I got called to the principal's office twice. As a 21-year-old.
The year was 1995. I was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper at Furman University. On the first round, President David Shi (pronounced "shy") called and said he wanted to chat in his office for a few minutes.
I was terrified, but it turned out to be just a "how are things going with the newspaper?" conversation.
No big deal.
The second time was three months later.
Brand-Centric vs. Customer-Centric Marketing
We had published an article that didn't speak highly of the administration. That one went more like I expected the first one was going to.
It was a certifiable verbal beatdown.
I actually think I cried a little bit when I walked out. (Don't tell Dr. Shi)
I know you are hoping for a transcript of that tongue lashing, but my transcript will be from the first conversation, since it applies to the topic at hand.
Dr. Shi: "So what's the buzz around the student center?"
Me: "That's the bumblebees. The rose garden is in bloom."
Dr. Shi: "Nice. [No hint of a smirk. We weren't chums yet, evidently.] I was thinking more of what the students are talking about. I know that, as editor-in-chief, you have your finger on the pulse of the student community."
In truth, I didn't know what to tell him.
I spent most of my time playing "hall ball," hanging out with my girlfriend (now wife), and failing to come up with witty responses to stressful questions.
But that idea stuck with me -- I should have a finger on the pulse of the community.
There are a good many brands that publish a lot of content, spend a lot on advertising, and basically go through all the best-practices of digital marketing, but they get nowhere because they are talking about what they want to talk about.
If you’re going to be successful in marketing of any kind in 2018 (and beyond), you need to have your finger on the pulse of your community.
Brand-centric marketing is a tone-deaf approach, that tells the customer what the brand wants them to know. That was the way I handled the newspaper business in 1995, and that's the way marketing was done at that time as well.
That was the age of the outbound marketing mindset. The marketer came up with a brand message and interrupted the potential customer with mass communication ads on the radio, TV, newspaper, etc..
Customer-centric marketing is having your finger on the pulse of the customer community--listening to what they want, and delivering it.
With the dawn of search engines, consumers gained the power of information. Now when they have a need, they proactively do their own research. Consumers developed new skills, namely ad blindness. In other words, consumers don’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t appeal to their current wants, needs, pains, or problems. That’s why brand-centric marketing is so frustrating; you can talk about your features all day long, but you won’t gain the attention of potential customers until they are driven by some other force to consider your service or product.
Customer-centric brands are discovering ways to gain that attention prior to the desire to purchase. By delivering content that their customers want, they are gaining attention early. And, with that attention, can nurture these prospects to a buying decision.
Forbes contributor Daniel Newman describes some of the benefits of Customer-centric marketing:
"Customer intelligence should become the focus. The better you know your customers, the better you can give them what they want. Greater levels of client understanding generally translate into unprecedented customer engagement."
"For any organization in the world, the target customers need to be at the heart of that organization’s marketing efforts and strategies. Brands, slogans, products, and media aren’t at the center; rather they are spokes that help to bridge the gap between the customer and the business."
Customer-Centric Marketing in a Nutshell
Inbound Marketers now develop customer personas, map out buyer-journeys, and develop automated systems to lead contacts through the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision stages of the buyer journey -- all by using tools and data to listen to what the customer wants and how they respond to content.
To take away all the fluff and put it simply: customer-centric marketing is listening to the customer to find out what they want. Then, making it and giving it to them.
It’s that simple.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. But, when a horse wants to drink, it will find the one with the water.