It’s the customer, stupid

What-the-customer-actually-wantedTwo separate opinion pieces in two separate industry trades agree on one basic principle:  agencies and marketers alike are overlooking the customer in their rush to do the right thing.

Let's begin with Rose Gordon's superb editorial in PR Week. Fresh from a year-long stint as editor of Direct Marketing News, Gordon's POV on PR's role in marketing has expanded faster than a Burger King patron's waistline. She's spot on in admonishing the PR industry for not having “…a firm grasp on the customer.” We really never have. Instead, we're content to rely on market research, feedback from sales forces and other second-hand sources of what the customer REALLY wants and needs. And, when it comes to results, we get high on such warm and fuzzy things as image, transparency, reputation and total media impressions. That may have worked in the past, but it's not enough in today's 24×7 customer-driven, bottom-line focused marketplace.

All of which leads me to the Ad Age opinion piece. Authored by Jonathan Salem Baskin, a global brand strategist, it analyzes the various reasons why CMOs “…are fired TWICE as often as every other C-suiter.”

Baskin (or, is it Salem Baskin?) explains why the average CMO's professional life “…is going to be short and not so sweet” and sums it up by saying the bottom line MUST be the bottom line. Pressured by analysts, institutional investors and the board, CEOs need sales results. And they need them yesterday.

CMOs, says, Baskin, are too caught up in soft results and one step removed from the customer. (Indeed, we surveyed 75 CMOs a year ago and found a shocking 75 percent had never personally experienced their brand. Imagine trying to market a Lexus without ever having entered a dealership to see what the sales experience is like?)

Gordon's and Baskin's articles are warning shots across the bow of every marketer's ship. We MUST start going directly to client's customers and experiencing the brand the way they do (or obtaining their permission to accompany them on their journey).

It's no longer enough to sit back and wait for a client or a market research firm to tell you who the customer is and what she wants. The smart CMOs, ad agencies and PR firms will INSIST on experiencing a brand, a product or a service first-hand before formulating a communications plan. That way, we'll be assured the brand promise is in line with the customer experience.

Too many ad agencies, PR firms and their clients are caught up in winning awards, believing such accolades equal success. They don't. At least not in the CEO's mind.

In fact, the winning formula in the future will have NOTHING to do with website traffic, media impressions or brand favorability. Instead, it'll be all about “…sell(ing) stuff” as Baskin writes.
So, here's a note to friend and foe alike. Do yourself a favor and experience your brand as your customer does. See where they go and to whom they speak to make buying decisions. Find out where and when it makes sense for your brand to enter the conversation. Then, and only then, begin building your marketing plan.

As Gordon says in her piece, “In the end, there is one stakeholder and that's the customer.” The marketers and agencies willing to do the heavy lifting now and follow the advice of Gordon and Baskin will be the ones still around to read AdAge and PRWeek in five years.

2 thoughts on “It’s the customer, stupid

  1. Thanks Rob. Good to hear from you. I do think the buck stops with CEO on both fronts. He or she sets the tone for the entire organization. If he wants to rely on traditional market research rather than insist key employees experience the brand first-hand, then that’s his problem. And, if he enables human resources to keep hiring mediocre talent that, too, is his problem.

  2. Well said, Rep. I believe this post and your latest “don’t ask don’t tell” go hand in hand. Inept CMO’s continually focusing on the wrong things. And there is absolutely no excuse for not experiencing your own product/service. At the same time, I think there needs to be a shift in resources to marketing budgets that allow for the kind of research and introspection required to do the job correctly. I suspect many CEO’s churn through CMO’s because of lack of sales results when the real culprit could be an operational issue or simple lack of innovation and vision within the C-suite. But regardless, spot on analysis of what’s required.