Staff Writer
Dec 18, 2015

10 drivers that separate the best from the rest

A series of simple traits defining corporate attitudes to experience, customer centricity and insights and analytics set the winners apart from the losers, a major global study by Millward Brown finds

10 drivers that separate the best from the rest

Adopting a customer-centric mindset and a healthy approach to data and analytics are crucial aspects of company culture to ensure growth that outpaces the competition, according to Millward Brown Vermeer’s Insights 2020—Driving customer-centric growth report.

The study—the result of over 350 in-depth interviews with business, marketing and insights and analytics leaders plus a survey of more than 10,000 practitioners in 60 countries—identifies 10 drivers of customer-centric growth in three key areas: “total experience”, “customer obsession” and the “insights engine”.

“It’s all about what can we learn from those companies that are growing faster,” says Marc van der Swaan Arons, Millward Brown Vermeer CMO and lead researcher on the project. “We we looked at how the winners were answering questions differently from the losers.”

The survey demonstrates that brands perform differently because they really do think differently in a number of fundamental ways, he says. The ones Millward Brown Vermeer categorises as “overperformers” stand out because they shared a number of ways that they made sure that the customer remained at the centre of their activities from top to bottom.

The 10 drivers

1. Purpose-led

“Customers expect much more than good products or services: they expect a seamless, consistent, tailored-to-their-needs brand experience that goes beyond functional benefits and is built on a clear purpose for why the brand exists,” the study finds.

Great brand purpose, it adds, tends to be based on a mixture of “inside-out factors”—such as brand DNA, credibility or heritage—and “outside-in” ones, which includes customer needs, white spaces and societal shifts.

“Ultimately, purpose should be the foundation of all strategic choices and decisions and used to create a movement for employees and customers, a movement that has emotional and societal impact.”

2. Data-driven customisation

The best performing companies are far more likely to rely on data-driven insights to inform the way they tailor their approach.  While the degree of customisation varies between industries, the use of objective data in the decision-making process shows up in 73 per cent of the survey’s over-performing respondents, compared to just 31 per cent in the bottom bracket.

“This can range from customising the actual product to customising service, pricing, distribution or other elements of the marketing mix,” the study argues. “Using insights & analytics is key here: knowing what your customer thinks, does, needs and wants is essential input in deciding how to customise the offer.”

3. Touch point consistency

However, simply defining a purpose is not a guarantee of success. Rather, the crucial factor relates to consistency: maintaining that purpose at the core of the company’s actions and “ensuring that it remains elevated and a guide to all business activities, not just an element of brand communications or marketing mix”.

This is “a litmus test for brands”, van der Swaan Arons says.

“Do you show up consistently across all your touchpoints?” he asks. “This, with this explosion of touchpoints, is the nightmare but also the dream of every marketer. What we see is that using insights and analytics to drive that consistency is a big point among over-performers.”

4. Embraced by all

The second field the team highlight is whether or not companies are fully “customer obsessed”.

“This is really about the culture of that customer centricity,” van der Swaam Arons says. “The first [area] is really that customer centricity as a concept is embraced by not just a person sitting down the end of a corridor in a little office who is responsible for that somewhere, but actually by everybody all the way down to the person who opens the door when you arrive at a Marriott Hotel.”

5. Leadership priority

By “embraced by all” Millward Brown Vermeer really do mean all—right the way to the top. Strong commitment to a consumer-centric approach among a company’s leadership is “a huge differentiator when you look at over-performers versus under-performers”, says van der Swaan Arons.

“Right from the start the customer centricity is made explicit, the customer satisfaction is made explicit, and it is linked to the CEO’s advantage and pay,” he says of the ideal approach.

6. Collaboration

“If you’re a marketing leader who thinks that you need to come up with the answers then you’re living in the wrong era,” says van der Swaan Arons. “What winners are doing is they are collaborating with partners and with customers and consumers and they’re working together to change the value proposition to make it better and more competitive.”

He cites GoPro as the perfect example of this philosophy in action, which had allowed the company to make rapid gains in the highly “commoditised” camera market by working hand-in-glove with their marketing.

“This brand has come out of nowhere with a positioning that is really about your content is the biggest part of this value proposition,” he says.

7. Experimentation

“Culture at over-performing organisations is skewed more towards ‘embracing risk and experimentation’,” the study finds.

While 19 per cent of companies globally identified as being relaxed about experimentation and risk, this is one area where Chinese firms are ahead of the curve, says Benoit Garbe, Millward Brown Vermeer managing director, Greater China and Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Among Chinese brands, 34 per cent identify as being keen to experiment—not far behind the 40-per-cent figure for global over-performers.

8. Leading role of insights and analytics

The final three drivers belong to what Millward Brown Vermeer terms the “insight engine”—the use of data and analytics in the company and how central it is in the company hierarchy.

“We also see significant differences between over- and under-performers in the instances of insights and analytics leaders who report directly into the CEO,” the study says. “For over-performing organisations this percentage is almost three times as high.”

9. Unlocking the power of data

Noting that not one of the companies involved in the study “complained about a lack of data”, Millward Brown Vermeer warns about the dangers of “infobesity” due to the enormous amount of information now available

The key to unlocking that data, van der Swaan Arons says, lies in storytelling.

“That is true for every marketer and it’s now true for every insights and analytics leader,” he says. “If we can’t tell the story that’s behind the data, if we can’t bring that alive so that general managers and supply chain people and HR people and finance people can understand what it says, can understand the story, can replicate it in their own environment, then it is useless data. Storytelling becomes a key critical capability.”

10. Critical capabilities

This means that the personality and mindset of the insights and analytics leader becomes increasingly important.

“What is the future insights and analytics leader?” asks van der Swaan Arons. “What do they look like? What type of colleague are they to the rest of the company?”

In addition to story-telling, he identifies two other crucial characteristics: “They talk business; they don’t talk research, they talk business implications … And whole-brain thinking: they are able to combine the creativity of ideas with the rigour of analysis and financial projections.”

Millward Brown Vermeer’s Insights 2020 builds on Marketing 2020, released in 2014, which was the largest ever marketing leadership initiative. The study, van der Swaan Arons says, is now “a movement that will go on for at least the next 18 months”.

“We now have a benchmarking database,” he says. “You can now come to us and say, ‘I want to benchmark my organisation against the world class.’ We can look for these 10 that we know make a difference and say, where do you stand? What is the gap versus the benchmark of world class? And what if you changed some things?”

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