Masters of CX: Consumer Empathy
Rocketing growth, High Profitability or High Valuation, and if you are a marketer, a celebrated popular brand! That’s the stuff dreams and businesses our built-on, right?
Developing a Winning Streak
But the route to get-there is usually not clear. Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Soloman who coined the term VUCA world compared the current world to being a bit like an amusement park: full of thrilling rides – just not all of them are fun! From fluctuating commodity prices to new competitors popping up out of nowhere and disruptive technologies wiping out entrenched business models overnight. By the time you think you’ve got an important market trend figured out, it’s already moved on.
What then helps winning teams to stay attuned to the constant changing needs and purchase context of a consumer? Often, the more the information, the more the confusion!
Having worked with some of the most successful CEOs and marketers in the industry we find one common thread amongst winner’s vs losers.
Yes, they are all savvy enough to remain business/financial goals oriented while being able to innovate and foster creativity.
Yes, they can work equally well within the system with various cross-functional stakeholders across finance, legal, product and R&D as they are with external partners such as media, creative, distribution partners.
Yes, they can navigate the changing consumer and media context and stay relevant without losing sight of brand-core.
But guess again? The real magic potion that fuels the winners.
An ability to remain consumer-centric in the face of business pressures; the ability to not get seduced by flamboyant externality and make choices basis consumer Jobs-to-be-done. The ability to listen-in for the “consumer perspective” over the din of the data!
“Good marketers see consumers as complete human beings with all the dimensions real people have.” — Jonah Sachs
Despite the increasing realization about the need for consumer-centricity as a way of life, the various pulls-pressures of the business make it very difficult to practise this consistently. Right? On the contrary, winners leverage the consumer-first approach as the means of lasting competitive advantage.
Common Barriers and Opportunities to True Consumer Empathy: Let’s examine some common beliefs and barriers and the opportunities for consumer-centricity:
1. “Consumer wants the lowest price and all possible product features and it’s impossible to deliver fully to consumer expectations”
Less is (actually) more: It is indeed hard to fulfil or exceed consumer expectations but loved brand do it consistently and are rewarded with strong retention and market share in the face of growing competition. As someone said, the consumer is your wife (and by that they meant, consumer is smart). If you have a clear proposition, consumers focus on the same and expect a consumer experience which is congruent to the proposition vs acing it across attributes. For example, Red Bull, a “bad tasting” beverage is a global phenomenon, sells at a premium to the category as that “taste” actuals helps build credibility to its “alcohol-like” codes. If you are a 10minute grocery service, a limited selection may work to your advantage in making it fast to order as well. In most cases when we have worked with product teams on improvement areas with consumers, the big impact areas tend to be around enabling “choice” and de-cluttering via relevant filters versus added functionality.
2. “In the short-term solving for consumer is typically not possible and we are all dead (or at least in different roles/organizations) in the long term to care”
Minimum Viable Product or Target: We often see managers struggle on PMF but still try to launch to meet certain timelines. Should we prioritize time-to-market vs PMF? The concept of MVP answers this conflict. Focusing on solving the core is a must-have as there isn’t going to be a long term if the product-market fit is poor! Discovering MVP requires a very good understanding of consumer need-gaps. Minimum Viable Target can also be great pivoting strategy, i.e., focusing on a clear TG niche that can be serviced well vs trying to win-over everyone.
An edutech brand we recently worked with could find a clear ownable space in a crowded upskilling market by defining and understanding drivers of their core target audience. Successful brands like Gynoveda, Mamaearth have created strong differentiated propositions via this route and then further broadened their portfolio and reach.
Ever the sceptic, you will say that this is only possible in the tech space or for D2C brands, right? We think that the definition of short-term differs by industry but the principles of MVP/MVT apply. You can add distribution, improve packaging, and increase touchpoints over time but a clear consumer-first proposition, even if for a niche target, is a must-have!
3. “We had a winning product idea. But our product teams just couldn’t deliver to it. Finance jacked-up price. So, we did the best we could.”
A way to rally cross-functional teams: Many a times the lack of handshake between the cross-functional priorities is cited a reason for failure on PMF. However, in winning companies “consumer-first” prioritization helps rally various teams together towards remaining focused on winning in the marketplace. The fabled “empty chair in the boardroom representing a consumer” at Amazon is a classic example of making consumer as the winner! In our experience when product, design and marketing teams converge early in the development, not only is there is a much higher product-market fit but a much faster speed-to-market!
4. “We have a large CX team and our %response time is reducing, we are very consumer-centric”
No Pain-No Gain: We often see a very narrow metrics-oriented definition of CX. To really delight consumers and live true to your promise consistently one needs true consumer empathy. Understanding the consumers usage context, purchase journey, decision process helps you understand not just “pain-points” but equally “gain-points”. Removing pain-points makes the experience smoother but understanding her needs and use context helps build long-term consumer loyalty and love. In a recent piece of work on employee retention, we found the emotional value of privileges that come from working with an employer brand far outweighed solving for commonly cited pain-points.
5. “We have a large set of consumer data and the most advanced analytics so obviously we are very consumer -oriented”
Death-by-data: In the current context of consumer feedback coming in from zillions of directions in different ways such as product reviews, social media-posts, and in many cases transaction data by the millions; just having data is not enough. An “immersive feel” for the ground reality is worth tons of data. There are tons of tools from design-thinking and market research that can be leveraged but also consider having a trained specialist who can “listen-in” for actionable insights and partner you to make sense of it all. Often, for any meaningful takeaway, data needs to be viewed in the context of brand-fit, consumer macro context and current trends.
Developing the winning streak!
Some of the most successful companies such as Google, Amazon, Unilever, or P&G consciously invest in building a culture that nurtures and builds this “magic potion”. Building a consumer-first lens requires a combination of formal training, dedicated market research or consumer insights teams, and resources to listen-in to consumers consistently but most importantly, softer cultural signals that empower employees.
The starting point is the conviction in consumer-first lens being a source of competitive advantage. Are you ready to develop the winning streak?