Daniel Burstein

Customer-Centric Marketing: Tap into your culture to differentiate from the competition

November 11th, 2011

Does Walmart feature lower prices than your store? Is there a services company in India, or a manufacturer in China that can undercut your price in your B2B industry?

If you are not the lowest-priced offering in the market, you need a differentiator to justify your premium price. Why should customers pay more for the honor of buying from you?

I’ve written before about how a good story is integral to marketing a company that is not the low-price leader. But in this blog post, let’s take a step back. That story needs substance. Where is your substance?

Well, I’ve recently been thumbing through a new book that has an excellent example of one place you can find the substance behind your story – The End of Business as Usual: Rewire the way you work to succeed in the consumer revolution by Brian Solis.

Brian will be a keynote speaker at Email Summit 2012, and every attendee will receive a copy of this book, courtesy of ExactTarget.


Putting the customer first

One excellent point Brian makes in the book is shifting the focus from marketing tactic to focusing on customer value …

“The question always arises, ‘How can we use new media to get closer to customers?’ The answer is, change. Any organization that focuses on operations, margins, and efficiencies over customer experiences will hasten the erosion of market relevance.”

But where to begin? Here’s a helpful chart from the book, “Customer-Centricity Starts with a Culture of Change.”

Click to enlarge


Obviously we can’t dive into that entire figure in this blog post, so I’m just going to focus on one subset – culture. Brian goes on to say …

“The adaptive business is not just socially responsible, it is culturally significant. Aligning connected customers and stakeholders to inspire something greater than business is soon to become business as usual. Those that embrace this philosophy sooner than later will find themselves in good company.”

So, let’s take a look how you, as a marketing practitioner, can create culturally relevant campaigns. As Brian so rightly says, you have to drive positive change in your organization.

As you’re doing that, here are two tactics I’m providing as examples to jog your thinking about what you can do right now. I would not suggest you follow these tactics in rote fashion. I believe they work because they tie into the culture of these organizations – you must decide the best way to use your marketing campaigns as a channel to tap into your own organization’s unique culture … while continuing to evolve that culture to focus on the customer.

You can read more about the below tactics in the MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2012 special report (a free download with no squeeze page, thanks to a sponsorship by Responsys).


Tactic #1: The guy behind the guy

Oftentimes, a product reflects a unique culture because of the way it is made. For example, if you just squirted it out on a plate, you would likely not be able to tell the difference between the ketchup made with high-fructose corn syrup in a factory downtown, and the hand-crafted, artisan ketchup painstakingly crafted by Franciscan monks on an Italian mountain.

But, if you look at the price tag, you can clearly see which one costs less.

Here’s where we need to learn a lesson or two from Hollywood magic and tell the back story. Show the 18 months it took computer programmers to lovingly create every hair on the cartoon princess’s head. Let’s see Marty McFly being hauled all over downtown “Hill Valley” by wires attached to a crane.

Let the people know they’re getting their money’s worth when they choose your premium option.

Provenance Food & Wine, a specialty grocer with two stores in Chicago, found a way to show that value. The owners used their Facebook page to ask their audience what they would like to see in future blog posts. The answer – they wanted to know more about the people behind the products.

The audience got, at a general sense, the socially responsible nature of the store – that Provenance supported other small food businesses. However, they wanted to see what that really meant in action.

So Provenance created a store blog called “Meet Your Makers.” Staff members started blogging about the people behind the local food systems. And sending out emails of those blog posts. And now, when customers come into the shop, they mention how much they enjoyed reading about Mike from Co-op Hot Sauce. And Lee from The Scrumptious Pantry.

And they buy. They choose the more expensive ketchup because they know it is made in a way that reflects their values. They choose monks over machines, even when it costs more.

In Provenance’s case, the store sees this information as a soft sell, not something that will move co-op-produced hot sauce the day a blog post goes live. However, they have seen the business grow 7-10% each year, trucking along at a successful click even through a recession. So the owners, like the customers, are pretty happy.


Tactic #2: When life gives you lemons … sell them

First, if you’re engaged in an activity that is socially responsible, you likely have a subset of your audience that is passionate about what you’re doing.

Secondly, and I’m going to go out on a limb here, you’re likely fighting an uphill battle in some way. There are likely bigger and more powerful vested interests doing things in a way that is different from you (for example, take Tactic #1 … there are many more companies selling faceless, mass-produced food). And so, sadly, you will likely lose. Often.

Ah … but therein lies another excellent marketing opportunity. When you lose, that aforementioned passionate audience is likely as unhappy as you are and possibly looking for a place to channel that discontent.

The California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) took advantage of just such a loss. CSPF had strongly supported Prop 21, which would have added $18 to car registrations to provide funding for state parks and wildlife conservation.

Instead of crying into their beer, CSPF launched a “Sponsor a Vehicle” campaign, asking people how many $18 “cars” they would voluntarily sponsor. A bit of their jujitsu copy …

“Though not everyone believed this proposition was the best solution for our parks, we know many of you enthusiastically voted for Prop 21. That is why we are asking all of our members to symbolically “sponsor” the vehicles that could have provided $18 a year for state parks.”

In other words … hey, some of them out there. What are they thinking? But us, yeah, we can do it without them. You’re part of our culture.

The result … they raised more than $59,000 from this one campaign. Forget lemons, that’s a lot of cabbage.


Related Resources:

MarketingSherpa’s Email Summit 2012 – February 7-10, 2012 in Las Vegas

The End of Business as Usual by Brian Solis

Email Marketing: Short ‘staff selection’ posts become most-clicked content, increase offline sales 10%

Customer-centricity Begins with Creating a Culture of Change

Guided by Buyers: 4 tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy

B2B Marketing: Embracing customer centricity

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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