A few moons ago, I had the opportunity to build and lead a team of people at a boutique financial services company. These people were some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with and they unknowingly shaped the way I think about marketing today. The interesting thing was that they were not marketers. They thought differently about product design, user experience, interaction design and creating products customers were delighted to use. They believed that delivering experiences that people loved was key to building a great brand and to creating loyal customers. They gave me two books: “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper and “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. I was a marketer. What did I possibly care about how technologists approached building our products? Why did I need to understand interaction design and usability principles? What did any of this have to do with marketing? Reading these books shaped my team into a mix of product design, UX and marketing and formed the foundation for how I approach all marketing challenges today — by asking: “Who is the customer? What are they trying to do? What will make them love our product?” What I realized as I shepherded this talented team of people into this brave new world of experience marketing, is that my job as a marketing executive would never be the same. I was customer obsessed.
This turning point in my thinking was a lonely place. Marketers cared about ad spots, campaigns and press coverage. It was more about what some internal person or agency creative type thought was a pithy headline or sexy creative. It was never – and I mean never – connected to a human. Marketing was based on what we wanted to push, typically low-cost, lots of bells and whistles to get you in the door and then upsell you to something else. It wasn’t about building an emotional connection with customers or really understanding what they want or what they don’t even know they want.
After reading and learning from my team, we changed all of that. We started running in-home ethnographic research to understand how our customers lived and worked and what they did every day using our products. We met people in their bathrobes at their front door who let us in their homes and showed us their menagerie of monitors, binders, newspaper clippings and other highly personalized ways to make decisions using our products. Our executive team was skeptical and the legal team didn’t even know how to approve such an ask, but we did it anyhow. We started connecting with our customers. Bringing them into the design process, showing them sketches and ideas, listening to how they do what they do and ideating new ways to use technology to do it better. We brought them to the office, served them shrimp cocktail and chardonnay and had them meet our service team, our IT team and our product team. It was a social experiment to say the least.
To be able to put a face to your customers is priceless. They are not just a random customer. They are a human being who wants you to figure out what they need before they need it. They want you to talk to them in simple words and make things easy. They want to know what they will get from your product that will make them badass. They want to see how other customers are using your product and what makes them successful. They want to love you but you have to love them first and then always love them back. Your brand is not just a bunch of words, it is your connection to your customers (read this if you haven’t already) and your customers are connections to more customers.
When I read this recent Ad Age article I said to myself – finally, someone gets it. Victor Milligan says:
“The CMO’s agenda can be separated by a line of visibility: some pieces customers can see, and some they cannot. Key initiatives such as strategic positioning, brand and loyalty programs are traditional CMO agenda items. The new and most important item is designing consistent, high-quality, and personalized experiences across both human and digital touchpoints. The need to differentiate on the basis of experience is really what drives the deep-rooted operational changes below the visibility line.”
The traditional agenda of brand strategy, PR, advertising, communications, messaging remains in tact. But what C-level marketers should be charged with, and those of you hiring should be looking for, is someone who is customer obsessed and can inject the customer into the mix. Making that emotional connection can only be done authentically if you really know and understand the people using your product. Interestingly enough, I’m starting to see more CCO roles popping up – Chief Customer Officer – as the role of marketers evolves. Liza Landsman, CMO of E*TRADE Financial, recently left to join Jet as their CCO. It’s exciting to be part of this shifting marketing agenda and I am psyched to see that what I pioneered long ago, is making it’s way into the marketing C-suite today. Onward!