True customer-centricity requires proper investment

Marketers often talk about their desire to be more customer-centric, but it won’t be achieved by cutting corners. Brands must invest both time and money to get it right.

customer-centricityIf I were to rank the statements of intent I hear uttered most often at places marketers gather to discuss industry roadmaps, “We have to be more customer-centric” is up there.

Always delivered with a confident air that suggests this person has found the key to unlock marketing’s potential to transform businesses, it is invariably received with unequivocal positively.

I cannot disagree. The customer is king, and marketers are their courtiers. My usual retort is, however, “How the dickens is that different from at any point in marketing’s history?”.

It is puzzling so many in the industry have to restate what should be a statement of the obvious. It does, however, seem absolutely necessary.

Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest the factors underpinning human emotion, motivation and desire remains consistent, technological and cultural developments mean there is a strong case for a rethink.

What’s needed is a clear-headed analysis of the virtues of the tools and techniques used in customer insight and the process and structures necessary to ensure it is the customer, and not company concerns, taking precedent.

With this in mind, we decided to interrogate the state of customer insight. Check out our feature exploring the steps necessary to achieve marketing nirvana – customer-centricity. But first, we scrutinise the direction of travel in insight – where we are and where we should be.

For brands blessed with the ability to capture from customers, it must be tempting to hoover up more and more. But more might be less, and cheaper is not always better.

What comes through strongest from our deep dive is the need to employ multiple methodologies. There is no one-size-fits-all. Behavioural science, experiments, ethnography, focus groups – a combination of some or all – with an element of instinct and curiosity should get you a long way to meeting customer needs.

How brands can be truly customer-centric

I am sure most of you will either be nodding in agreement or grumbling at my ‘Marketing for Beginners’ lessons. It is, however, a message that may be getting lost.

Reporting of the industry’s quarterly barometer of sentiment and investment, the IPA’s Bellwether report, generally focuses on the ups and downs in spend on media channels. What is seldom highlights is the relentless cuts to market research spending.

Investment in market research fell 2.9% in the second quarter, according to the report. This is far from an anomaly. It has been a pattern for at least two years. I’d wager if I was to track back further, I would find the same.

There are several possible explanations for this. The volume of diagnostic tools available to marketers is growing every year. And with more options comes lower prices. It may be there are more cost-efficient ways that will not compromise insight. It might also be cheaper does not equate to better.

As many of the people we have spoken to recently have alluded to, brands are blinkered in an unerring pursuit of data. Our columnist Tom Goodwin wrote in Marketing Week last year, marketers are sucking up data through easy-to-measure means, such as feedback surveys, at a furious rate. Simple to track, easy to apply as KPIs, but utterly useless in understanding and predicting behaviour.

Treat data like a friend down the pub not an idol to pray to

There are so many more ways to collect more data at a lower cost. For those brands blessed with the ability to capture from customers, it must be tempting to hoover up more and more. But more might be less, and cheaper is not always better.

Customer-centricity is a very noble pursuit. It’s a goal every marketer should be striving for, but it won’t be achieved by cutting back, by isolating your insight to single tools, by the unremitting collection of information without attempt to build towards insight.

It may be expensive, it might be time-consuming, but investment in research will yield meaningful results.