a business faces its critical challenges. The correct use (mining, collating, refining, rigorous sifting, interrogating, sharing, and actioning) of data can enable a company to shift from customer centricity (an internal conversation that makes people feel better about their marketing efforts) to customer practicality — less talking and more action to elevate customer experiences and offer better products and services in the long run, creating a substantial distance between your brand and its competitors and closing all the gaps that could offer opportunities to competitors.
Companies that harness data to help them make informed business decisions stand a better chance of growing in market share, increasing their equity and strengthening their value. For that to happen, a brand would need to operate at a level beyond the norm and expected.
Brands that are customer practitioners are those that give customers within a specific category or industry a different perspective on how things should be or can be. These show customers and prospects that there are better ways to be served, sold to, engaged, serviced, and anything else that may be improved upon.
- FNB showed that the banking experience could definitely be better, that it could be done in a way that is convenient, and that customers can have control over their banking needs — all this through the smart and efficient use of technology
- With the iPhone, Apple showed us a better relationship between humans and smart phones. When most competitors were obsessed with the QWERTY keypad, Jobs asked critically, “What if the relationship between a human and a cellphone was more intuitive?”
- “Uber doesn’t sell transportation; Uber sells time” — Gary Vaynerchuck
- With Sorbet, Ian Fuhr created an industry out of a sleeping giant by creating a chain of branded spar and beauty outlets that have raised customers’ expectations (read Fuhr’s book, “Get That Feeling”).
Being a customer practitioner
There really is no formula; the idea or principle is that, as a brand or company, you need to ensure that the objectives are centered on convenience, experiences and time. (Remember theold customer service adage, “Surprise and delight”?)
The overarching question to being a customer practitioner is “how can we make things better?”
- Act more, speak less — customer service is not what you say or what you say you do but what you actually do. Word-of-mouth as a concept is not based on what the company says but what people say, based on what they experienced.
- Focus on the experiences — design better experiences (brands and companies can actually create standardised experiences that are based on ensuring that customer and consumers realise that there are better ways to be served, and therefore end up demanding the better experience)
- Invest in improving the quality of goods —good advertising can’t save a bad product, and a great product will more often than not sell itself. While advertising is important, even more important is to have a great quality product that does what it’s meant to do, and then some.
- Take what is a norm and elevate it — read further about this in all the Blue Ocean content. One of the biggest principles of Blue Ocean Strategy is taking what is expected, and either eliminating all expectations and creating new ones or advancing some of the norms, eg, McDonald’s self-service automated POS. This is taking the concept of ‘fast’ and making it extra convenient and extra fast.
The above may be incremental, but what is vital is consistency. When you’re working towards being a customer practitioner, what you really want is for your brand’s DNA to be the golden thread.
A former committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member of Vega School, a guest speaker and lecturer at Vega, Rosebank College, Red & Yellow and Boston Media House, Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) is currently a brand consultant and the founder of Thinkerneur, a brand consultancy firm, and the co-founder of African Strategy Kollective (ASK), a freelance strategy outfit seeking to add value and craft to strategy departments inside ad agencies. His podcast is called The Cut-Thru, All Things Strategy & Brand Building. He contributes the monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s point of view, to MarkLives.com.
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