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Sam Walton, founder of Sam’s Club and Walmart, famously once said, “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
File that under quotes—also known as pre-tweets—that aged well.
While decades have passed since that statement was made, it has never been more true. Its timeless quality stems from a core tenet of what it means to be customer-centric: putting your customer first when you think about all of the choices you are making. But with competing priorities and goals, a matrix of stakeholders and a desire to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, we run the risk of having customer-centricity get deprioritized and fall by the wayside.
So how do we protect and elevate the importance of the consumer? How do we better understand our consumers in a way that moves brands from being transactional to trustworthy?
We start to meet people where they are.
Meeting people where they are at different life stages, emotional states, varying financial states, new hobbies or interests, changed behaviors and new motivations; it’s a holistic understanding of who your consumer is. It’s understanding what’s important to them and translating that to showing up in a way that is mutually authentic, meaningful and beneficial in whatever way that manifests in a brand’s marketing.
Where do we begin?
Start at the beginning. What is it that you want someone to see, feel or think, and what action would you like them to take?
Consumers are inundated with marketing messages: new promotions, products, ad campaigns. There are more platforms, options and ways to engage than ever. There’s more of everything all the time. Determine the intersection of where the consumer is and the brand’s goal.
It’s important to note it’s not about changing your brand or showing up in a way that is disingenuous to merely meet the brief. That’s performative. It’s about understanding the consumers, knowing your brand and creating something of value that authentically aligns them both.
Part of the exercise in understanding how to meet people where they are is to shift the perspective on how we approach all aspects of our marketing. What was once a golden age of disruption is shifting into an incoming age of immersion and integration. This will become increasingly important in understanding how we meet people where they are.
A few ways to navigate this include:
- Being trend-aware, but not trend-chasing. Is the latest trend where your audience is spending time? If it isn’t, you’re not meeting your people where they are.
- Reframe your relationship with consumers as a connection. A connection has broad application up and down the funnel: an initial first interaction designed for awareness, a sustained relationship over time, a loyalty so strong you build brand advocacy.
- There is no rinse and repeat strategy. People’s habits and behaviors change over time, as does the world around them, everything is iterative and the best work will feel more custom and more personalized.
- Be relevant, relatable and real. Is what you’re saying, showing or providing to a consumer relevant to them and their needs? Is it a reflection of the understanding of the problem you can solve and how to solve it? If it isn’t, that one-sided transactional approach won’t deliver results for the brand or the consumer.
- Reflect on how well the brand knows the consumer. In the same way we track brand awareness as a KPI, what if we inverted that notion and applied a similar approach to consumer awareness?
Applying this to the marketing ecosystem
If the consumer is our primary stakeholder, then one of the best ways to infuse that into marketing is by applying that lens to the 4Ps. There is no perfect application, no checklist to follow—only a deliberate mindset that the decision-making around each of these areas are a reflection of where consumers are and how a brand is actively meeting them there.
Whether it’s frictionless entry points or investing in continuous product development based on user feedback, consumers want something that is tailored to them. Your product-market fit will help you identify who you’re building for. To meet people where they are, go a click deeper and understand what the consumer truly needs and how you can adapt your solution to create something unique, desirable and with a long-lasting impact.
Generally speaking, if someone really wants something, they will find a way to buy it (read: Taylor Swift or Beyonce tickets). But for most purchases, price is a major factor in the consideration process.
What can the consumer afford to pay? What is their outlook on economic stability, and how is that impacting their spending habits? What price can your brand lead with that meets business needs and is still aligned with the value of the product?
Pricing strategy and elasticity in your offer set will allow you to flex not just with the market, but also with the audience as their share of wallet with any given brand may adjust to acclimate to changing financial conditions.
Show up where your audience organically exists. It’s not about being splashy or disruptive; it’s about being present where it counts.
Consumers are short on time, energy and attention span. Be the respite in their journey, not the exhaustive detour. You can (and should) still get creative in how you deliver experiential moments, but those moments of creativity are best aligned with people who are seeking that in their experience.
How are the consumers feeling about the world around them? Are they seeking escape? Are they seeking support? What do they look for or expect when they see your brand?
The voice, tone and combination of channels and content must be on brand but equally meet people where they are in a way that is net-positive. This enables them to enjoy your brand because it hits the mark for what they need and want at that moment in time.
A new age of customer-centricity
When marketers meet consumers where they are, it can unlock an immense amount of business and brand growth. The key is to think about the human first.
It requires empathy, active listening and a belief that if we’re in service of our consumers, then we’ll translate our observations into actions and decisions for them. The more that consumer-centric lens is applied to the marketing ecosystem, the better we can super-serve consumers with solutions that enhance their lives, whether it’s as joyful as a vacation stay or as functional as a can of paint.
This story is part of Adweek’s New Consumer digital package, which focuses on diversity in all the ways it manifests for consumers—including gender, race, age and ability—and how marketers need to reach people where they are and meet their unique needs.