Five Steps to Building a Customer-Obsessed Brand

What brands want and what their customers want are two very different things.

“Every brand says ‘We’re customer-obsessed.’ What does it really mean, though? What does it mean to say ‘I want to know the customer so intimately that I can serve their needs at a deep, meaningful level’?” asked Forrester vice president and principal analyst Brendan Witcher on the recent Signal webinar Marketing in the Moment: How Real-Time Data Keeps Brands in Lockstep with Customers. “Most companies serve [consumers] in ways that aren’t what I call ‘customer-obsessed’ as much as ‘company-obsessed.’ Things like ‘We want to make it convenient, we want to make it simple and we want to make it easier for customers to buy our products and services’ are banal platitudes. [Brands] end up being company-obsessed because they don’t really know what to do and what not to do.”

But any brand can make customer obsession a reality, Witcher said. It just needs a roadmap forward. Here are the five steps all organizations must take:

  1. Recognize when your brand’s messaging is company-obsessed, not customer-obsessed. 

True customer-obsessed organizations know precisely how to serve consumers in critical moments throughout the path to purchase, Witcher explained, namechecking data-led brands from Amazon to JetBlue to Netflix.

“Amazon starts with a customer problem first. Then they find the data to prove that [the solution] would be valuable before they take a step and do something about it,” Witcher said. “Your marketing needs to be driven the same way. It seems obvious when you say it out loud that ‘To serve the customer we need to understand what they want,’ but most companies don’t get that concept, because they don’t want to do the unsexy work of working with data. They just want to do the sexy work of delivering great experiences. Quite frankly, that doesn’t work.”

  1. Create touchpoints that use and collect data.

“Understand customers so you know what to say and what not to say to them. That can be signup processes. It can be all sorts of things,” Witcher said. “I’m not talking about their age and gender and zip code, either. I’m talking about ‘What day of the week do I shop on? Who’s my favorite person to shop with? Do I come into physical locations? Do I shop online? Do I use your app? How many times do I come to your website before I actually convert?’ These are the things that are important about each customer that we need to understand, and that lead to category-disrupting innovation.”

Brands can gather this insight by making it clear to customers that better data translates to better experiences. “You have to offer the value upfront. You have to explain to the customer what they will get or show them what they will get in exchange for [sharing their personal data],” Witcher added. “Addressing intent is what matters. ‘What do I want? What do I need?’ Feeling understood matters. How much does it matter? It matters to the point where that’s what’s going to drive whether or not your business succeeds.”

  1. Create triggers for real-time suppression to assure customers feel heard and understood.

“Good strategy isn’t about what to say to the customer. It’s about knowing what not to say,” Witcher said. “By listening, capturing, measuring, assessing and addressing intent across every enterprise touchpoint, you’ll know what to say, when to say it, and also what not to say.”

This kind of profound insight into the customer psyche begins with data onboarding — the technical process of uploading a brand’s offline CRM data to the online environment to match with digital identifiers.

But onboarding solutions are not created equal. Legacy onboarders upload a brand’s customer data files in batches, match them against digital identifiers and push out customer profiles to media vendors within five to seven days. Any data that is not matched to a customer during this initial batch upload disappears, and any customer activity that takes place afterward is not recorded — it’s lost forever.

Compare that to a real-time onboarding solution, which captures, merges and activates data within milliseconds. “Onboarding in real time enables brands to recognize and relate to consumer live intent data at critical moments throughout the buying cycle,” Joe Doran, Signal executive vice president and chief identity officer, told the Marketing in the Moment: How Real-Time Data Keeps Brands in Lockstep with Customers audience. “By building that identity graph and that device graph, you’re able to recognize additional attributes or events that are happening, so you can take action and deliver or suppress messages when they’re needed.”

Why would a brand wish to suppress media to certain individuals or audience segments? Maybe the customer already purchased the product the brand is advertising. Maybe she converted midway through the campaign. Or maybe the campaign content is inappropriate for her particular demographic. Whatever the reason, real-time onboarding is fundamental. Your customers move in real time across devices and customer touchpoints, after all; you can’t wait five to seven days to understand how they’re engaging your brand. You must move at their pace, or else jeopardize a potential sale — or worse.

  1. Don’t dismiss service as a key touchpoint for determining the right messaging.

“Whenever a customer talks to you, that can be used to understand what the customer needs and what they want,” Witcher said. “Any interaction can be used as a key customer touchpoint for determining the right messaging,” he added, citing the example of women’s sportswear brand Fabletics, which requires customers to log in to store fitting rooms via email address.

“Fabletics customers feel like Fabletics ‘just gets me,’ so it doubled down on understanding who the customer is,” Witcher said. “I put in an email address, and then I scan the items that I bring in with me. That’s the ability to learn: ‘This is what I’m interested in. Even if I don’t buy them today, there are certain characteristics about these products that I’m interested in, and by having my email address, you know who I am — you’ve created an identifier for me.’ Each touchpoint has to both deliver experience and collect data about the customer, and this is a good way of doing that. By contrast, do you know how one of Fabletics’ closest competitors does their dressing rooms? They write down the customer’s name on a whiteboard. Have you ever tried to get data out of a dry eraser? It’s a very hard thing to do. So, which relationship do you think is stronger after a visit to a store?”

  1. Adopt the right culture and organizational structure for supporting a data-led strategy.

“The truth of the matter is if you don’t fix culture in an organization, you will be the same company next year that you are this year,” Witcher said. He urged webinar attendees to help their colleagues understand what it means to be customer-obsessed versus company-obsessed: “Help them understand what it means to do individualization, and what companies are doing today to deliver those great experiences, so they can get buy-in for the initiatives that you want to do.”

Witcher suggested kicking off the transition process by determining the company’s current data strategy. “Then go to the organization and say, ‘Look, here’s a bunch of things we could do if we just had data on it.’ Look for the quick wins. Look for things that allow you to say, ‘Here’s an easy place for us to learn, here’s an easy experience we can deliver,” and then test it, launch it, see what the results are, and bring that back to the organization to show proof of concept that a data strategy works. It’s all about showing that data can have value, and that you should be using it for strategic purposes.”

For much more on building a true customer-obsessed brand, view the 1-hour webinar, Marketing in the Moment: How Real-Time Data Keeps Brands in Lockstep with Customers on demand.

Originally published June 19, 2019

Joe Doran

A seasoned executive with 20 years of experience at companies including General Mills, Microsoft, Media6Degrees (now Dstillery) and Rallyverse, Joe is dedicated to creating technology solutions that make digital marketing more addressable, scalable and efficient. He was formerly Chief Identity Officer at Signal.

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