If there’s one role which should champion the customer, it’s the CMO. Chief Marketing Officers are not just the head of brand, creative and a strategic growth driver.
For decades they’ve proudly flown the customer flag: an internal advocate, who by combination of intuition and data-driven insights, seeks to orient an entire organisation around this grand notion of customer centricity.
The trouble with doing business in 2020 is that most basic norms were thrown up into the air as countries across the globe progressively entered pandemic lockdowns.
Traditional notions of what customers “typically want” were unreliable at best.
Our monthly brand storytelling masterclass unpacked this issue in November, connecting a few important threads:
- How can I find out what customers really want today?
- How well do these wants, or needs, align with our mission?
- Does everyone in our team understand how we can best serve our customers?
In response, I’ve outlined three essential questions that bring all of these ideas together by digging deeper into at means to advocate for customers.
Before we get to these questions, here’s a moment of tangential inspiration for you. Kylie Minogue, our much-loved global superstar, inspired me recently with the launch of her new album, Disco.
The Guardian, writing about the album launch, noted she is one of few artists to score a #1 album in the UK in each of the past five decades. Five decades! Explaining her enduring appeal, how’s this for a headline: “Kylie Minogue’s appeal has always been in her sparkling transcendence of the ordinary.”
It was an ah-ha moment. Connecting the dots in my head, I’d recently come across Maslow’s updated hierarchy of needs. Sitting right there at the top was “Self-Transcendence.”
If we reflect for a moment on 2020, we’ve retreated deeply into the bottom of the pyramid, concerned for our personal safety amid a global pandemic. Could we take for granted food, sleep and a sense of connection with friends and family? Nope.
And yet, as we stare ahead into 2021 here in Australia the mood is gradually getting lighter. We’ve witnessed steady progress on COVID-19 infections, started coming back into the office, and the community is beginning to reconnect in greater numbers.
Thoughts inevitably return to the bigger, higher picture. How could I best fulfill my potential and gain a greater sense of meaning next year?
These are non-trivial questions, and for all CMOs should be top of mind when considering how we’ll position our organisations. So what should we do? Borrow some transcendent inspiration from Kylie.
Her music is, for ardent fans, a transcendent experience. It takes us beyond our daily issues into a form of escapism that seems almost magical. Importantly, she’s not the only artist to achieve this feat. A soaring orchestral score, powerful opera, or any of the world’s best rock bands can achieve this feat.
What about brands?
Believe it or not, commercial organisations have also delivered transcendent experiences. And by that, I mean they’ve created a product, service or told stories that do more than simply deliver a great “customer experience.”
The latter, it must be said, is quickly becoming table stakes. Everyone delivers a customer experience, good or bad. The question is whether you can truly move people.
One example comes to mind: Harley Davidson. This is a brand that sells freedom and escape. It embodies the very notion of transcendence. As a bike rider, I can empathise with this idea. Leaning into long, fast corners and a glorious stretch of straight bitumen are more than enough to take your mind off the day’s worries and into a space that feels other-worldly.
So how do you translate that emotion into something tangible?
One attempt is the Apple TV+ series Long Way Up, starring Ewan McGregor of Star Wars fame and his best friend Charlie Boorman. The pair ride electric Harley Davidson Livewire motorbikes from the very bottom of South America to LA, a 13,000 mile journey that takes viewers along for the ride.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the sense of escapism, freedom, and adventure.
Then we’ve got the Harley Davidson TV, a unique digital channel on its website that takes you deep into the history, stories and people that have helped build this storied brand.
Make it happen: Start with three questions
So how can you take your customer experience to the next level and inspire or move customers, particularly in B2B environments?
We put together this table to illustrate the idea that we must get better at asking more of the right questions.
Here are the three key questions we use when interrogating a brand’s story:
- What’s the biggest customer problem we solve?
- How well do our values align with customers?
- Are we a united team of problem solvers?
For each one, I suggest the following approach:
- Start by interviewing a range of internal stakeholders, particularly people who regularly talk with customers such as: sales, service, consulting and support teams. This is the fastest way to gain insight without resorting to expensive external research.
- Borrow from design thinking and its “five questions” approach. For each response ask a subsequent “why” question to explore the reasons behind the answer. Keep asking why until there are no future insights.
The goal is to move from simple answers to the best possible answers, as illustrated in the table.
We want to understand the values, belief systems and desires that motivate customers and how we can help them?
We want to know what we have in common beyond the basics of growth, health and happiness. What movements, social good, or transcendent experiences (like Harley Davidson) appeal to your organisation and its customers?
We also want to know how every single person within an organisation, from HR to operations, finance, sales, engineering, software development and marketing can see themselves as someone authentically connected to the task of solving real problems and creating lasting, transcendent experiences.
Asking great questions and diving deep for customer insights isn’t a new idea. But, how far down this path have you gone?
As we rebuild our organisations and start reimagining a positive future, it’s worth calling out the fact that the CMO, together with marketing and communications teams, can’t lose sight of their mission.
Maya Angelou said: “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”
Advocating for the customer is hard work, and even risky from the perspective of keeping your job. Their wants, desires and transcendent experiences may stand in conflict with more mundane profit, growth and competitive desires.
Yet if we remember Maslow’s Self-Transcendence insight, failing to be courageous may leave space for someone else to take the lead.