Every company today wants to be customer-centric. Brands—both big and small, established and young—want to launch better products, create more effective marketing campaigns and provide a better experience for their customers. You won’t ever hear a CEO saying she doesn’t want to better understand her customers.
When people talk about customer-centricity, there’s a lot of focus on the technologies behind it: things like mobile or digital transformation. But I think there’s one crucial factor that deserves more attention: brand authenticity.
Of course, authenticity is not a new concept in life or even in business. But it’s a topic that’s more relevant than ever. Customers repeatedly say they see authenticity as a top quality that would attract them to a brand. And, as a result, companies like the New Zealand-based grocer Foodstuffs are proclaiming that they are injecting authenticity in their culture by hiring people who have values that match theirs.
The good news: research shows companies that gain recognition for being authentic perform better in the market. The bad news: trust in businesses is dropping, suggesting that most companies aren’t quite sure how to be authentic.
If you look closely, there’s a natural connection between brand authenticity and customer-centricity—and it’s a connection that most companies haven’t yet considered. Here are three ways you can better serve your customers by embracing brand authenticity.
- Authenticity forces companies to dig deeper.
Authentic brands build trust with their customers. It’s hard to build that trust, however, without truly knowing your customers.
When it comes to market research, many companies are used to simply interrogating their customers. They do this by sending ad-hoc surveys once and calling it a day. But smart brands know that, to acquire a deeper understanding of their customers, they can’t rely on a superficial understanding of their customers.
Building a close relationship with your customers requires looking beyond the traditional survey and uncovering the why of behavior. It’s not just about surveys, NPS or CSAT scores metrics that treat customers as mere data points and checkboxes. It’s really about building a community where people can clarify and expand on their thoughts, where companies could ask follow-up questions and get deeper insight. Creating an environment where a genuine conversation with customers can take place is a crucial step in becoming truly customer-centric.
- Authentic engagement means closing the feedback loop.
Despite all the buzz about customer engagement, most companies aren’t making a true effort to improve their customer relationships. The likes, comments and shares you see on your marketing dashboard don’t accurately reflect whether you’ve built something real and lasting with your customers. These metrics only reflect the sentiment of the minority of your customers. They also don’t provide a clear indication of why your customers do what they do, or how you can improve your products and services.
Authentic engagement is about listening. A good example is a recent global campaign launched by the fast-food giant McDonald’s. The campaign, called “Our Food. Your Questions,” is a radical take on corporate transparency. After listening to customers, the company identified rumours about its products and addressed those misconceptions head on.
“From an early stage we saw the immense value of being part of the conversation and giving consumers the facts,” Liam Jeory, vice president of corporate relations Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa at McDonald’s, tells Food Industry Asia. “As a company we’ve been moving in this direction for some time, but creating this opportunity for two-way communication every day has really shifted the dial for us in delivering greater transparency.”
“From an early stage we saw the immense value of being part of the conversation and giving consumers the facts.”
The campaign has resonated with customers. In Australia and New Zealand, the company has received and answered over 30,000 questions. The global campaign also won several awards, including the 2014 Issues Management Campaign of the Year from the Australia-based industry organization CommsCon.
As McDonald’s has demonstrated, companies also need to share back—to show that you’ve internalized the feedback of your customers. Engaging this way is the best approach to getting the most out of customer feedback and how you build a more customer-centric, authentic culture in your company.
- Authentic engagement keeps it interesting for your customers.
Authentic companies are brave. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable, to explore themes that other companies avoid.
Marketers sometimes get a bad rep for being inauthentic. I think one of the main reasons why is that companies often try too hard. In an attempt to sound cool and engage younger customers, for instance, many brands use trendy terms like “bae” and “on fleek” in their social media updates.
But customers—especially the very same audience that these efforts are meant for—often make fun of these brands. When they try too hard, companies look inauthentic and end up hurting their relationship with their customers.
In contrast, the most authentic marketing campaigns are often customer-centric because they are based on a deep understanding of their target audience. Dove’s acclaimed “Real Strength” campaign, for instance, won the hearts of customers by questioning stereotypical representation of men. The campaign was inspired by the growing body of research showing that the traditional definition of masculinity is shifting.
“It’s an interesting time for men in Australia, with a new idea of real strength emerging,” Jon McCarthy, marketing director at Unilever, told Bandt about the campaign. The company cited studies that show that 86 percent of Australian men think the concept of masculinity has changed, and that 91 percent of men respect other men who show their emotions.
Adds McCarthy, “The research shows that men believe masculinity today is measured beyond traditional notions of power, affluence and physical strength, yet the overwhelming majority think the way masculinity is depicted in the media doesn’t reflect this shift.”
The lesson from Dove: engaging with customers and gaining a deep insight on their needs helps companies develop more authentic marketing campaigns. The intelligence you get from your engagement with customers could also lead to interesting and unique campaigns that speak to the motivations and needs of potential customers.
In the end, becoming customer-centric starts by acknowledging one old but enduring rule of doing business: that people matter and that companies must know their customers deeply in order to thrive.
To that end, customer-centricity is truly all about two-way engagement, and building an authentic relationship with your customers in the process. In order to earn customer trust, companies must get real with their customers. Being authentic is the one sure way to do that.