Zarina Lam Stanford
Sep 16, 2016

Customer obsession is about humanizing the brand

Brands must think about the human value and purpose that resonates in order to differentiate from the competition says SAP’s Zarina Lam Stanford.

Zarina Lam Stanford
Zarina Lam Stanford

In 2016, Forrester predicts that companies that are customer-obsessed will widen their lead from competitors, as the empowered customers continue to change the fundamentals of the market. Businesses have long realized that their strategies are tightly linked to the choices that customers make. However, few realized that the digital economy has put even more control in the hands of buyers.

With technology opening up new engagement channels, customers today are not merely buyers of products or services. Instead, they want to interact with brands, they want their voices to be heard and they want to lend a hand in shaping up their favorite brands. And they want the experience to be consistent no matter where, when and how they choose to engage with the brand.

This may seem like a tall order for brands today. Fortunately, the evolution of technology has made customer obsession within the reach of organizations.

The age of the digitally savvy customer

The explosion of customer data provided by social and digital have put extreme power in the hands of marketers, provided we learn how to wield it. A decade ago, the challenge for brands is to collect insight and data on their customers in order to properly segment them for the right marketing approach.

Today, it is no longer sufficient for brands to own intelligence about customer demographics, past purchase decisions or even what they have browsed through at the last visit.

Data is live. Technology is live. Customers are making decisions in the moment, live. Marketing must therefore be live and ready to deliver that tailored experience involving customers’ past data, present contexts and predicted future behaviours.

Digital disruptors such as Uber and AirBnb have arisen today because they are serving a gap in addressing customer needs, live. These companies have built a business model that is hinged on the evolving customer needs and experience.

However, in today’s cluttered market, where almost 30,000 new products are being introduced into the market every year, identifying that unique market opportunity has become a lot more challenging.

The R&D cycles of the past, where mega products take months in the making, are being challenged in favour of iterating new services in a scalable form until customer needs are met. Savvy, forward-thinking marketing leaders are already looking beyond campaigns to analyze the dynamic, multi-faceted relationships between customers and brands.

Building a customer obsessed brand

Customer obsession is built on three key principles. Firstly, marketing’s No 1 role is to be relevant and serving a customer need. The first litmus test is always to think about whose needs we are serving and why.

This is particularly true in what is emerging to be a C to B world where the consumer is leading businesses and where the customers’ customers are driving the transformation.

Secondly, the days of a single transaction is gone. Today, the obsession with customers has to be built over the entire life cycle of their purchasing experiences, over time and on a repeated basis.

Finally, and most importantly, brands must keep in mind that customers are humans too.

Their lasting relationship with a brand is a blend of their personal and professional experiences through different personas. Customer obsessed brands must think about the human value and purpose that resonate with these personas.

This is what I call humanization of brands and this will differentiate the customer-obsessed brands from their competitors.

Research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that customers exhibit higher loyalty with brands if they associate with the brand at an emotional level. Brands that successfully connect with customers are fulfilling a deep and unconscious desire, which is highly personal and reflects the sum of the individual values and goals.

To attain this level of customer intimacy, brands must first build a relationship that is anchored on a shared value and purpose between the customer and the brand. Focusing on building this trusting relationship, and understanding when, where and how they want to be engaged, is a far more important criterion today than the next product launch.

The future is digital

Thanks to technology, digital transformation has become a major driver for businesses and consumers alike. From the way consumers evaluate choices to how supply chains are managed to Internet of Things, technology has allowed brands to reimagine their relationships with customers.

In fact, in a recent study commissioned by SAP of 19,000 consumers of brands within Asia Pacific and Japan, digital experience by consumers strongly correlates to key business-performance metrics such as customer loyalty and advocacy.

However, many today are still struggling to make sense of the deluge of data flowing through the organization. While organizations now know that data can help marketers make decisions at the right time, using the right means, with the right content, what is more important is to have a single view of the customer across the organization.

To do this, marketing needs a platform that is capable of breaking down silos of disparate data pools in the organization. Sales data must merge with social listening, customer profiling, merchandising and even supply-chain data to create a comprehensive matrix of the customer universe.

In the digital age, customer relationships must evolve and look beyond what drives sales to building an emotional connection with customers. Brands with a clear purpose tied to human values will surpass those who don’t.

At the highest level, sophisticated brands today are already making emotional connection with customers, reinventing functions from product development right down to supply chain to centre on them.

Harvard Business Review has revealed that fully connected customers are 52 percent more valuable than those who are just highly satisfied. Can any brand afford not to be customer obsessed?

Zarina Lam Stanford is the head of APJ marketing at SAP

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