The dawn of the age of the customer

Over the years, plenty of companies have claimed to put the customer first. A much more interesting statistic would be how many have actually done so; how many managed to really live the values enshrined in the mantra “the customer is always right”.

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Certainly, in the days before the internet, putting the customers first was a difficult thing to do. Using traditional market research to find out who they were and what they wanted was complicated and expensive, and the only places where a more significant exchange of views could happen were in retail outlets or the customer services department. And any information you did collect in those situations was suspect because it came from tiny numbers of individuals. As Simon Waldman, group product director at LoveFilm, pointed out in NMA recently, “the plural of anecdote isn’t data”.

Interactive media, and in particular social media, changed all this. The internet is, among other things, a 24/7 focus group where there will always be someone, somewhere, talking about your brand. It gives marketers the ability to find out what their customers and prospective customers, are thinking about their products and services, and usually in sufficient numbers for the information to be useful. However, as our article points out, most companies are still using social media to broadcast information, rather than to listen for it. But those that do are able to hone their marketing to make it more effective, to address customer service issues and to feed information back into the research and development process to align their products and services better with what customers want.

It’s not just in the social space that an increasingly customer-centric worldview is paying off. In our Strategic Play feature, Penguin Digital MD Anna Rafferty explains how the company has built reader communities whose discussions help people discover the next book they’ll read. Our piece on optimisation explains how companies such as Volvo, Travelex and MyDeco are using a combination of sophisticated analytics packages and comparison testing to discover how customers are behaving on their sites and to make improvements. And our feature on affiliate marketing looks at how brands are moving away from a ’last click wins’ model for paying the marketing partners that drive traffic to their sites. Instead they’re looking for ways of giving credit to those sites based on customer journeys.

All this leads to the point made by Matt Isaacs, founding partner of Essence Digital, in his Viewpoint piece. He argues that, up to now, digital marketing has been focused on using the masses of data that can be generated to optimise individual channels. But customers don’t see the world that way. They don’t differentiate by the type of device they’re using when they receive a marketing message. So to deliver better business performance, marketers need to see the world the way customers do. The difference is that now, they have the tools to do so.

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