May 14, 2011

How Customer-Centered hurts your brand

You’re proud of your customer service. What could be wrong with that?

Several things. For one, if you are truly “centered on your customers,” offer “great customer service,” or try to stay “close to the customer,” (to quote three clichés), you will miss great growth opportunities, and probably adopt a less-than-powerful brand strategy. To readers of business books, this probably sounds like heresy.

But there are at least three ways that your customer focus works against you:

• Satisfaction with incremental growth,
• Not understanding the real growth audience,
• Not crafting a growth brand promise.

Take care of your customers, grow 6%. You can experience steady, modest growth – a steady, modest goal. Quite often, however, meeting that mission turns salespeople into order takers. Nobody gets fired, customers are happy, and that growth means you’ll double in size in 12 years. Steady, modest congrats. But suppose you want to light some fires to double the size of your company a whole lot sooner?

Your leveraged growth audience is prospects, not customers, and that’s a real problem, because nobody knows prospects as well as they know customers. Nevertheless, to ignite serious, more-than-incremental growth, prospects are who we have to understand. We don’t know them or speak to them often. We don’t know what makes them different or where they hide or why they perversely persist in purchasing from our competitors. Please don’t misunderstand – we are not advising you to neglect customers. Take care of mother. Their repeat purchase behavior will still give you that +6% if operationally you serve them well. They’re far more interested in your product or service performance than in your brand message. But don’t neglect getting that brand message in front of the real growth audience: after all, they outnumber your customers by what? 100 to 1? 1000 to 1?

The third drawback? “We’re all about our customers” is a limp brand promise. However heartfelt it may be, it’s totally overused, hopelessly ordinary and not credible as a result. It’s understandable that every company believes it, and wants to believe it, and talks to customers who actually do believe it – but strong brands stand for something. One something. One meaningful, distinctive, differentiated, appreciated something. That’s why saying what everybody else in your category says is a non-starter.

So, what should that meaningful, distinctive, differentiated, appreciated brand promise be? Ah. We’re ready to talk brand strategy now. Holler.