Be Customer-Centric Not Brand-Centric

Natalie Staines, Director of Marketing

To be customer-centric, brands have to stop being brand-centric. They have to move themselves away from the center of the message and use digital marketing technologies to adjust their message for the specific customer they want to reach. Customer-centric marketing will not only put the customer at the center of the story but actually connect with that customer in a meaningful and relevant way. We aren’t saying the core brand doesn’t matter. It still does. But once an organization can segment their audiences and send the most relevant message to prospective customers, the brand then takes on different flavors for each audience segment.


It seems simple, and it’s probably something all marketers think they do. Put the customer first. It’s expected (by customers anyway) that brands will function in a customer-focused manner. But being customer-focused is different than being customer-centric. It’s more than just delivering great experiences—it’s about understanding the lifetime value of a customer and building a relationship to grow business. It’s also about recognizing that “the customer” is not a singular persona and that a singular message is no longer effective for the masses.

Why brands fail at putting the customer at the center


Historically, brands had to rely on broadcast and mass media to reach audiences. They used a big idea, a singular message and relied on the power of their brand’s story to acquire customers with no real way to track customer acquisition. Digital marketing has changed the way brands not only reach customers but also track and measure their engagement throughout their customer lifecycle. Brands have an opportunity thanks to data, marketing technology and multi-channel strategies to focus on the customer instead of themselves. Interestingly, The Economist Intelligence Unit and SAS reported that only six in ten senior leaders view their companies as customer-centric.

Despite the opportunity, brands still fail to put the customer at the center. There are a number of reasons for this.

Brands struggle to understand who should ‘own’ the voice of the customer. In the same Economist Intelligence Unit and SAS report, 18% of organizations responded that they consider the CMO to be the voice of the customer and 31% believed sales is the voice; the majority believes the CMO should be the voice. Why not let the customer be the voice of the customer? With the amount of social listening that can be done across the web there is no reason for a brand to not know where they stand with their customer. Instead of worrying about who serves as the voice of the customer, brands need to focus on who represents the ears of the customer. Listening is a new required skill for brands to master.

Data will always be a blessing and a curse. With the ability to create infinite unique user personas, brands are challenged to differentiate between customer types and their individual needs and so the seemingly overwhelming task of creating audience segments doesn't get done.

There is an internal disconnect about who is responsible for engaging with the customer. Just as many organizations are working to break down silos within marketing, sales, IT, and customer service, they will need to do the same when it comes to actual customer engagement. The client is everyone’s responsibility but how and when that engagement takes places requires a coordinated effort.

Though plenty of brands have embraced digital marketing and made things like search, email, social and digital media a core component of their strategy, most brands remain at a foundational level of digital maturity which means they miss the opportunity to customize to the customer. The customer still comes secondary to “traditional” marketing functions like advertising, brand marketing, product marketing and communications. These functions are still important, but must be done in a customer-centric way by ensuring messages are relevant to the customer and that the experiences are convenient. Instead of optimizing for the brand or the product, optimize for the customer.

Somewhat tied to the focus on “traditional” marketing, the “big idea” has long been at the core of brand messaging. These big ideas and one-hit wonder campaigns are mass marketing with a one-time use. Customer-centric marketing demands a long-term customer engagement strategy that is oriented to the complete lifecycle of the customer and their needs.

Build a Customer Hub


Start with understanding the total value of the customer, not value based on a singular purchase or engagement. To put the customer at the center means understanding their entire lifecycle value from their engagement or purchase history, to their current behaviors, to a forecast of their future value based on purchases, referrals and loyalty. Data and marketing technology makes this information available so marketers can build relevant customer profiles, yet, 66% of marketers don’t know what a customer is worth and are thereby losing a significant increase in potential sales.

The good news is that most organizations recognize the need to invest in understanding more about the customer with 41% of respondents in a recent survey stating that customer analytics should be the most important investment in the next three years, followed by 38% responding that an investment in CRM should be a priority. Doing this allows marketers to build a set of central customer profiles based on data from all channels and those central profiles can serve as the new hub instead of the brand profile.

The shift to building a customer hub will, by default, drive a culture of customer-centric marketing. While there is obvious value to customer acquisition, the industry benchmark is that it costs 10 times more to acquire than to keep and it’s much easier to invest in keeping and upselling existing customers when they are at the center of your world.


Customer-centric marketing will also inform the content and channel strategy. Referring to the customer profile set for insights on content types, frequency, channels and behaviors allows for the publication of more targeted content rather than one big blanket brand message. A great way to think about this is to consider that “the “me” in social media is your customer.” Not only are the customers the center of the social and content world but they should be at the center of the product, the service or the message. Producing products, services or experiences that will make the customer—not the brand—better is the way to remain customer-centric and drive loyalty.

About the author: Natalie Staines

Natalie Staines is Director of Marketing at R2i and is passionate about digital marketing, storytelling and running. She writes about trends in marketing, best practices and the cool things her colleagues do to connect R2i’s clients with their customers online. In addition to blogging, Natalie juggles a diverse content calendar, events and promotion of R2i’s full breadth of search, social, analytics and technology services. If you can’t find her behind a device, she’s likely off in a pair of Nikes chasing down a PR (personal record that is, not press release, though she does that too).

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