Customer experience. Customer personalization. Customer obsession.
We’ve all heard customer-first marketing lingo a million times, but it’s for good reason — it works.
Today’s most successful brands are racing toward tech, tools, and strategy that places the customer at the center of the universe.
In a crowded landscape of product-centric companies, customer-centric brands are standing out while building loyalty and precious equity with niche audiences.
There is one catch, though: successful customer-centric marketing requires careful planning or you risk overwhelming or confusing the very people you’re after.
Here are five customer-centric marketing tips to help you build long-lasting relationships with customers based on trust rather than obsession.
“In our pursuit of customer centricity, we’ve almost gotten too close [to some customers]. Tread carefully, and don’t treat your customers and prospects the same way. Always ask for permission. Don’t overstep or you can risk becoming creepy.”
-Brigitte Majewski, VP, Research Director serving B2C Marketing Professionals at Forrester Research
What Does It Mean to Be Customer-Centric?
Customer-centric marketing strategy focuses on creating positive customer experiences to build loyalty and encourage repeat business.
Targeted marketing promotions, retargeting, and personalization of content based on touchpoints and behaviors are all examples of customer-centric strategies.
The Risks of Being Customer Obsessed
While customer-centricity is mostly associated with positive results, there have been rising concerns that focusing too much on customers (especially without permission) can make marketers appear invasive.
As more businesses are investing resources to get closer to their customers, it’s important to recognize that there are boundaries that customers don’t want you to cross.
Hyper-targeting, message fatigue, and ads that are insensitive to their personal situation (like unwanted health product ads following people with sensitive medical issues, or mothers that have suffered miscarriages being targeted with baby ads).
“Just as many languages have the familiar and the formal, we need to get back to that respectful protocol,” explains Majewski.
“We’ve have fallen into a habit of treating customers and prospects similarly, but this leads to creepy or just plain bizarre customer experiences.”
5 Steps to a More Thoughtful Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy
1. Clearly define and focus on your addressable market
Don’t try to be everything to everyone.
Businesses are often tempted to market to everyone in the hopes that this will get them more customers, but it’s ineffective to successful customer-centric selling.
Marketing to everybody more often than not results in a watered down brand. By narrowing down your market, you can focus your marketing strategy solely on the customers who will benefit the most on your product.
2. Don’t treat your customers and prospects the same
When you enter a party, it would be acceptable to leap at your longtime friend and give them a big bear hug or a pat on the back.
Do the same with someone that is a complete stranger and you’ll get very different results.
Customer-centric business relationships aren’t much different; you shouldn’t dole out the same interaction to customers and brand new prospects.
Prospects want relevancy, not personalization, so be careful in where and when you choose to market to them.
Think about it: how many times have you noticed a Facebook ad for something you were just talking to a friend about? We’ve all been weirded out by this.
Even when a prospect has transitioned to a customer, this doesn’t mean that they will welcome personalization.
Segmentation and journey-mapping are still important, but customer-centric selling should give customers the ability to choose how much personalization they want.
3. Rethink advertising’s role
Advertising tech and tools have come a long way, giving marketers more power than ever before.
However, “just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should,” explains Majewski.
No amount of targeting or personalization can guarantee that you will win a customer, so don’t rely on advertising alone to solve all of your business problems.
Even if you have access to troves of first-party data, as a marketer you need to exercise your better judgment in how you use that data.
In a time when data scandals and privacy concerns dominate headlines every other week, it’s your responsibility to respect your customers’ privacy and use advertising in a way that also adds value to the lives of your customers, not just your business.
4. Not everyone wants personalization
Businesses are increasing investment in audience identity solutions, but their money might be better spent researching how customers define personalization as it relates to your brand.
Once you’ve learned how your customers react to personalization from your brand, you can focus on who wants personalization and who doesn’t. Only then is it a good idea to begin personalizing customer experiences, especially if you’re operating in a sensitive market.
“There plenty of instances where not personalizing experiences is the right choice,” explains Majewksi.
“For example, there’s a school of vendors who say they can make educated guesses using biometrics on whether a site visitor has a certain disease, like Parkinson’s. But for a sensitive category like health, it’s a much safer bet to let a visitor self-identify as wanting Parkinson’s-related content.”
“Personalization is a valuable tool, but use it wisely. If you personalize a user’s experience when they don’t want it, you could come off as creepy.”
5. Rethink metrics of success
Marketing and sales KPIs are important for a company’s bottom line, but it shouldn’t be your sole metric for success.
To succeed in a customer-obsessed world, it’s important to focus on what it is your customers’ value instead of what you value.
If you tunnel vision into KPIs such as sales and conversions, you limit yourself to short-sighted, short-term metrics while forgetting about what’s number one: the customer.
A customer-centric approach instead focuses on qualitative and quantitative data across multiple touchpoints throughout the customer’s journey in order to predict and optimize future behavior.
Check the comments on your social media ads.
Create incentives that encourage customers to participate in a feedback loop.
What does engagement and analytics data tell you about how customers are reacting to your digital touchpoints?
Listen to what your customers are saying and optimize accordingly.
“Taking a broader view can unlock multiple benefits, from better brand perception to reduced costs and happier customers,” says Majewski.
Customer-Centric Marketing, the Right Way
Done correctly, customer-centric marketing can bring in more happy customers, elevate your brand equity, and generate more business.
However, if executed poorly, it can scare customers and prospects away. No amount of data or targeting tools can help you get closer to your customers if you aren’t invited.
Which is why it’s as important as ever in today’s contentious data privacy climate to employ a thoughtful approach to your customer-centric sales and marketing initiatives.
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