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It's Not the Channel. It's the Relationship.

By Jill Manser

What's a CMO to do? With so many channels now available to flaunt your products and services, it can be a challenge to decide your media mix. Everyone is buzzing about social media and all the possibilities it sparks. Mobile marketing is gaining momentum and the world of apps and tablet computing opens up some new avenue almost daily. It can be daunting to say the least. Rather than worrying if you're on the right bandwagon of the moment, go back and let what's truly important - the customer -guide your way.

It's easy to get caught up in the shiny new marketing toy of the moment, but it's imperative that we remind ourselves that first and most important, it's not about the method of how we deliver the message. It's about the message and the customer we're reaching out to. Roll up your sleeves because, there is plenty of work that needs to happen before you start determining your channel. Take a customer-centric approach and focus on improving the customer experience. The right channels will present themselves when you keep your focus firmly grounded in the right place.

Gather Your Data
If you want to truly connect with your customers, you should understand everything you can about them. Their likes, dislikes, buying patterns, preferences, needs, personalities, where they hang out and who they hang out with. Don't assume that you think you know who your customer is. Wait and see what the data reveals, there's likely to be a few “A-ha” moments once your data is sliced and diced. According to Larry Seldon, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Executive Education Customer Centricity program, “Companies need to understand the different needs of different customers and group them into operational customer segments and sub-segments based on common needs. They then thrill their customers with value propositions that competitors cannot match. Customer-centricity is at the heart of their success.”

Speak Their Language
Once your data paints the picture of your core customer segments, it's time to talk their talk. You should have a pretty good idea of their hot buttons and can strategize and craft your message from there. Here's where you choose your channels wisely. Daily tweets may be perfectly sweet for a heavily urban-centered young audience who wants an up-to-the-minute alert about your latest collection, while a 50+ homemaker may be more likely to respond to old-school direct mail. In addition to understanding your audience's core preferences, you also have to understand their comfort level in any given type of media. Do they visit their in-box more often than their mailbox? Have they given up their landline in favor of a mobile phone 24/7? Personalizing their message and the best delivery method should happen simultaneously and have both a short-term objective and a long-term strategy in place to guide it.

Choose Your Social Media Wisely
Surprise. Even though it's the darling of the moment, the bottom line is that you should choose social media because it makes sense for your customer, not because it's got all the buzz right now. And it may very well be the perfect fit for your message and brand. The one thing that is certain, is that it changes constantly. While it's true that youth and teens are big adopters of Facebook and MySpace, nearly a third of baby boomers who use social media created their accounts in the second half of 2009. And did you know that women tend to be avid social gamers? Can you picture a mom waiting in the car pool line while she plays Words With Friends with another mom five cars back? Consider these interesting statistics when choosing the right channel for your customer base:
  • Recent estimates put less than 10% of the population using Twitter. Advertising Age
  • 46% of the US population has a Facebook account
  • Messaging, commenting, blogging, sharing and “liking” now fill up 22% of all time spent online each month.” Nielsen, 2010
  • 18-24 year olds are most likely to post and view videos and photos, while 25-34 year olds are slightly more likely than their younger counterparts to create and read blogs. Parks Associates
These Guys Get It
There are some irrefutable stand-outs when it comes to customer-focused marketers. Best Buy and Amazon both earn well-deserved kudos. What makes them stand out? They continually innovate by updating their customer segments and sub-segments and improving their value proposition, as customer needs change. And they never let their finger leave their customers' pulse.

In 2006, Best Buy posted impressive results with significant revenue growth. Vice Chairman Brad Anderson gave credit to the company's growing customer-centric philosophy stating, “I strongly believe that our decision to accelerate customer centricity contributed to our 22 percent increase in earnings from continuing operations this year.” He went on to say, “If we understand our customers better than our competitors do, and if we can inspire our employees to have richer interactions with customers, then we can more effectively compete.”

Just take a look at Amazon; its President Jeff Bezos once told Harvard Business Review, that it's important to adjust quickly to customers - not to competitors whose direction you might be tempted to follow. He shared, “In our environment there's so much rapid change on the Internet, in technology, that our customer-obsessed approach is very effective,” he said. “If you're competitor focused, you tend to slack off when your benchmarks say that you're the best. But if your focus is on customers, you keep improving.”

Amazon has always been fixated on improving the consumer experience regardless of conventional wisdom, according to Bezos's comments in Harvard Business Review, “In the very earliest days, when we started posting customer reviews, a customer might trash a book and the publisher wouldn't like it. I would get letters from publishers saying, 'Why do you allow negative reviews on your website? Why don't you just show the positive reviews?' One letter in particular said, 'Maybe you don't understand your business. You make money when you sell things.' But I thought to myself, we don't make money when we sell things; we make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.”

Want to be like these customer-focused companies?
Think like this Not Like This
I am a portfolio of customers I am a group of products and services
I tell it the way I see it I tell it the way they want to hear it
I am my customer's champion I sell products to consumers

Think Outside the Marketing Department
True customer-focused marketing should involve all parts of the organization that touch the customer, not just outbound marketing. The insights you glean from analyzing and segmenting your customer data should be shared with your e-commerce, customer service, merchandising and store management departments. Everyone should be on the same page and informed about the messages and offers going out to customer segments. Synchronizing your departments can be critical to implementing a seamless customer experience and go a long way toward building trust with your most important and loyal customers.

At Denver-based Customer Insight Group, President Sallie Burnett has helped companies create an internal communication plan that guides every company stakeholder in using customer insight to their greatest advantage. A strategic plan improves every department's decision making. She shares, “We created an internal communication plan for a large specialty retailer that put the customer at the center of the strategic planning in all departments. This ensured the customer experience was seamless across every touch point. Without that initiative, the customer data would have stayed isolated in marketing and the result could have left too much hanging. The potential for customer disappointment could have canceled out all the hard work they did on the front end.”

At the end of the day, go back to the basics and ask yourself, how would this choice in media or message make a difference in shaping the customer experience? In the words of Jeff Bezos, “Whenever we're facing one of those too-hard problems, where we get into an infinite loop and can't decide what to do, we try to convert it into a straightforward problem by saying, 'Well, what's better for the consumer?'” It doesn't get more customer-focused than that.

Jill Manser is the VP, Creative & Strategy Integration at Customer Insight Group, Inc., a strategic marketing company that helps companies improve the return on their marketing investment by developing and executing high-performing acquisition, loyalty, upgrade and retention programs. Explore how Customer Insight Group can help you increase sales and build profitable customer relationships by visiting

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