Consumer First: What It Means And Why It Matters
If you want your brand to truly succeed, it's time to put the customer first. Columnist Scott Rayden discusses how you can step up your consumer experience strategy.
As brands go, it’s hard to top Apple. Apple’s brand is clear and identifiable and inspires fierce loyalty. It’s both aspirational and accessible to all. It earned its billions by creating devices with a better user experience than any of its competitors’ products.
So if even Apple isn’t absolutely nailing the digital user experience, you can imagine how far we as an industry have to go.
I’ll dig into the Apple example in a second, but first I’d like to talk about a mentality shift that all brands need to undertake to achieve profound, sustainable growth: putting the consumer first.
And I’m not regurgitating the “right place, right time, right device” mantra you’ve probably heard dozens (hundreds?) of times. I’m talking about building a mindset and a strategy to match that put the user at the forefront of all brand interactions. We shouldn’t just be pushing a brand agenda, as we’ve been taught to do for decades.
I’ll go into how to build that mindset and develop that strategy in a bit. But first …
The Apple Example
Hey, did you hear Apple has a new music streaming service? Well, just in case, here’s the Apple mobile home page:
If you’d like to navigate through that carousel, you might struggle. Try hitting any one of those dots, and you’ll simply open the Music page. (You’ve gotta swipe left or right to move the carousel, although there’s nothing indicating that on the screen.)
You might not care about Music (and recent reports are indicating you don’t), but Apple’s going to push it anyway. They’ll get away with it because of the equity they’ve built up, but it’s a mistake. It’s not effective. It’s not putting the user first.
So tired of family complaining to me about Apple Music that I'm signing us up for @Spotify even if it's $10 per month.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 16, 2015
Okay, so we’ve established that most brands have a long way to go in putting the user first. But it’s easy to be a critic, right? How do you actually accomplish putting the user first?
Re-Orient Your Mindset
Is your brand engaging with consumers or marketing to them? There’s a definite difference here, and examining the difference could change your approach to your brand’s story.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about how marketing has changed and is changing. I look back to the more traditional forms of advertising and how the goal was to push a brand in front of as many people as possible.
Today, while marketing has evolved tremendously, I think too many of us are stuck in the old mindset. Marketers today will tell you digital has changed the way in which we can engage with consumers, and they’re right.
The reality, though, is that under the layer of rhetoric (“right time, right place, right device” again), most marketers live in a channel-first world.
Think about it: When was the last time someone told you that your true growth inhibitor wasn’t targeting, wasn’t attribution, wasn’t creative — but instead it was your mindset?
Most agencies today will go straight to the channels you should focus on or the data you should be collecting and analyzing. Yes, these are pieces to the puzzle, but fundamental growth may depend on a more fundamental shift.
I’ve often thought it would interesting to create an agency for the people, not the brand — where the consumers would hire you to go and change a brand to make it more appealing to them. Imagine the conversations that would spark — and the data you really need to look at to anticipate what those conversations would be.
Really, truly put yourself in the shoes of the consumer.
If the Apple example isn’t enough for you, here’s a test: Take one of your favorite brands and give yourself a task. Let’s say you want to go to an e-commerce company and buy a product.
Now take out your mobile device and start with Google. How long does it take from the initial search on your phone to an actual purchase?
When you are done, take a step back and think about the process you just went through. Think critically about your experience.
I guarantee you will find areas where even your favorite brands can improve. I guarantee you there were things that annoyed you along the way or that prolonged getting you to your end goal.
Your search on Google got you to your site quickly. But what happened after that?
It’s the experience piece that is so often neglected. For every 10 hours of thinking through how to make channels more effective, you might only spend three hours thinking about the consumer’s experience — and even that’s being kind to most marketers. The idea here isn’t to not think about your channels, but to spend more time on the experience you are providing for the consumer.
We all have room to grow here, but changing the way you look at your own brand will help you.
Build A More Consumer-Focused Strategy
Most brands today have a very defined channel strategy. They know what channels they want to focus on; they know how those channels behave on different devices; they know the KPIs to track the success of those channels; they know the teams or agencies responsible, and so on.
Channel strategy tends to be clearly defined, and rightly so. It should be. But what about your “experience strategy?” Most brands I talk to tend to lack similar sophistication when it comes to experience strategy.
When you think about how your brand looks from the consumer’s point of view today versus how it needs to look to the consumer going forward, you need to start planning how that might be achieved. What people, systems, processes, technologies and data capabilities need to be in place?
Here are a few simple questions and a checklist to help you and your team start to think about really defining your consumer experience strategy.
- What is your ongoing strategy to understand your consumer?
- How often are you listening to your consumers talk about their experience with your brand?
- What are three things you can do today that you are not currently doing to improve the consumer experience? Note: Challenge yourself here. Put some real metrics around this. Give yourself 90 days to implement and figure out the data points to track that will show whether or not it worked. We all have three things we can do today to improve. Kaizen!
So much of the strategy work I do can be broken down into a few general areas. While the list of areas needed to execute strategy will change, these are almost always part of my checklist:
- Data: This should include both analytics and the right KPIs. The right data will give you the foundation to track engagement, behavior and experience.
- Technology: Usability, attribution, data visualization, CRO platforms … the list goes on. Nobody has the perfect stack in perfect synchronicity, but achieving that (and maintaining it) should be your goal.
- People: Do you have people specifically focused on engagement? What does that team look like, what skills are important on that team, and how much time is really being dedicated here?
- Process: Do you have a process that allows you to focus on improving the experience week over week and month over month? Oftentimes, these are one-off projects. Make this part of your everyday process and your ongoing strategy.
- Speed: Do you have the ability to make changes quickly enough to make an impact? It does no good to find an area to test, only to test it eight months later. By then, your business has shifted, and the test is no longer relevant. Focus on ensuring you have what you need to act today to have a near-term impact.
- Support: Do you have the support needed to improve experience? This requires buy-in from different divisions: brand teams, design teams, engineering teams, marketing teams, etc. Think about how to create alignment here. What revenue models can be created to show potential impact? What do you need to solve to gain alignment and support?
Find Your Own Answers
I asked a whole lot of questions in this post, and that produces discomfort for many digital marketers. We love real-time data and optimizations and solutions and reports, and that’s a huge part of the job — but that mentality can make it hard to break away, step back and challenge the paradigm.
Even though it’s hard and goes against our general grain, I would argue that it’s absolutely critical to your future to figure out, systematically, what it means to your brand to truly put the consumer first. The agencies and brands willing to invest in asking and answering these questions, over and over again, will be the ones positioned to succeed for years to come.