It’s likely not a surprise to you that putting your customer first is good for business. But building a customer-centric marketing strategy for your business can be difficult.
Not only is uncovering what your customers truly want difficult, but it can also often feel like it’s directly in opposition to your business’s best interests (“I’m afraid we can’t discount that product by 99%, and I can’t give you our CEO’s phone number.”).
The good news is that putting in the work to deliver customer-centric marketing pays off.
Help Scout believes customer centricity isn’t just great for business — it’s also a more satisfying way to interact with customers. Abigail Phillips, Head of Support at Help Scout, says, “Help Scout creates an environment where we’re able to build relationships with our customers in a way that is more helpful to them and, ultimately, more satisfying for us.”
Keep reading to learn how you can create a winning customer-centric marketing strategy to build more meaningful, long-lasting relationships with your customers.
What is customer-centric marketing?
A customer-centric marketing approach is designed to keep the customer’s needs and interests at the heart of all business decisions, especially in advertising, selling, and promoting the business’s services and products.
As Louis Grenier writes for HotJar, customer-centric marketing uses “a blend of intuition, common sense, and solid data about customer behavior.” It depends on having a deep understanding of what your customers need, how they act, and the benefit your company can bring to them.
The benefits of customer-centric marketing
Historically, marketing was important in getting your product in front of customers. The marketing mix of price, promotion, product, and place were essential to convincing customers to pick up your product and give it a try. This cycle has entirely changed over the last 10 years as customers have become more connected. Recommendations from friends and family, online product reviews, and search results carry more weight than any traditional marketing materials. Customers are less likely to trust what companies say and far more likely to trust what they read online or hear from friends.
Because of this, the customer journey is often entirely self-driven at this point. Customers do their own research, make their own decisions, and purchase by themselves using self-checkouts.
If you aren’t creating a marketing strategy that is centered around this new way of doing things, your message will be tuned out by customers who are used to helping themselves.
The benefits of customer-centric marketing are numerous:
- A better understanding of what your customers really want
- The ability to speak directly and impactfully to different types of customers
- Customer relationships that last longer and are built on providing value
But ultimately, the real benefit of customer-centric marketing is a more profitable company with sustainable growth. 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 good for your company’s growth.
How is customer-centric marketing unique?
Maybe you’re thinking that customer-centric marketing sounds pretty similar to how you already do things in your company. You do user research, collect customer feedback, and think about how to convert prospects to customers by speaking their language.
But a customer-centric marketing strategy takes all of that great stuff a step further. There are three priorities that these organizations keep front and center throughout their planning.
Making your customers successful will trickle back to your business.
A company that does this exceptionally well is Gainsight. They’ve created a customer-centric community for customer success folks to grow their skills and knowledge through Customer Success 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.
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 customer will want to advocate for you.”
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, and 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: Don’t piss off your customers! “A narrow focus on leads (to the exclusion of all else) drives marketing tactics that nobody likes,” says Macaitis. “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!”
The toolbox required for customer-centric marketing
Intentionally putting your customers’ needs and interests first requires a different set of tools than traditional marketing. These tools help you to become more aligned with your customers and measure the success of your marketing mix.
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.
Typically, teams will segment users based on their lifetime value (LTV) in order to target their marketing to higher-value customers. However, 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.
Seeing things through the eyes of your customers is the central tenet of customer-centric marketing. Anything that helps you achieve that goal is a great tool to add to your marketing tool belt. For example:
- A five second test puts your website in front of your target market to make sure the message resonates as you intended it to. Users see your webpage for exactly five seconds and then are asked a series of questions about their impressions. Don’t assume your customers will have the same context you do when you’re writing your webpage copy!
- In-page feedback widgets are a great opportunity to hear what your customers are thinking in the moment as they work through your website or app. Help Scout’s Beacon allows your customers to contact your team for help or search for help themselves. Because Beacon is available right then, right there, customers will tend to give you more unfiltered feedback than if they need to go searching for a contact number or email elsewhere on the site.
- Customer interviews connect marketing and product teams with people of interest so they can hear completely unfiltered feedback from the people that matter most. Often, this direct connection can provide richer feedback than surveys or analytics.
Often it can seem like data-driven and customer-centric marketing live on opposite sides of the spectrum. But nothing is further from the truth.
Getting closer to your customers requires getting closer to the people who speak to them every day. Front-line teams like customer support and business development have a wealth of information about what customers are asking for and what they want.
Combining this information with customer-centric marketing strategies means that your entire organization is aligned around the customer.
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.
And it works! According to the Content Marketing Institute 2018 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarking report:
79% of respondents said that content marketing has increased audience engagement in a measurable way, and 65% said it has increased their total number of leads.
To build the most helpful content, Camille Ricketts, founding editor of the well-read 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?
Developing customer-centric marketing processes
Putting together all of the tools above to deliver a customer-centric marketing strategy requires acting with purpose. This shift doesn’t just happen by itself. Here are the steps you can take to build your customer-centric organization.
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, and in turn manage the customer experience with the same level of care and understanding,” according to Macaitis.
The fundamental skill required for this inspirational leadership is “centeredness,” which is defined by Bain and The Economist Intelligence Unit 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.
Collect feedback and iterate
You might not hit the nail on the head right away. And that’s OK! 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.”
— Don Peppers, Co-founder of Peppers & Rogers Group
Building a closed loop feedback system (i.e., one where you collect, act and respond to customer feedback) will mean that you’re constantly shifting your marketing strategy to be better.
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. 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.
Creating a customer-centric company is a top priority for businesses looking to thrive in today's customer-first world.
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.