How to Build a Winning Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy
If your company follows marketing best practices, you're probably already doing user research, collecting customer feedback, and thinking about how to convert prospects into customers with targeted and personalized messaging.
If so, the phrase "customer-centric marketing" may just sound like a fancy way to describe marketing in general. But a customer-centric marketing strategy takes all of that great stuff a step further.
Customer-centric marketing goes beyond just getting to know your ideal customers in order to generate leads and fill your sales pipeline. Instead, it describes a marketing approach focused not on what's best for the company — but on what's best for your customers.
What is customer-centric marketing?
Customer-centric marketing is an approach to marketing that prioritizes customers' needs and interests in all decisions related to advertising, selling, and promoting products and services.
Successful customer-centric marketing requires a deep understanding of why your customers need what your company provides. The goal isn't business growth alone; it's growth driven by showing customers how your product/service will improve some aspect of their work or life.
And it works: McKinsey found that “companies with a customer-centric, data-driven marketing and sales platform improve marketing ROI by 15-20% or more.”
Customer centricity is a catalyst for growth and a competitive differentiator.
The 3 main priorities of the customer-centric marketer
Customer-centric marketers keep three main priorities front-and-center when planning their strategies and campaigns.
1. Customer success
Customer-centric marketing is all about putting the power into your customers' hands and helping them to become their best selves — even if they don’t end up using your product.
A company that does this exceptionally well is Gainsight. They’ve created a community for customer success professionals to grow their skills and knowledge through Gainsight University and their Pulse conferences.
Through this community, Gainsight has become known as the go-to company for customer success knowledge, which makes them a leader in the space.
Rather than spending all of their time and energy preaching about the benefits of Gainsight, their marketing team works to advance the interests of the customer success industry overall.
2. Customer advocacy
Customer-centric marketing organizations thrive on advocacy. They work hard to uncover what their customers really want from their relationship, and they go to bat for them internally and externally.
This might mean creating more helpful resources to help them get better at their jobs, or it might look like sharing a customer’s success on social media to help spread their news.
Jill Rowley explains that, when done well, advocacy goes both ways:
“You need to craft experiences that evoke emotion. Advocacy is reciprocal, and earned. Be an advocate for your customers so your customers will want to advocate for you.”
3. Long-term strategy
Many marketing organizations are measured exclusively on the number of qualified leads they bring into the sales funnel.
This can lead to some quick-fix solutions designed to get customers in the door, but these tactics are often short-sighted. While they might connect your sales team with a customer, they don’t build a long-term relationship.
Customer-centric marketers avoid these short-term wins in favor of creating long-term value.
Bill Macaitis puts it succinctly: “A narrow focus on leads (to the exclusion of all else) drives marketing tactics that nobody likes. Those tactics degrade your brand integrity, and they leave you with more detractors than promoters… which doesn’t bode well for your long-term success!”
Developing a customer-centric marketing strategy
Customer-centric marketing requires acting with purpose; the shift doesn’t just happen by itself. Here are the steps you can take to refocus your marketing on your customers.
Start with senior leadership
A shift in company strategy is always more effective if it’s supported by those at the top. Teams who are inspired by their leadership will thrive in an environment where individuals feel heard and supported. In turn, according to Macaitis, they'll "manage the customer experience with the same level of care and understanding."
The fundamental skill required for this inspirational leadership is “centeredness,” which Bain defines as “a state of mind that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present.”
These are all also qualities essential to customer centricity. When leaders demonstrate these qualities internally, employees feel confident reflecting this way of doing things with customers as well.
At Help Scout, senior leadership is very closely involved with customers, demonstrating customer centricity through their actions and words. “We built this company because we want to empower our customers and make their lives easier,” Co-founder Denny Swindle explains.
“By remaining close to customers through support, we see what customers are saying. Each of us has the opportunity to help solve problems — through business decisions, product improvements, and design.”
Even if your senior team isn’t fully on board at the beginning, pull them closer to the customer by offering opportunities to speak directly with users and sharing customer quotes. By building connections and showing the success of customer-centric marketing, you can move them closer to the end goal of full support.
Get to know your customers
To succeed with customer-centric marketing, it should go without saying that you have to take time to get to know your customers really well. There are a lot of different ways to do this:
Conduct one-on-one interviews with current or former customers.
Send surveys out to customers to get mass feedback on a specific set of questions.
Use social media monitoring tools and Google Alerts to see what people are saying about your company online.
Use the data that you have available to you in any analytics tools your company subscribes to.
Spend time helping your support team by reading and responding to customer emails.
Jump on calls with your sales team or listen to recordings of their calls with prospects.
Getting closer to your customers requires getting closer to the people who speak to them every day. Front-line teams like customer support and sales have a wealth of information about what customers are asking for and what they want.
Build infrastructure around the customer
Investing in customer-centric infrastructure will have the biggest reward. Systems and workflows are the best way to scale personalized experiences.
For example, connecting customers to the resources that are most appropriate to them requires targeted messaging built around customer segmentation. Optimized design can create flows for each type of customer need or job-to-be-done.
Customer-centric marketing needs to be hyper-personalized to be effective. Knowing your user personas is a great start, but in order to effectively speak to each individual person, customers need to be segmented in your systems.
There are an infinite number of ways you can segment your user base. From the services they use, to how active they are, to their job titles — the more granular you can be about your customer base, the more specific you can be with your marketing strategy.
Rather than building tools designed to accomplish business goals (e.g., getting customers to sign up), design tools to accomplish customer goals, and the business’s success will flow from that.
Publish content your customers want and need to read
Your brochures, your website, your blog, and your sales deck are all pieces of content that customers will see and interact with. A customer-centric marketing team builds its content in a very specific way so that it’s helpful to customers, even if it doesn’t directly sell or promote their product.
To build the most helpful content, Camille Ricketts, founding editor of the First Round Review, suggests asking the following four questions:
Who are these customers you’re trying to reach?
What are their personas?
What are the other problems that are extremely painful in their lives?
How can your brand work on solving those, whether they have anything to do with your product or not?
Collect feedback and iterate
You might not hit the nail on the head right away; that’s okay! Part of being customer-centric is continuing to listen, adapt, and respond to changing customer cues.
“Assuming that you start with a quality product and service, being customer centric means understanding the customer’s point of view and respecting the customer’s interest. You fix problems, handle complaints, and remember customer preferences.”
Building a closed-loop feedback system — one where you collect, act on, and respond to customer feedback — will mean that you’re constantly shifting your marketing strategy to be better.
Build your customer-centric marketing strategy
Becoming customer centric can feel foreign at first. Shifting your focus from filling up a funnel with qualified leads to meeting the needs of your target customers will take time, but the payoff is a more rewarding way of doing business.
Fulfilling your customers’ needs and being truly helpful results in stronger relationships, which means a more sustainable business in the long run.