Customer centricity beyond your toys and tools

This post is sponsored by Salesforce

Innovation in marketing is not about chasing the next million-dollar idea or the shiny new toy alone, but rather it’s the sum of everything you do to put the customer in the middle of your transformation.

Speaking at a webinar – “See how today’s marketing trends are shaping tomorrow’s strategy” – Chris Jordan, head of data and identity, ASEAN, at Salesforce shared with participants that when marketers think about innovation in this day and age, they often associate it with new technology.

Some of them may even have a knee-jerk reaction to get involved in the latest technological offerings, while having the misconception that it is going to solve their marketing problems. But true innovation starts with the very basics of tackling customer-centric questions, such as what the customer is doing, and how the brand can try to understand the customer better. It all starts with a new way of thinking.

Agreeing with this point of view, Rahul Asthana, senior director, APAC at Kimberly-Clark, added that although many marketers want to tap on new technology for innovation, not a lot of them have a good understanding of that technology. This leads to a risky situation where marketers invest money, time and effort into new technologies without clarity on how a particular technology can benefit the company. This will, in turn, lead to marketers underutilising or not using the technology all.

“That upsets everyone, especially the chief financial officer,” Asthana said, adding that if brands are not sure how they will benefit from the adoption of a certain technology, then they should hold off on that investment.

For both Jordan and Asthana, technology is merely a tool in the process of innovation. The two marketers shared that innovation should instead be focused on people and processes, and ultimately revolve around a deeper understanding of consumers, as well as improving their experience with the brand.

Additionally, Asthana is also of the view that brands should leverage more on their existing technology for their innovations, instead of looking for new technologies to adopt.

“I think all marketers, if they were honest, would admit we’re barely scratching the surface in terms of the value these tools can add,” he said.

Thus, brands should be focused on using their current tools to their best potential, before thinking about investing in new technology.

Vijayaratnam Tharumartnam, director of group corporate communications at Proton, also added that in today’s world, it doesn’t matter which technology the brand is using, ultimately marketers should be focused on honing their skills in the fundamental marketing element of storytelling and being able to find the hook for its consumers.

Aside from that, marketers must not forget that at the heart of innovation lies the product or service their brand offers. They should always look to gain feedback from consumers and constantly improve products. If not, the technology used will not help much in the long run.

Improving the product comes from communication between the brand and consumers, which should be a two-way street, Tharumartnam said. Aside from telling consumers what the brand has to offer, the brand should also listen to consumers and tweak its products according to their needs.

“The marketing will sort itself out once you get the product right,” he said, adding that deciding which platforms to be on, or what technology to adopt, is the last mile for him in the innovation process.

Another key factor that lies in better innovation, which in this case translates into better engagement with consumers, is a brand’s creativity. Jordan said while technology and data allow brands to find consumers and get to their doorstep, without having anything interesting to show through their creative works, consumers will close the door on them and not engage.

He added this factor cuts across B2B, B2C, or B2G industries, and emphasised the marketing strategy shouldn’t be that different because brands are, after all, still marketing to people.

“Don’t think differently just because you are doing a different style of marketing,” he said.

Brands should always think about who their end consumer is. As for those who are working with organisations, they should think of their customers as people, rather than businesses.

The rise of empathetic marketing

All three industry players emphasised the importance of consumer-centric marketing strategies when it comes to innovation, and this seemingly ties in with the recent industry buzzword “empathetic marketing”.

Empathetic marketing comes as the brand understands its consumers’ unmet needs and helps to solve them, according to Tharumartnam. Instead of hard-selling a product, a brand that does empathetic marketing looks to provide solutions that will empower consumers to overcome their challenges.

He revealed the example of how Proton installed N95 filters for its cars in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Proton recognised its consumers had hygiene and safety worries that may have made them hesitant to drive, and so it implemented these filters to grant peace of mind, thereby helping consumers solve their problem.

Meanwhile, Kimberly-Clark’s Asthana said empathetic marketing is about placing the consumer at the heart of what the brand does and says. He added that brands can be empathetic by having the discretion of when (and when not) to engage with its consumers.

“If you are able to add value [to the consumer], then do it. If you are not, then don’t,” he said, explaining that communicating with consumers when the brand has nothing of value to offer may just add more pressure and mental strain to consumers. This is especially so in a crisis such as COVID-19, as they are reminded of how difficult this period is.

For Kimberly-Clark, it showed empathy to its consumers through one of its social media posts that addressed its consumers’ concerns directly.

Back in the earlier months when COVID-19 struck, supermarkets in Australia were being swept clean of toilet paper. Kimberly-Clark understood that consumers’ foremost concern was if there was enough toilet paper to go around. It then solved that concern by reassuring its consumers through a picture of a stockpile of toilet paper in its inventory, and explained that it takes time to get it through the supply chain and into supermarkets.

Echoing Asthana’s thoughts was Jordan, who warned brands to be careful not to be too sympathetic in their marketing.

“There is a fundamental difference between the two, one is feeling sorry for the consumer, while the other one is to understand what they are thinking,” he added.

Brands can ramp up their communication with consumers during the pandemic, but if they have nothing constructive to say, the marketing effort will just be sympathetic and not as effective.

Jordan dealt with sympathetic marketing first-hand during the earlier months of the pandemic. According to him, he received numerous emails from brands detailing how they were handling the situation, even when he did not engage with most of them frequently. As a result, those marketing efforts felt sympathetic because it was not relevant or interesting information to him.

“Sometimes, less is more, and understanding who not to message with a particular message is also very important,” he said.