Customer-centricity: where purpose and data meet


The keys to delivering better customer experiences - and securing competitive advantage

By Christina Jenkins

How do you build a customer-centric organisation? It’s a question that more businesses are asking themselves as the link between customer-led planning and sustainable, profitable growth becomes increasingly clear. It’s also a question to which we have an increasingly clear answer. Customer-centricity happens when you combine a strong sense of purpose with imaginative use of data, focusing on delivering on true customer needs. Look at how these characteristics intersect (as in the Insights2020 research from Millward Brown Vermeer, which I’m presenting at Ad Week Europe’s B2B Forum), and it becomes evident that they are going to separate the successful businesses and brands from the rest.

How customer experience became the new competitive advantage

Over the course of the last 100 years or so, there have been many different sources of competitive advantage. Up to around 1960, it was the ability to manufacture a particular product that marked you out as a business. As manufacturing became commoditised, control of distribution took its place. Digital technology shifted the emphasis again as Ecommerce rewrote the distribution rules. Today, you can buy pretty much anything and access pretty much any type of service or information through digital platforms, and as a result leveraging digital technology is no longer a source of competitive advantage in itself. It’s the experience that you can create for your customers that is.

Today’s connected consumers have been trained to demand ever-more convenient and ever-more personalised ways to get what they want. They judge brands not on the products or solutions that they sell, but on the experiences that they build around those products and solutions – and this applies to B2B customers just as much as it does to consumers. In this context, customer-centricity isn’t just a nice characteristic for a business to have – your customer-centricity is becoming the thing that you sell.

The Insights2020 study, which is conducted by Millward Brown with a range of partners including LinkedIn, analyses the characteristics of successful businesses to reveal the 10 key drivers of customer-centric growth. A lot of these characteristics are linked to the ability to collect, analyse and act on customer data. It’s the insights stemming from this data that are the essential ingredients of customer-centricity. However, that data needs to be animated by arguably the most important characteristic of customer-centric businesses: an over-riding sense of purpose.

How data and purpose intersect to build better experiences

Data and purpose intersect in three important ways when it comes to building a customer centric organisation: firstly, data can play an important role in helping to inform what the purpose of a business actually is; secondly, purpose informs how to use data to customise people’s experiences in a meaningful way; thirdly, purpose provides a crucial focus when confronting sets of data that can be bewilderingly big. It ensures that you aren’t blindly following the numbers; instead you keep coming back to the types of purpose you need to deliver.

Discovering brand purpose through customer insight

My favourite example of the first of these intersections is Dulux. This is a brand that developed a clear sense of purpose through a research-led understanding of the impact that colour has on how its customers think, feel, and live. It responded by developing TV advertising focused on the positive impact repainting a room could have on people, but the sense of purpose that the data had given Dulux also took the brand further. Its “let’s colour” movement has focused on the impact that repainting hospital rooms can have on patients at vulnerable moments, or the impact on communities of painting under-privileged neighbourhoods in Pakistan and Rio. Every element of how Dulux has developed its brand has been rooted in its understanding of what colour means to its customers – and in fact to all people.

Creating value through personalised experiences

When it comes to customising people’s experiences in a meaningful way, there’s much to learn from the way that the auto insurance industry in the US is re-inventing its product. Allstate, for example, invites drivers to record their driving behaviour via a mobile app that then tailors their premiums according to how risky a driver they actually are. It’s a brand that understands the value that people see in a personalised experience of a brand and its products.

Purposeful use of data

My own experience of working at LinkedIn demonstrates the difference that a sense of purpose can bring to how you use data. Our members share a vast amount of data with us, both through their LinkedIn profiles and the types of content that they engage with on our platform. One of the reasons they are so willing to do this is the consistent way that we use that data. We have a mission to connect the world’s professionals and make them more productive and successful – and when we plan how to leverage data we always do so with this at the forefront of our minds. It provides a focus for the customer experience that we are trying to create and ensures that our members get the evolving experience of LinkedIn that they would expect.

At Ad Week Europe’s B2B Forum, I’ll be presenting the key findings from the Insights2020 research on customer-centricity, including all 10 drivers of better customer experiences. You can watch the session on-demand at LinkedIn’s Ad Week Europe microsite.