Welcome to the age of the customer.
Forrester analyst Victor Milligan discussed in 2016 how customers are in motion and their loyalty is an emotion, not a transaction. It illustrated that the next era of marketing is fast-moving, wild and brand-dependent—and that the ‘Age of the Customer’ is an age of customer obsession.
For marketing, this means listening and learning about customers in new ways. It’s an age where experience and perception are as important as product, and where businesses will ultimately win or lose based on their ability to connect and obsess over the customer journey, meet people where they’re at, and offer something that’s tailored to their needs.
Surviving the ‘Age of the Customer’ means surviving the enablement of technology; using data, incremental feedback, real-time production, multi-channel, accessibility, and more.
Sell the benefit
Harvard’s marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to say in his lectures that “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
This customer obsession is about asking the questions: “What will benefit them?”, “What can make it more convenient?”, “How can this be a more positive experience?” It’s a shift in mindset away from selling products and towards “doing jobs” that solve customers’ problems.
So I wonder, what’s the job your product does?
I spoke recently with a physiologist about building a personal brand in the treatment and management of chronic pain and fatigue. He was quick to ask for feedback on his pitch. The tight-yet-long-winded pitch ticked all the boxes, but sounded wooden and felt a bit forced. He knew it too.
“Feel better every day”, I suggested as he pondered some of my feedback to the pitch. He looked at me, stunned. “That’s good”.
And that’s where his story started—with the benefit. We managed to separate his industry jargon from the words a potential client might want to hear and his pitch went from a tight, yet wooden script to a natural, more story-driven idea of how he makes people’s lives better.
Segment your customers
Customer obsession is about recognising how many customers you have and using customer segmentation to drive more personal offers. Once you begin to segment, you begin to understand how the language behind selling the benefit can drastically change.
Selling the benefits allows you to communicate what that audience is after, and if you’re lucky, even speak to their ‘why’. Compare this to the simplicity of selling features of a product and our own opportunities to differentiate, build brand equity and build more comprehensive content fits with the marketing trends we see today.
If we’ve learned anything from iTunes over the last decade and a half, it’s that convenience is more powerful than we ever would have imagined. Apple’s ability to battle piracy by offering more and more convenience has proven to us that the more convenient our offering is, the more likely we are to achieve sales, even if the price is higher.
As Forrester was busy proclaiming the ‘Age of the Customer’, Gartner was predicting a “Customer Experience battlefield” where growth will depend on our ability to deliver convenience and delight consumers in ways that today’s connected economy expects.
If the customer is looking for someone who can provide the benefit they need, then convenience becomes an important part of the value equation. But convenience means something different to different people. Strong segmented data that enables you to test-and-learn customer behaviour is the variable of success if we’re ever going to take the lead and leverage convenience appropriately.
The scalability of data, particularly at an enterprise level, must co-exist with a developed capability that can rise to the empathetic, contextually aware, customer-obsessed behaviour in this ‘Age of the Customer’.
The challenge to marketers today is being ready and able to produce and experiment within their environment to continually add repeated benefits and conveniences to the customer.
It’s a challenge that requires some robust changes to leadership and organisations. These changes can appear big, but they can also start small—in our conversations about the way we lead, the structure and operations of teams, and the decision-making that adds incremental benefits to the customer.
This is a change in risk profile and entrepreneurial attitudes in a marketplace that is rapidly evolving; where the customer is constantly looking for a better benefit, a more convenient solution, and a more engaging brand to stay loyal to.
The important thing is to start now.
David Yeates is the founder of marketing consultancy D.Why and a specialist in design-led, data-driven, content marketing.