Getting Closer to Your Customers

By Andrew Frank | January 10, 2014 | 1 Comment

Me: Siri, are you “Her”?

Siri: No, but nobody could know you better than I do.

Kudos to Spike Jonez and Apple for nailing the zeitgeist of 2014.

Consider a recent survey called The Rise of the Customer-Led Economy, in which The Economist asked CEOs, “In which of the following ‘value disciplines’ does your organization focus most on excelling? (Customer intimacy, Operational excellence, Product leadership)” Having asked the same question before, they discovered that, over the past three years:

The percent of respondents who answered “Product leadership” dropped from 33% to 18%;

The percent who answered “Operational excellence” shifted slightly from 33% to 37%;

And the percent who answered “Customer intimacy” leaped from 21% to 37% — a rise of 76%.

On one level, this obviously echoes the rise in “customer-centric” thinking as a business trend. But there’s more: customer intimacy is a growing vortex at the intersection of consumer empowerment and big data. The dream of true one-to-one marketing, once thwarted by scalability issues, is now coming into sharper focus through a confluence of technology breakthroughs: connected products, the Internet of Things, the quantified self movement, social marketing, and, of course, advanced analytics enabled by smart machines in the cloud. To be sure, the hype is still ahead of the reality, but now is the time to think about how to navigate an emerging world where more and more organizations seek – and believe they can achieve – customer intimacy through technology. This goal sits right in the center of the nexus of forces: mobile, social, cloud, and information.

To state the obvious, many folks recoil at the word “intimacy” in connection with marketing and commerce. Our collective ambivalence is reflected in our behavior: according to Pew Internet’s research, “86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email.” Yet, we also increasingly trade privacy for convenience, or other seemingly trivial considerations.

This tradeoff will only become more explicit. According Peter Sondergaard, Gartner GVP and Global Head of Research:

“In the second wave of the new digital industrial economy, consumers will shift from being largely ignorant of their data’s value to being highly intelligent, protective and selective about how they collect and manage it.

In this second wave, consumers will be enabled and empowered to own and thereby monetize their own data, effectively wrestling back the control and driving up the value equation for themselves.”

This will open a chasm between winners and losers in the customer intimacy landscape. Clearly, digital marketing strategy and tactics are the keys to determining which side you land on as consumers cull the overabundance of suitors seeking “intimacy.” The first step for many seeking to excel at this will be a realistic assessment of relationship status. It will be difficult to overcome the tendency to assume that intimacy can be won by a superficial combination of more listening and more communication.  Our resolution for 2014 will be to help our customers get to the next level of understanding of how digital marketing, and especially customer experience, can deliver a more empathetic view of relationships. In some cases, this might mean acknowledging when someone’s just not that into you.

1 Comment
  1. 20 January 2014 at 7:47 am
    Hans Willems says:

    Thank you Andrew. Always love to read your blogs. Creating an actual single relationship status is still a wish from many companies and indeed a good starting point. I believe it could also be the single source where we can understand and capture the individual value-privacy trade off and give customers a true voice. This voice influences decisions and ongoing customer communication processes. Sounds weird but not in the context of a customer led economy.

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