Emily Tan
Mar 16, 2016

Most companies are not built customer-first, and they're in trouble

KUALA LUMPUR - Brands that have gotten fat from the rampant capitalism of the past century have put everything but customers first, and their time is over, Will Sansom, director of content and strategy with Contagious, said at the WFA's Project Reconnect event in Kuala Lumpur today.

Most companies are not built customer-first, and they're in trouble

These brands often refer to companies such as Uber, Netflix and Amazon as 'disruptive', continued Sansom. "If a company considers consumer centricity disruptive, it deserves to get disrupted."

This attitude has led to 74 percent of people (surveyed in 2015's Havas Meaningful Brands study) not caring if brands were to disappear tomorrow, said the WFA's director of communications, Will Gilroy, in his introduction to the event. 

Project Reconnect is an initiative led by the WFA to try and develop a better understanding of what people what and expect from brands. The theme on Wednesday was around putting people at the heart of the company's internal strategy and processes—not just its marketing. 

Sansom went on to take the audience through three characteristics of brands that have managed to win over the "children of Uber":

Involve them or get blocked

Brands that regard the consumer trend towards sharing their lives via Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook as vanity chasing are missing an opportunity, said Sansom. "So few brands think of letting content in from consumers, let alone integrating it into what they do."

Some brands, however, have gotten this right, including Kirin with its 'Photogenic' Beer and Great names for Great Britain

"The best work we see starts with the experience people will value and then works backwards to determine what shiny new technology, if any, may or may not be needed to create it," said Sansom. 

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Treat customers like individuals

Consumers are developing unreasonable and ever-increasing expectations of personalisation, pointed out Sansom. When asked how important it is that brands provide a product or service that feels like it was made just for them, almost seven in 10 said it was very important in apparel, automotive, F&B, financial and travel. 

They key here is obviously using Big Data—but only if you do it really really well. "It's better not to jump into data than to fall into the Uncanny Valley," he said. 

Great examples includes Nike's 'Outdo yourself' campaign for Nike+ by AKQA and The North Face's IBM Watson-powered personalised recommendation engine. 

Allow consumers to buy when it suits them

With an abandoned-cart rate of 64 percent, ecommerce is a "brutally imperfect process", said Sansom. 

Online retail players are being outgunned by platforms like WeChat, Google, Pinterest and Line that have introduced one-click purchase. "It seems like a simple innovation, but it's a really huge step."

A brand that has taken this idea to the extreme is Domino's Pizza, with its 'Anyware'—a system that allows registered consumers to order a pizza with an emoji, a Tweet, via Amazon Echo, from their Samsung Smart TV or even via Ford's in-vehicle Sync system. Partly as a result, one in five pizzas sold in the US now is a Domino's pizza. 

This process, added Sansom as an aside, also involved great use of big data, and a lot of data cleaning. 

It starts within the brand

The customer-centric attitude however, starts with the brand's own employees and its relationship with its agencies, argued the next speaker, Jon Wilkins, executive chairman of Karmarama. 

Too many employees are disengaged, and there is a fundamental distrust between client and agency, he said. This is because too many companies are putting technology, speed and efficiency first—not people. "Studies have shown that communication between two people declines when they are moved just one floor apart," he said. "Each layer of technology, is another floor."

"Love is what drives success," agreed fellow speaker David Wheldon, CMO of RBS. "If we love our customers, each other and what we do, that's how we succeed."

Amit Sinha Roy, Tata Communications' VP of strategy and marketing, said this starts with trust. Tata, he explained, starts its entire approach to business with a code of ethics. "The Tata code of conduct creates a culture of trust. First ethics, then customer, then company."

This approach must extend to the agencies brands work with, commented R3 principal and co-founder Shufen Goh. To get the best work out of agencies, brands have to share their goals, their KPIs and their processes and structures. "If the CEO doesn't believe in agencies, marketing won't be investing," she said. 

Follow Emily Tan (@kahani) for more from the WFA conference


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