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Most companies today have a customer relationship problem. Many brands simply have no idea about the evolving needs of their customers, and that’s impeding their ability to build a closer relationship with customers.

In fact, according to a study commissioned by IBM, nearly 80 percent of consumers don’t think the average brand understands them as an individual. (Interestingly, the same study found that 81 percent of marketers believe they are close to having a holistic picture of the customer.)

Creating a close relationship grows the lifetime value of your customers. Here are three examples of how smart brands have fostered a mutually beneficial relationship with their customers, and how you can do the same.

Dove leverages customer insight to shape a provocative campaign

The more you know your customers, the more ability you have to create campaigns and experiences that resonate with them.

One example comes from Dove’s  “#mybeautymysay.” The marketing campaign was inspired by insight on the company’s main target audience of female consumers. In The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, the company found that seven in 10 women “believe they get more compliments about how they look than on their professional achievements." That insight led the company to create a campaign that directly challenged stereotypes on beauty.

"Dove knows that women are constantly scrutinized about how they look," Jennifer Bremner, Dove’s director of marketing, tells AdWeek. "They are under pressure to 'look the part' and this stops them from achieving their full potential. Many women recognize self-respect remains a battle to be won."

The campaign, which featured stories of real customers, paid off for Dove: it not only went viral, it also received positive press from leading publications like the Huffington Post and Fortune.

POLITICO gives its audience a voice

For the news media, understanding what customers truly want and getting them to pay for it has been an ongoing challenge since the internet disrupted the business models of both newspapers and TV newscasts. The general approach has been to spend a lot of time trying to get their audiences to do things for them, such as read their stories, come to events and pay for content, rather than listening to what readers want.

POLITICO has realized this approach will no longer work, and, to buck the trend, it is going straight to its audience to understand their needs and wants. Its POLITICO Insiders audience insight community now has 5,000 members giving it a better idea of who interacts with it through a standalone web site. Rather than running surveys, POLITICO lets users create a profile and provide information about their preferences, such as what kind of coverage they're interested in, where they live, when they were born and where they work, among other things.

"This is all about getting to know the audience better,” Rebecca Haller, director of audience insights at Politico, shares with “It allows us to learn about where they are and what they're doing when they're not engaging with Politico."

The insight community is part of Politico's new audience insights team, which sits between its business and editorial staffers. It gives the audience a seat at the table to guide coverage of issues, the design new products and the creation new beats.

According to Haller, by giving readers a voice, POLITICO better understands what the audience expect from the news organization. More importantly, the insight community helps POLITICO anticipate and address the unfulfilled needs of its readers.

REI leans on members for product innovation

Aretha Franklin knows it, and so should brands. Not only do customers trust companies that they feel understand them, they also respect companies that respect them in return.

Outdoor clothing and gear co-op REI understands the bottom-line benefits of reciprocal respect. And it includes their time and input. Since 2015, REI started tapping its member pool to get better insight on its products.

“There are 5,000 members who have opted-in to be part of an insight community, to have ongoing conversations with REI about products and services and everything else outdoor related,” Nasahn Sheppard, vice-president of product design, tells Gear Junkie. Members of this insight community participate in trying prototypes and giving input on what they like and don’t like about gear.

Engaging with members helps REI understand customer frustrations, wants and desires, which then lead to successful products in the market. According to Sheppard, the first products resulting from its customer-led design process already hit the market last spring and more are on the way soon.

Better customer relationships mean better business

These examples show that a closer relationship with customers provides the insight required to create better products, more effective marketing campaigns and better business decisions. If brands are to have longer-term relationships that improve their bottom line, they must align with the realities and needs of their customers. Although analytics can often reveal what customers do today, staying relevant in the future requires an ongoing dialogue with customers and understanding what they need and want. 

The 10 Smartest Brands: How They Use Customer Intelligence

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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