Today’s consumers are experts at ignoring the tens of thousands of brands that don’t interest them. But for their favorites, they go above and beyond what “rational” people do. What makes these rare brands—stalwarts such as Apple and Starbucks, or emerging favorites such as Birchbox and Nest—stand out from the competition?
These brands have made it their mission to continually find new ways to engage and delight customers. We call these brands relentlessly relevant. These brands religiously commit to four big tenets: customer obsession, distinctive inspiration, pervasive innovation, and ruthless pragmatism.
Today we look at the first tenet: Customer obsession.
It’s The Customer’s World; Brands Are Simply Living In It
Customers want brands that reflect who they are, and they now have the power to demand what they want, on their terms. Brands that fail to embrace a profound outside-in approach are quickly forgotten and overtaken by challengers, seemingly overnight.
If you want customers to love your brand, you have to learn to love your customer first. Building a relentlessly relevant brand begins with adopting a customer-obsessed mind-set. Being customer-obsessed requires a pervasive focus on creating customer empathy–better understanding what is important in customers’ whole lives, not just the narrow slice our brands live. Then—and only then—can you better understand how to be relevant in those moments that matter. We see three “easy” steps to help you on this customer-obsessed journey.
1. See your customers as people, not transactions: Most marketers approach customer insights by asking, “What will it take to get our customers to buy more?” They are using a transactional lens, making their focus too narrow. They are listening to customers, but not really hearing what’s important: what customers are saying to each other, on line, in reviews and in context with the greater world around them. This leaves most companies deaf to the deeper conversations that are really going on that can reveal opportunities to build true and profound relentless relevance with their customers. Marketers need to understand a complete view of their customers’ world in order to be relevant and gain more attention, intention, and engagement.
Marketing agility will continue to be the term you will hear most often over the next few years, forcing marketers to move from broad to focused and back again, allowing them to truly understand the whole customer, and giving them the power to inspire breakthrough innovation rather than incremental progress.
Netflix has reshaped its category by embracing customer obsession and becoming an indispensable part of customers’ lives in 50 countries with nearly 40% of U.S. households holding subscriptions. Netflix built its success on developing a keen sense of what its customers love to watch and how they love to watch it. The microunderstanding of customers is delivered through hyperpersonalization and recommendations based on behavioral algorithms.
Customer obsession allowed Netflix to create the category breakthroughs that traditional media never thought was possible. Unlike traditional media, Netflix understood its customers’ hunger to “binge watch” new TV series and pivoted its content release strategy. How long before HBO, Crackle, and A&E follow suit?
2. Seek enduring and passionate shared interest connections: Most marketers approach brand building by asking, “How can we differentiate from our competitors?” Customer-obsessed marketers understand that brands have the power to create deeper connections and motivations by finding common ground–shared interests between what matters in their customers’ lives and what they do as a company.
Facing a heavy-hitting competitive set, GoPro set out to be an adventurous lifestyle brand that made technology products, rather than a tech company marketing to athletes. It created products specifically designed to equip adrenaline junkies for whom the sharing of their stories from adventures in surfing, snowboarding, sky-diving, and auto racing was almost as important as doing them. GoPro ignited its customers’ desire to capture their own epic feats and bring family and friends along for the ride. With user-generated content pouring in, the customers themselves became the marketing engine to build the brand. And it worked: The company increased its marketing cost by only $41,000 in 2013 but made $28 million more in net income than it did in 2012.
3. Embrace the change your customers demand: Most marketers ask, “How can we sell customers what we’ve got today?” Customer-obsessed brands welcome change because they understand maintaining relevance means thinking dynamically and staying nimble to anticipate customer demand. Customer-obsessed marketers seek to anticipate where the puck is heading by asking, “What will our customers be looking for next, and how can we deliver?”
Customers’ needs and attitudes will inevitably shift, and competitors will attempt to emulate other brand’s success. Customer-obsessed brands anticipate the need for change by more actively sensing what is changing in what customers value. This obsessed focus on what’s changing in customers’ attitudes will allow brands to lean forward and act with an agile mind-set, ahead of their competition.
Lego’s focus on being customer-obsessed has enabled it to continue building relevance by imagining new possibilities to stay relevant with kids and their parents. Dubbed “the Apple of toys” by Fast Company, the Danish toy company knows a lot about the future of play. Lego’s Future Lab analyzes massive amounts of global data and conducts deep ethnographic research to understand what’s next. Its diverse product portfolio has grown to keep builders engaged as they grow.
When Lego faced increasing competition from digital entertainment, it successfully partnered with Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Ninjago to keep customers engaged. Lego puts customers at the helm of their own innovation, with Lego Ideas–an online community that invites builders to submit their own ideas for the next Lego set. The community votes to pick their favorites and Lego selects winners to create actual products, giving the inventor a portion of sales. With storylines, characters and humor that entertains kids and adults alike, Lego proves when it comes to creative play; their brand will be relentlessly relevant.
Customer-obsessed companies realize that the world and the lives their customers are leading are changing fast. The notion of “adapt or die” could not be more critical for companies when it comes to embracing the core tenet of becoming customer-obsessed. If they don't, they will never achieve relentless relevance and may be facing the exact opposite, irrelevancy, the worst fate a brand can suffer.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we’ll focus on leveraging insights and analytics to make your brand relentlessly relevant.