Can customer centricity inevitably lead to channel centricity?

 This post is sponsored by Epsilon.

Ask any top marketer what is the secret to their success and chances are the response will be customer centricity. While most of us know the importance of putting the customers’ experience at the heart of everything we do, many of us can’t help, but fall back into the old ways of channel-centric marketing. But that may not always be a bad thing.

At a recent roundtable hosted by Marketing, in partnership with Epsilon, Juliana Chu, director of digital and analytics for APAC at Kimberly-Clark, said that channel centricity can sometimes be triggered by consumer centricity.

“If you are customer-centric enough, naturally that will lead to you being channel-centric. Because then you will know the customer so well, that you will be issuing communication at the right time on the right channel as well,” she said.

For Chu, it is not a question of striking the balance between consumer and channel centricity, but more of how a consumer-centric a brand is to help it deliver the right message, at the right time on the right channel.

Agreeing with the view, Nikhil Kumar, regional eCommerce, brand and trade marketing director at Hasbro, added that although the two are closely related, marketing has to nonetheless start from the customer-centric angle, before gravitating towards channel centricity as brands get to the execution part.

“Marketing begins with the consumer. Ultimately, marketing is all about convincing the consumer of your product or service and why they should buy it,” he said, adding that he looks at channel centricity as “an offshoot” of consumer-centric Marketing.

Based on the “WHO” that it is targeting, a brand develops a proposition to talk about, which is the “WHAT”, and the “HOW” that follows is what becomes the brand’s channel strategy from a retail standpoint, according to Kumar.

For Paul Davies, senior vice president, APAC at Epsilon, consumer-centricity is about how brands are able to create a individual  experience for each consumer. “Wherever that individual is, whatever path that journey is, or whatever channel they are in, brands will be able to use data to drive and communicate in an individualistic manner, and create an experience which is relevant and appropriate for consumers.”

Paul is also of the view that channel-centricity takes on more of a structural issue, where brands strive to integrate different channels with their various objectives into one coherent story. This perspective is less seen by consumers, he added. 

For Zalora, a brand born out of the digital economy, customer centricity is a key route in it breaking the virtual relationship it has with its customers.

Without as many physical touch-points as traditional brands, Zalora banks big on its data and insights to ensure quality interactions with its audience, said Christopher Daguimol, corporate communications head for eCommerce platform Zalora.

By adopting a customer-centric mindset, the brand has also been able to quickly adapt to consumers’ needs during the COVID-19 period, and introduce new categories that have helped with sales.

The mixing of the two

One thing that all marketers agreed on is that consumer centricity and channel centricity do not need to be mutually exclusive; they can go hand-in-hand.

Jewellery and watch brand Swarovski discovered this during COVID-19, when it expanded its online business.

Isla Daw, head of marketing for SEA and India at Swarovski, shared at the roundtable that this year the brand is celebrating 125 years of heritage, established via traditional channels.

“Traditional retailers historically tend to want to prioritise stores,” she said. However, Daw shared that it doesn’t have to be an “either or” situation, but more about how all channels can service each other, as well as being where the customer is and being available on all touchpoints to maximise brand engagement and conversion.

Mayra Hurtado, Adidas’ senior director, concept to consumer, SEA, added there should be an integration of both consumer and channel centricity. A firm believer in the consumer-centric model, she also acknowledges it is vital for brands to look into the future and prepare for changing consumer behaviours with the different channels used.

“Brands should look to have a balanced consumer journey where consumers can experience all aspects of the brand, fall in love with the brand and make informed decisions” she added.

Even Zalora’s Daguimol, who oversees a fully online platform, recognises the merits of mixing both consumer and channel centricity.

“Channel comes secondary for me personally, but at the end of the day it has to go hand in hand,” he said.

Brands have to realise that going online goes beyond just having a website, there is also fulfilment and the operations behind it. Having data can help a brand be more consumer-centric, and the channel centricity comes into play with brands needing to hire data analysts to interpret that data, and learning how to transform it into practical insights.

To create a personalised marketing plan, brands have to keep their eye on the consumer, and be flexible when it comes to adapting to different channels.

P&G’s Alexandra Vogler, senior director for eCommerce for Asia, the Middle East and Africa, said as the consumer changes, brands should adapt their channel strategies accordingly.

She brought up the example of how a P&G brand launched a social channel back when it was a widely used to increase engagement with consumers. Then when another channel took over as the next hottest platform, the company had to adapt and switch channels.  

Vogler added it is important for brands to “truly understand their consumers’ behaviour on the different channels” because the way consumers will shop in a brick-and-mortar store is different than the way they will shop online. And as behaviours are changing at breakneck speed, brands should be prepared to continuously adapt to change to remain relevant to their consumers and ace their channel strategy.