This is a guest contribution from Moazzam Kamran.
Consumer centricity is a hot topic in marketing circles. Organizations across the globe are trying to “get in touch” with the consumer through multiple methodologies. We employ consumer audits, focus groups, in-house visits, in-depth interviews, and various other techniques to try and understand the consumer’s mind. But in doing all of that, we as organizations are dehumanizing ourselves. We focus so much on getting to know the customer that we slowly and surely distance ourselves away from him.
So where does this all come from?
The problem actually lies with people being risk-averse. Why I say people and not marketers or organizations is again to humanize the problem. The issue is the word “failure”: we as humans have been taught that failure is the ultimate sin. This indoctrination has led to us becoming risk averse as individuals, which is very unhealthy. Think of any great mind – be it Edison, Ford, Jobs – they all embraced their failures and learned from them.
But how does failure relate to the consumer?
It is simple: when you are fearful of failure, you tend to anticipate it as well. Like a person drowning, we will grab at sticks. We will surround ourselves with insight now for the sake of knowledge but as a fall back option, blame it all on bad consumer insight. Soon research becomes a monotonous ritual that we do just for the sake of paperwork, our own belief for the product is replaced by an overwhelming urge to stick to routine and do as we are told.
How do we fix it?
Over the years, I have worked with phenomenal people on exceptional brands. My CEOs were insatiable people who exhibited a thirst for knowledge and always wanted to learn. That kept me on my toes. I would pore though books, articles, case studies, regardless of FMCG, appliances or technology background, it was all exposure for me. That gave me enough insight to understand that when you do the same thing over and over again you get stuck in a rut, and that’s the worst place to be for a brand.
Another thing I learned is to not be a slave to focus groups. Letting the customer guide your every move is a fool’s strategy. As Steve Jobs said: “customers don’t know what they want until we have shown them”.
Consumer empathy = insight + intuition
Consumer research does work but what is missing is realizing that there is an equation. Replacing consumer centricity with consumer empathy does not mean that you are removing the consumer from the mix; it means you are going one step deeper. Your consumer centricity is your consumer insight now.
By all means any organization or marketer should have access to their consumer on formal forums; but he or she should also be able to engage them through informal forums as well.
When was the last time any of us actually talked to the consumer, not via a requirement or a guided interview, but just genuinely talked to them? You will be surprised by how willing they are to talk, how in-depth they would like to go. The digital age has made this even easier; we now have multiple consumer and technology blogs where people discuss our brands on a daily basis. It is these online forums where you can really connect with the consumer share your thoughts with them and ask them truly; if they liked the recent Coke commercial, if they liked the new Dairy Milk and if the new Samsung appealed to them.
Now comes consumer intuition
As marketers we also have to realize that there are certain areas where our belief in the product allows us to take decisions regarding its outcome. As marketers, we need to communicate our brand intuition clearly. We need to balance the equation, build products that we would love to sell to our consumers.
Organizations also need to learn to tolerate failure, build a culture of experimentation. Nourish their people by providing them opportunities to learn from the consumer.
Consumer centricity isn’t dead
I read somewhere that consumer centricity is dead. That is not true; consumer centricity is still there and an active part of the marketing and organizational process. Its importance cannot be denied.
Once we get rid of this constant fear of failure we move towards greater consumer centricity; we also realize that our own opinions are important. They matter because they come from our intuition which is a combination of our years spent with the consumer and our love for our brand.
So to all those people who are part of the marketing process; let’s build dreams, bring people new and innovative products and technologies, shape lives. Honestly it’s all we ever talk about.
Moazzam Kamran is a brand professional with a leading ISP and Cloud service provider, and a ‘Marchitect (Marketing Architect)’ who has provided consultation to local and international brands on brand building & development. You can get in touch with him on Google+ or LinkedIn.