Going Beyond Customer-Centric Marketing

The debate about how much the customer controls their relationship with a brand relationship. Every company, large and small, agrees, willingly or not, that the customer owns and defines that relationship.

Where the disagreement continues, from a brand’s perspective, is what to do about it. The belief is that if marketers understand what the customer does, where they go, and what content they seek, then the brand can influence the customer’s purchase decision. To that end countless amounts of budget, time, and resources have been invested in personas, programmatic advertising, digital customer experience, journey mapping, etc. all in the attempt to spot key customer actions. With insights in hand, marketers and Sales believe they can interact with customers at those pivotal moments and shape preference or intent.

By all accounts that isn’t working really well for marketers. Emails and phone calls are routinely ignored. Inbound marketing is more effective at driving demand. Customers have vocally expressed that they build preference in ways different from what brands believe. The rise of influencers is one example.

Social media is a key channel for customers in their decision-making. The ease with which buyers can reach peers for opinions and advice has forever changed the influencer landscape. More credibility and weight is given to peers, peer-to-peer groups, and digital sites like G2 Crowd than brands. Increasingly it is not the company that controls and communicates their brand message but customers and the influencers they turn to.

Marketing is at a crossroad. On one side is the customer; on the other is the brand, the marketer in the middle.

How are leading CMOs addressing this?

We asked B2B and B2B2C Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) from a wide range of Fortune 10 to early stage start-ups companies in a study sponsored by Marketo. Pace-setting CMOs have openly surrendered to the fact that the buyer is in full control of vendor relationships, not just of the purchase cycle. The result is the rise of customer co-created marketing.

The CMOs we spoke to outlined four actions they’re taking to co-create marketing with their customers:

  • Routinely invite in high value target market buyers to collaborate and validate market strategy.
  • Engage high value customers in defining distinctive and valued lifecycle experiences.
  • Test marketing campaigns and messaging with high value customers.
  • Routinely share company results, good and bad, with customer collaborators.

Customers are not just dictating how vendor digital properties should function but also their expectations of content, products, marketing programs, sales methodology and customer-facing processes. We can see the seeds of this trend in the rise of storytelling and how customers engage, or not, with brands.  Brands that listen and open their four walls to customers have higher loyalty, retention and repeat purchase rates. This trend has far reaching implications beyond just marketers. Companies cannot just surrender but must capitalize on the customers’ desires if they expect to survive.

Pace setting CMOs are embracing this trend by aligning their marketing models to customers’ lifecycle expectations.   Customer behavior, emotions, actions, input and feedback are used to define marketing mixes without regard for traditional organizational ‘sacred cows’.  The extent of the customer’s impact on marketing strategy is substantial – as well as the rewards – when companies leverage their customers’ voice in a range of activities from defining go-to-market strategy, messaging, in- and out-bound marketing, segmentation and personalization to how digital properties functions, what strategic partnerships to forge, and what constitutes a whole product solution.  The motto is if customers value it, keep it, otherwise drop it.

Surrendering to customers and adopting a co-creation approach to marketing that intimately involves the customer is a triple-win path forward.   It is a cost effective and efficient approach to understanding how, when and with what to build enduring customers relationships.  Supported by deep data analysis, modeling, and hyper-personalization brands are able to build credibility and trust by treating each customer as an individual, on their terms, at scale.

The future of marketing is exciting as well as challenging. CMOs are faced with the duality of managing breakneck pace of change within their markets and marketing practices while educating their management on the revenue impact of customer alignment and the real value marketing brings to the table. Customer co-created marketing is a clear path for brands to meet buyers on their terms by aligning strategy, programs, processes, and people outward and around what customers’ value in achieving their target outcome.

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