In this series of Smart Insights Best Practice Advice, Danyl Bosomworth of SmartInsights.com shares tips on best practice to get better results from digital marketing. This week, Danyl looks at the thinking behind 'human-centric marketing' - and how you can apply this to your own business.
I’ve recently been thinking that most marketing today is still very product or category orientated – based entirely on what the business has to say or sell… typically it’s very features orientated and competitor obsessed as opposed to what the customer is wanting to find, learn, decide or buy? This isn’t so much a criticism but a reality of pressured organisations today where marketers (including digital) are focussed on sales in its most direct sense.
There’s potentially a huge gulf between the marketers and customers which is where customer-centric marketing came in to the fore 10 years or so back and Philip Kotler inspired a new generation of marketers. Customer-centric marketing was born from the information age and where CRM’s over took corporate structures broadcasting information en masse, it typically adds to product based marketing through leveraging customer intelligence:
- Segmentation and needs analysis
- Persona development
- Segmented messaging
- Determine products and services to fit segments
- Listen and respond to the market
Now we’re told there’s ‘human-centric marketing’, again inspired by Kotler (author of Marketing 3.0) amongst other gurus such as Seth Godin, Brain Solis and David Meerman-Scott. The thinking here is that technology, specifically Internet based tools, mobile and social technologies, enable us to take customer-centric marketing to a whole new level because marketing is out of date. Until now marketing has viewed people as passive participants in the communications process – recipients or ‘an audience’, and then only measuring success by sales alone. Is this really so relevant in 2011?
“Human-centric marketing is defined by brands that approach engaging their current and prospective customers via advertising and marketing tactics as whole human beings with hearts, minds, and spirits.” Philip Kotler
Web 3.0 (or the Semantic Web), is talked as being about the connection of things using Internet-enabled devices and the ability for technology to figure out the real meaning from the interactions and the data between an infinite number of touch points. Whilst technology continues to bring people and brands closer together, Kotler’s also saying that there’s a cultural shift that’s making it happen, people increasingly want to be more connected.
Even if this feels a bit much for most business, we’d have to admit that things are certainly changing? Customers are empowered and increasingly feel in control of the conversation.
So is most digital marketing managed the wrong way around?
With this shift in mind, I’d suggest most often marketers come from a combination of a product based meets customer-centric marketing perspective, with a weighting towards the former? Contrast that to budget standpoint, is it fair to say that 80% of marketing budgets go to some form of outbound advertising or promotion, with that remaining 20% going to engage the customer with some form of (we hope) valuable experience related to inbound marketing.
Marketers can be the people who join the dots, the touch points, with the customer and make every experience with the brand consistent, positive and valuable. To start with the customer in mind from the out-set.
How can you apply this to your marketing?
The solution is as simple as it’s difficult for business that are set up to “sell” over “market” something. It’s challenging for a company centered around their products (or services) to create relevant and valuable communications. After all the product is the centre of the organisation’s universe, the information coming from the business always revolves around the product. Spin is everywhere including customer research, where the marketing process unintentionally manipulates information to help “position” the product – instead of using that information to solve customer needs and challenges. It’s not easy and yet the mindset of a product-run organisation limits how much you can truly get involved in the customers’ lives, all this whilst the world has changed. So, what’s the solution? Here are my 7 ideas:
- There is no one customer or average person: Focus on understanding the customer segments in both a data sense and a very human way. Understand their needs, likes, dislikes and motivations. Why do they buy? What questions have they got burning about your category, product or service. Turn this insight into personas that a whole business can get behind, make them human and representative of the the segments. This is achieved through database analysis, qualitative and quantitate research and discussions with people who work at the front line.
- Understand the customer’s ecosystem: Consider that each of those personas uses the web in potentially a very different way, whether researching, comparing, purchasing or seeking inspiration. Customers also seek different sources of content, use different keywords when searching and have different ideas on social networks. This means that you need to know about it, to understand their world and how your brand message can fit within it, without this you’re severely limiting your chance of cutting through over the noise.
- Your brand needs purpose online: In a world where customers seek value and interaction with each other and brands, before, during and after sale then a strong brand statement and position isn’t going to cut it. What value are you going to deliver outside of sales to earn the permission to sell thereafter? Successful marketing still depends on building relationships, and as always, trust plays a prominent role in that. Keep your focus on the consumer, not you.
- Align the company: Where product-centric companies focus on distribution and throughput, consider the value of combining products that serve a single customer. Companies organized by consumer segments or personas can gain media buying and marketing leverage, with a large set of products and messages tailored to a few strong segments. A whole business can get behind the approach.
- Synchronise the consumer lifecycle: Every touch point with the customer should really tell the same story and be consistent in the message. The outcome is loyalty where they seek to purchase again and/or refer. As your customers go through the purchase funnel, and the post-purchase cycle, they should have a consistent experience that.
- Offer tangible value to the customer: The definition of a product now extends beyond the sale. Consider brands that leverage digital media to combine the product offer, content, and interaction to provide a much more comprehensive experience than off-the-shelf products had in the past. Nike+ is one screamingly successful example of that, one that co-creates a product to become a must-have to compliment both shoe and iPod.
- Ongoing customer insights can improve future results: Harnessing customer data to understand preferences, buying trends, and shortfalls in conversion or satisfaction are critical and fundamental to the company working synchronously. Yet they’re just the half of it. Technology today offers opportunities to listen and engage with consumers across the organisation, and this can start very simply with software and one or two areas of the business tooled up and listening. The company-wide process of responding, interacting and pro-actively problem solving (social CRM) can follow on later. It’s a solutions and service mindset vs. a product or sales mindset.
Can your company, organisation or brand put the customer front and centre to deliver an experience and a value that your competitors would dream about?
Danyl is co-founder of Smart Insights and a digital marketing contractor. His experience spans brand development, direct marketing and digital marketing, with roles both agency and client side over the last 12 years.