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About the Author
Leigh George is the founder and CEO of Freedom, a strategic branding and marketing un-agency. Freedom removes the stress and uncertainty around critical decisions so in-house marketers can tackle important challenges. Working with organizations of all sizes, across a variety of industries and categories, Freedom provides personal attention, strategic guidance, and custom solutions. Before launching her own company, Leigh led branding and content marketing at a health non-profit, was a vice president at Ogilvy, and led branding and digital strategy teams at several digital agencies. She has a Ph.D. in branding history and theory – one of the few people in the country with that distinction

How to Thrive in the Age of the Customer

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From the promises of automation with AI and chatbots to big data-driven, real-time, behavior-based personalization, technology gives us increasingly sophisticated ways to reach and engage consumers. At the same time though, it’s become more and more difficult to capture their attention.


Savvy consumers are avoiding or blocking brand communications across every channel and media. The challenge today is not how to reach consumers; it’s how to build a brand flexible enough to accommodate consumers’ changing preferences and resonate with them.

Consumers are the disruptors


With attention at a premium, people demand more than ever from brands. The internet and social media give people an opportunity to find and exchange information about brands at a scale and scope never before imaginable. Now that consumers have a voice in the global cocktail party that is today’s marketplace, they – like anyone faced with a self-involved conversational partner – will walk away from brands that don’t listen and only talk about themselves.


And they have been walking away, enough to sink companies and redefine industries. Forget about the next killer app. Consumers are the disruptors.


Just consider this jaw dropping stat. If the rate of turnover in S&P 500 companies continues, 50% of them will be replaced in the next 10 years. It’s not just technology that contributes to such high levels of churn. It’s because companies have refused to pay attention to the needs, motivations and challenges of their customers.


If you don’t understand consumer needs, motivations and behaviors, your competitors will. To stand out and connect with consumers, you need to understand your products and services from customers’ point of view.


Thick data instead of big data


While the quantitative approach most rely on in our data-abundant business environment provides an important view of what happened in the past – what button someone clicked, which emails were opened, what files were downloaded – it doesn’t tell you why people acted the way they did.


Understanding the motivations driving consumer behavior is crucial if you want to survive in today’s dynamic and disruptive environment. You need thick data, the deep insights around people’s behaviors, attitudes, motivations, beliefs and the tradeoffs they’d rather not be making to develop a rich understanding of customer needs – often ones that aren’t even articulated.


Find your brand’s sweet spot


Using thick data to understand your customers starts with your brand. To be relevant and valued, your brand must be as much about your customers as it is about your organization. The most successful brands emerge at the intersection of a brand’s purpose – why they exist – and the passions of their customers.


Whether you’re a regional home services company, a flashy B2B technology startup, or a global corporation, there’s always going to be somebody else selling what you’re selling. You can’t compete on what you do or even how you do it. As Simon Sinek says your true differentiator is your why, your purpose. 


If you don’t have a sense of why your company does what it does, you’re going to have a hard time convincing consumers why you should matter to them.


Once you know your purpose, figure out why your target customers should care about it. How does it help them with their passions, make their lives easier, better? Connect your purpose with your audiences’ passions, and you’ve found your brand’s sweet spot.


Offer an amazing brand experience


Branding at the sweet spot means creating meaningful experiences – and that includes your marketing.


We’ve all been irritated by ads and commercials that interrupt what we are trying to watch or listen to. What’s so frustrating about these intrusions is that they get in the way of something we need to find or enjoy. We hate this interruption so much we are literally now paying to not see ads.


Rather than join the ad static that people are constantly trying to escape, create experiences that are welcome, persuasive and spur action.


Whenever I go to New York, I always stay at the Ace Hotel because they include personal comments on everything from stair risers that tell you “Don’t worry, it gets better” to the exit signs that announce “Every exit is a new opportunity.” I love these little touch points of connection because they help me feel less alone when I’m traveling by myself.


In the same way that the Ace designs a unique experience that I can’t get anywhere else, think about how you can design your brand experiences from the outside in with your customers’ perspective in mind.


Be creative. Think beyond the traditional media channels that marketers are so obsessed with and consider all touch points no matter how small. You company email signature. Your invoices or receipts. Packaging. Anything that has your company’s name on it is an opportunity to add value to your customers’ lives.


The key to thriving in the Age of the Customer is to be a brand obsessed with understanding your customers and helping them with their passions.