The rise of e-commerce companies has put unprecedented pressure on traditional brick-and-mortar. This is survival of the fittest—not just from a product, delivery, or service standpoint, but from a holistic approach to customer-centricity.
Gartner predicts that 85% of customer interactions will be conducted without human interaction by 2020. Technology alone cannot solve customer experience. It must be built into the fabric of the organization: Every employee role, every step of the product development process, every touch point with the customer should be fine-tuned to acquire and retain customers and turn them into brand advocates.
At the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit in September, I had the opportunity to learn how three iconic brands—Five Guys, Under Armour, and Stella Valle—approach customer-centricity. Senior marketers from each participated in a session called “The Customer Centricity Imperative,” which focused on how brands can stay top-of-mind in an increasingly crowded, fragmented media landscape. And although the companies they work for vary in terms of size, age, and target market, all executives agreed that the key to cutting through the noise and creating market differentiation and loyalty is being customer-first in everything they do.
Five Guys has been a growing, family-run business for 30 years. The company, which started with just one store in Virginia, now boasts more than 1,500 locations across three continents, and it continues to expand.
Molly Catalano was the company’s first head of marketing; 14 years later, she has been integral in the company’s growth, success, and customer engagement. As vice president of marketing and communications, Catalano leads all areas of marketing, communications, and customer care, reporting to the head of the company’s operations.
In 2017, Five Guys unseated In-N-Out as the nations’ favorite burger chain, ranking No. 1 in purchase consideration. How did it do that? After all, Five Guys has never spent a dollar on traditional brand marketing or advertising. Instead, the company has invested elsewhere, putting their customer experience with their products and stores at the center.
“The vast majority of the marketing budget goes into the company’s Mystery Shopper Program. We use the data to reward the top-performing stores by giving financial bonuses to the employees of those stores,” Catalano told attendees. “These employees and managers are on the front line with our customers. There’s nothing more valuable to Five Guys than our customers, and we want every employee from the front lines to the back office to remember that.”
But for Five Guys, the customer experience doesn’t start and stop with employee interactions. The company’s product has not deviated from its initial promise—the meat, produce, potatoes and buns are fresh, and it uses the healthiest of oils.
“We are incredibly proud of our training program for managers. It’s intense, and the results show in our stores,” Molly stated. “We want to ensure that every customer knows exactly what to expect when they walk into any Five Guys from Virginia to London. The founders of Five Guys had this mission from day one, and it’s integral to our success.”
Under Armour’s commitment to customer-centricity has meant refocusing part of its marketing efforts in recent years to social media, where its sports- and fitness-obsessed customer base congregates. Under Armour burst onto the sportswear scene 22 years with its iconic “We Must Protect This House” TV campaign, which featured football players training and screaming the brand’s signature phrase into the camera. But the brand now sees Instagram and Twitter as the main entry points for its customers.
Kelley Walton Coleman, global head of experiential marketing at Under Armour, talked about the challenges and opportunities the dynamic global brand faces as it evolves its focus.
Under Armour has become less reliant on intuition to define and engage with their target consumer, she told attendees. Data is now at the center and comes from a bevy of sources. The organization must derive the insights from that data to deliver customer impact. To do this most effectively, the company has placed its “focused performer” consumer at the center of its marketing efforts. These consumers are focused, driven, active, and proud. They work out to take care of their bodies, and they are highly competitive.
That focus is even reflected by the athletes with whom the company sponsors or partners, as all are the epitome of focused performers. Under Armour has a strong foothold across multiple sports—several major college football programs, including Notre Dame and Auburn, switched to Under Armour uniforms in recent years. It also boasts as endorsers Jordan Spieth, the 10th ranked golfer in the world; two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry; and Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
Under Armour faces similar challenges as other large retail brands that have multiple commerce points for customers. To better understand the full customer journey, the company must look at every owned and operated digital and retail experience, and consider its customers’ partner and distributor experience as well. The entire company, from the top down, is building strategies to form a complete picture and ensure each piece positively affects the journey as much as possible.
Stella Valle is no stranger to being a challenger brand. Ever since the company’s inception in 2009, its founders had to scratch and claw to achieve every milestone. The e-commerce startup got its big break in 2013, when it was one of the first small businesses to be featured on the now-hit ABC reality show “Shark Tank.”
Ashley Dellavalle Jung, who doubles as the company’s co-founder and chief creative officer, and co-founder Paige Dellavalle are sisters, West Point graduates, and both served in the U.S. Army before starting their women’s jewelry line. Their Shark Tank appearance so impressed hosts Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner they invested $150,000.
Stella Valle has since refined its marketing strategy to be hyperfocused on one market niche: independent, successful, and strong females (or, as Dellavalle Jung referred to them, “women warriors.”) As such, the company has made customer retention its primary goal and has even taken to redesigning its packaging to reach it.
“We know that our women warriors customers have a lot of options for jewelry. We learned early on that we had to show that we understood them that we were just like them,” Dellavalle Jung said during the discussion. “From our packaging and customer care for our e-commerce customers to our in-store experience, we want our brand to mean something to our loyal customers.”
Stella Valle has expanded beyond e-commerce into in-store partnerships with boutiques and large retailers, with plans to launch several pop-up shops in the fourth quarter of 2018.
These inspiring marketing leaders pulled off an incredible panel. There’s clearly no one-size-fits-all solution for creating a stellar customer experience. But all three remain authentic to their brands, all the while driving successful, customer-centric businesses.