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Customer-Centric Marketing: Strategy, Trends and Examples

Take a customer-centric approach to retail marketing with these tactics for putting customers first — and enjoying increased loyalty and revenues.

Customer Centric Marketing

Article Highlights

  • A successful customer-centric model requires knowing your customers’ desires, values, motivations and behaviors on a personal level
  • Customer-centric marketers need to show up where their customers are, taking advantage of advances such as interactive email, social commerce, voice commerce and visual search
  • As part of a customer-centric approach, brands must embrace their values, put them on display through their marketing and then walk their talk to engage customers who increasingly prefer brands whose values align with their own

A customer-centric approach is an imperative, not an option, for today’s retailers. The pandemic and the shrinking retailer universe make it more important than ever to move away from old-school, product-centric attitudes toward a mindset that puts the customer first. Yet retailers aren’t doing a good job of making customers feel that focus: Only 9% of retailers are successful in their customer-centric marketing efforts.1

So how do you show your customers the love while still achieving your corporate goals? The trends and strategies below can help by pushing your customer-centric marketing efforts forward — and helping you reap the benefits of increased customer satisfaction, increased loyalty and increased revenue.

Customer-centric strategy #1: Know the customer (and show it).

You can’t form a customer-centric approach if you don’t know who your customers are. And we no longer mean this in general terms, like “middle-income young families” or “wealthy Baby Boomers.” We mean getting an in-depth understanding of your customers — particularly your most valuable customers — including knowing their desires, values, motivations, behaviors and expectations.

Once you have this view, you’ll better understand the products and services they want, as well as what they love (and don’t) about your brand. From there, you can build your customer-centric marketing strategies around personalization. Which today doesn’t simply mean plugging a first name into a salutation. It means creating unique experiences and messages for every customer. And it’s worth the effort: Personalization can increase consumer spending as much as 500%.2

Of course, most marketers already understand the importance of personalization. Implementing it can be more challenging. A good place to start is by reviewing your customer purchase journeys and identifying optimal points on each journey where adding personalization could create stronger relevance and engagement.

The next question then becomes, how do you get the information you need to reach this level of customer-centric marketing? The answer is a blend of old and new tactics. For instance, it’s always a good idea to talk directly to your customers through surveys, focus groups and zero-party data.

Of course, you also want to leverage other customer data. Today, that ideally means having a unified marketing measurement (UMM) — a single customer view that encompasses data from multiple sources, such as your loyalty program, transactions, online and offline shopping behavior, demographics and so on. This requires removing data silos so you can merge customer information into a centralized view.

You can leverage UMM for predictive analytics, which literally predict what a customer will need or want from you next. This allows you to proactively offer recommendations or other messaging for each customer.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning go a step further in helping you join the ranks of customer-centric retail companies. They can allow you to use immediate data input to create real-time reactions, such as product recommendations or offers that are relevant to that individual customer in that particular moment. They can also allow you to quickly test virtually unlimited factors of a campaign so you can optimize it automatically in real-time.

We’re all familiar with how Amazon has personalized the web-shopping experience by providing recommendations based on customer browsing and purchasing behavior. But they’re far from alone. Wayfair is another example of a customer-centric retailer. They use predictive analytics and AI to develop detailed buyer personas that lead to personally relevant recommendations.

Grocery delivery service Peapod is another example. Their Order Genius creates personalized grocery recommendations and smart grocery lists based on customers’ past purchases and purchase cycles. For instance, Order Genius can proactively suggest that an individual shopper reorder one previously purchased grocery item weekly, but another previous purchase monthly.

Customer-centric strategy #2: Be where your customers are.

Shopping and marketing are no longer confined to bricks and mortar or online stores. Customers can now shop directly within emails, from social media platforms and mobile apps, and by using voice and visual search. For a true customer-centric approach, your marketing needs to follow along.

Interactive Emails

Interactive emails allow recipients to do many functions within an email that would otherwise require clicking through to a web page. That includes making purchases, as well as viewing image galleries and videos, as well as other interactions. For instance, Forever 21 included “scratch cards” in an email — customers used their cursor to uncover a discount.

By removing a step (and a potential friction point) in the process, interactive emails can lead to higher conversion rates. But there’s a catch: Not all interactive features work the same across all email clients. Still, it’s worth exploring and testing the possibilities.

Social Commerce

More than half of consumers have already made purchases through at least one social media platform, with Facebook and Instagram leading the way.3 Both Facebook and Instagram offer multiple in-platform shopping options, including “Shops,” which act like online storefronts.

Instagram also offers Shoppable posts that let companies tag products within posts, videos and images; when tapped, the tags link directly to that product’s Instagram checkout page.

TikTok has also jumped on the trend with Live Stream Shopping. During a live-stream event, pop-up pins identify shoppable products. A consumer can click a pin during the video to make a purchase or can click the cart pin after the video to view all featured items and purchase from there. So far, Walmart is the only major retailer testing the feature. Their first effort, a “Holiday Shop-Along Spectacular” last December, racked up seven times more views and 25% more followers than expected.4

Voice Commerce

As we all know by now, voice search is the use of spoken words, instead of typed ones, to find what you’re looking for using voice-based assistants. Now, consumers can also make purchases through these devices. It’s as simple as saying, “Alexa, order a dozen roses.” The assistant then gives you recommendations based on your purchase history or a built-in product list. You make your choice and place an order without ever tapping or typing into a keyboard.

As one example of a customer-centric retailer using voice commerce, this particular request might connect to 1-800-Flowers.com. The company has been a voice shopping trailblazer, partnering with Samsung’s digital voice assistant Bixby and a payment platform.

Optimizing your ecommerce for voice search includes using conversational keywords and phrases, as well as words likely to pop up in voice search, such as the “where,” “which,” “how” and “why” of your product.

Visual Search

Visual search works with AI to allow customers to search for products based on images instead of words. Consumers can upload their own images to tools like Google Lens or to image-search engines, and get a list of “visual matches” — products similar to what’s in the photo. Brands can optimize their products for visual search through their online stores and through image-based social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.

Tommy Hilfiger is one example of a customer-centric retailer using this strategy. The brand developed its own visual search app that allowed attendees at a specific fashion show to take runway photos. Based on those images, the app took users to the relevant e-commerce page to shop for those clothes.

In-App Messaging

In-app messages — those that appear when a person is actively engaged with your mobile app — are one of the most effective customer engagement channels. According to Braze, they have a 39.88% interaction rate, compared to 4.49% for push notifications.5 That’s not only because they’re going to an inherently interested audience, but also because they easily support one-to-one communication, making them an important customer-centric marketing tool.

You can use in-app messaging to send offers customized by customer value, share product recommendations based on past purchases, deliver member rewards, send reminders to complete an account profile, give onboarding advice to newcomers or send retargeting campaigns to customers who don’t respond to emails.

Text Marketing

Imagine a 99% open rate and having your message read within 90 seconds of receipt. Those are the current metrics for text messages — albeit for all texts, not just marketing missives.6

Texting does offer a very personal and inherently customer-centric way to communicate with customers, particularly since people have to agree to receive texts from you. Once they’re on your list, you can not only send general marketing messages, but also ask questions to collect personal data. You can then use that information to customize future text content — for instance, based on their location or particular interests — and become increasingly customer-centric.

Loyalty Microsite

If your website is a general salesperson, then your loyalty microsite is like a personal concierge. With member log-in required, you can personalize content — from rewards status to personal recommendations to content customized to a member’s interests and past shopping behavior.

Customer-centric strategy #3: Fly your flag.

When it comes to customer-centric marketing, don’t be afraid to promote the values shared by your brand and your target audience. More than 70% of consumers say they’d rather purchase from brands whose values align with their own.7 Plus, this gives you one more point of connection that can help create and maintain customer engagement and loyalty.

Two factors are key here. First, you need to know the values that matter to your core customer and identify the ones your brand can authentically support. Second, your brand then needs to walk its talk. It’s one thing to make your stance public through advertising and marketing campaigns, or mission statements. But that means little without supporting action. Saying one thing and doing another, or doing nothing, can damage your reputation and your brand image.

Companies from Nike and Patagonia to Bombas and Lululemon have made no bones about promoting the values they believe in — and that, no doubt, they feel will resonate with their most valued customers. This has included very public political and social stances that come with some risk.

Think of how Nike embraced controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick. The company’s actions — keeping him as a spokesperson and building an ad campaign around him — spoke to their stated modern purpose of breaking barriers, but had the potential for public backlash. The move ultimately paid off.

Brands including Patagonia and Lululemon may face less risk by following through on their missions related to environmental causes and sustainable fashion initiatives. And their willingness to put profits second (at least in some cases) can have a winning impact on their core audiences.

For instance, as a way to support its dedication to reducing the company’s environmental impact, Patagonia once ran an ad campaign encouraging people to not buy one of their jackets on Black Friday.

Customer-centric marketing is just one part.

Knowing your customer, being where they are and actively supporting causes that you and your customers believe in are just the latest ways to create a customer-centric approach in retail. Other tactics are long-standing and will never go out of style, like great customer service, relationship-building loyalty programs and products that meet your customers’ needs and wants.

In short, developing and following a customer-centric model isn’t just about marketing or following the latest trend or implementing the newest CRM technology. To be truly customer-centric, you need to put the customer first enterprise-wide, in thought and deed. Then you can take a breath and enjoy the benefits.

No matter what aspect of customer-centric marketing you’re working on, our CRM agency can help. From high-level customer-centric strategy to detailed data analysis, personalization-infused customer journeys, CRM technology sourcing and integrated creative services, we have retail marketing solutions to fit any need. And our retail marketing consultants are backed by more than 40 years of experience working with retailers across North America. See what we can do for you: Schedule a free consultation or call 303.986.3000.

1 “4 Examples of Brands with Successful Customer-Centric Retail Marketing,” Marketing Evolution, updated Nov. 12, 2020, https://www.marketingevolution.com/knowledge-center/4-examples-brand-customer-centric-retail-marketing, accessed Oct. 6, 2021

2 “The 5 Top Customer Centricity Examples in 2021,” Can Ozdoruk, Netomi, posted July 29, 2021, https://www.netomi.com/customer-centricity, accessed Oct. 14, 2021

3 “Do consumers actually shop directly on social media platforms [new data],” Pamela Bump, HubSpot, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/do-consumers-shop-directly-on-social-media-platforms, accessed Oct. 14, 2021

4 ”New Ways to Shop, New Ways to Engage: Four Ways COVID-19 Transformed Retail Forever,” ICF Next, https://www.icf.com/insights/engagement/evolving-consumer-experience-evolving-consumer-experience-retail-whitepaper, accessed Oct. 13, 2021

5 “In-App Messages: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They Matter,” Braze, https://www.braze.com/resources/reports-and-guides/in-app-messaging, accessed Oct. 14, 2021

6 “The Marketer’s Guide to Text Messaging,” Twilio, https://www.twilio.com/learn/call-and-text-marketing/the-marketers-guide-to-text-messaging, accessed Oct. 14, 2021

7 “7 Emerging Retail Marketing Trends to Consider in 2021,” Marketing Evolution, updated June 9, 2021, https://www.marketingevolution.com/knowledge-center/retail-marketing-trends-2020, accessed Oct. 6, 2021

Sandra Gudat

Author Sandra Gudat

Sandra Gudat is CCG’s president & CEO. Considered a pioneer in the field of customer marketing, she has a diverse background in consulting, database marketing, advertising, retail and business management. She is a frequent speaker on customer loyalty marketing and developing customer-centric policies

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