Customer need for uniqueness

How can CX strategies support customers' 'need for uniqueness'?


Customer relationships with brands today are far more complex and nuanced than a set of numbers on a spreadsheet. Customers have a need for uniqueness, and brands must adapt to this - and adapt to it at scale.

20th Sep 2019

As a human, you want to be unique. As a human, you know you are not a number. That does not change because you become someone’s customer or decide to visit a webpage. Regardless of a business computer system, a website back-end, identity management, and the like, you are more than just a number. The difference between you and others is not a number. However, it might just be a large, very large, set of numbers.

This set of numbers could be described as a “digital you". How? Well, over time, the businesses and brands you deal with have amassed an ever-increasing amount of digitally recorded information about you. Your transactions and interactions. Using state of the art Artificial Intelligence (AI), that “digital you” enables a brand to engage with you in a truly personalised, authentic way. 

From a consumer perspective, that means an email inbox that is blissfully free of endless promotional discounts which have zero appeal to you, at that moment. Instead, your ‘digital you’ enables your favourite brands to accurately anticipate, not only what information and offers will interest you; but when and how to communicate with you. This is the power of the “digital you” in action, a world where you’ll never have to click “unsubscribe” again. Every time you unsubscribe, you affirm your uniqueness.

Customer relationships with brands today are far more complex and nuanced than a set of numbers on a spreadsheet. Your “digital you” is like a snowflake - no two “digital you’s” are alike. Alas the data on a typical corporate dashboard, call center system, or point of sales software can't tell the difference. So, what then is the missing variable in that standard set of numbers?

Brand commitment or loyalty is personal, and powerful. Yet, it is not static or permanent, meaning every interaction, every promotional email, store visit or support call, has an impact on that trajectory. Tracking that evolution requires a comprehensive record of the “digital you”, mapping every touchpoint over time.

For marketers, understanding the current value of your brand and how it relates to every customer is the key to unlocking faster, better, more sustainable business results: accelerating top line growth and significantly lowering internal costs over time, by increasing the effectiveness of the resources devoted to customer sales, marketing and support.

A need for uniqueness (NFU)

A recent article in the Journal of business research examined the impact that customers' need for uniqueness (NFU) forces on brand management, namely brand congruence.

NFU is defined as “an individual's pursuit of differentness relative to others that is achieved through the acquisition, utilisation, and disposition of consumer goods for the purpose of developing and enhancing one's personal and social identity”. 

The theory of brand congruence argues that consumers are more comfortable and committed with products/brands, which are aligned (“congruent”) with the way they perceive themselves. The perception of one-self implies self-consistency of behaviours, buying patterns and the like. This consistent and congruence has been leveraged by marketers into creating brands and, when possible, creating segments of customers. 

However, your uniqueness does not mean your behaviour will be repetitive or the same as others. The difference between you and others is something you seek (I venture to say related to the self-actualisation evangelised by the psychologist, Maslow). As the ability to alter, often through software, our consumer experience, the ability to be unique amplifies the inherent need to feel unique. More and more of us want our NFU fulfilled. What marketers need to do is to manage NFU at scale. 

The importance of commitment and loyalty

Recognising the importance of NFU is not the only challenge confronting large enterprises with millions of customers. Thanks to smartphones, we now live in an age of instant "information gratification" where customers are never more than two taps, swipes or clicks away from answering the siren song of your competitors.

In this ultra-competitive scenario, commitment to your brand and products matters more than ever, but companies cannot sit back and rest on their laurels. Hope, as they say, is not a strategy. Mass marketing is useful for raising awareness and finding new customers, but not so much for strengthening existing bonds when you are already a customer, as your expectations are higher – you value a more authentic, personalised connection.

Broadly speaking, this challenge is described as "customer experience" or CX for short, and while every analyst proclaims its critical importance, most programmes to improve CX fall short of expectations.

Everyone who has ever bought anything has also been asked at some point to complete surveys asking: "how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?", which leads to a metric known as Net Promoter Score (NPS). My colleagues and I think NPS is ready for retirement. When was the last time an Instagram influencer or YouTube star asked you a question like that? Probably never. The actions taken by the digital you (subscribe / follow / share / like) already tell that story. Focus groups and surveys are notoriously unreliable methods to measure customer commitment. Watch what people actually do, not what they say.

Instead of the classic top-down approach to segmentation, targeting and positioning, which creates artificial rules to classify groups of customers, the latest AI looks at each individual and their “digital you”, which includes all digitally recorded information – sales, marketing, support / service – and leverages the power of machine learning to measure the unique value of each individual relationship for millions of customers. Given a specific Key Performance Indicator (KPI), AI then predicts which customers are most likely to buy now based on that value or score, which is constantly evolving.

“The customer is always right.”

This time-honoured advice to business owners is another way of saying that success depends on accurately predicting what the customer wants, which until now was hard to do without that magical crystal ball that sees into the future. Your “digital you” connects the dots between your previous experiences and your unique and evolving brand relationships. In other words, with the best of breed AI, the “digital you” is truly yours and thus is always right. The “digital you” enables brands to measure the value of their interactions with you. Acting on the “digital you” enables brands to respect and leverage your need to feel unique.

Is this the future of marketing and the most efficient and valuable way to conduct business? I sure think so (and so does my digital me).

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