Opinion: Why are brands focusing on consumers, again?
Customer experience has become more important as brands, B2B and B2C alike seek to make their offer more diverse and more carefully catered to the needs of their stakeholders. Cameron Gunn examines this evolution
Digital technology has brought an age of change which continues to revolutionise businesses’ functions and communications with myriad stakeholders around the world. Modern brand strategies need to accommodate people from all backgrounds – your audience could be investors, end-users and employees at the same time – so it’s now vital that businesses are providing people with a quality experience across every aspect of the organisation, beyond consumer products or services.
Every brand owner should understand that the root to a better relationship with customers is a deeper understanding of them. To successfully shift towards a strong customer-focus, brands need to see their audiences as individuals with varying tastes and different requirements of a business, and then work out how the brand fits their lives.
This may sound like a daunting task, but some of the world’s most successful businesses are already doing this. It’s worth noting that these examples aren’t from companies that claim to have the answer yet, but are in the process of learning and adapting to the needs of their customer – whoever that might be.
Amazon’s bold pledge to be ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’ means that the brand has to understand four primary sets of customers: people who buy, people who sell, enterprises and content creators. It’s a big challenge and Amazon strives to meet the needs of these audiences by being a company that truly listens: it positively encourages direct communications with CEO Jeff Bezos (via a public email address), ensures that all managers attend call-centre training, including Bezos himself, and creates products and services in direct response to people’s needs.
This approach to business doesn’t need to only apply to consumer brands. GE is a notable B2B company which – literally – brings customers into its business to help with innovation by identifying and addressing many of the business challenges it faces. Recently, GE invited a set of its customers into an internal seminar to give a better insight to the real challenges faced by their client businesses.
GE’s commitment to improving the customer’s experience even extends to working with competitors. IT adapted its aircraft engine unit to take not only work with their own engines but to service and repair all manufacturers’ engines and spares. GE knew that this greater flexibility meant a better experience for its customers, so the business made a significant shift to achieve it.
IBM was once the prototypical faceless tech giant, a business which was product-oriented only. However, the company has perfected the switch to a customer focus which is typified by its product development approach, dubbed ‘IBM Design Thinking.’ This approach prioritises the end-user over everything else, and features ‘Sponsor Users’ – a small sample of individuals who reflect a project’s target audience – to work alongside the design team and bring their personal experience to bear on IBM’s work.
The common thread to these cases is cultivating a customer obsession – not as an add-on to an existing business strategy, but as a central driving force.
The most important step is to take action. While the above are major businesses with huge resources at their disposal, it only takes a number of small, individual changes to greatly improve any brand’s customer focus. In the words of IBM ‘Understanding can’t be delegated’ so trigger those changes from the top and invest the whole business in getting to grips with the individuals who use it.
Cameron Gunn is customer engagement consultant at creative consultancy Radley Yeldar