Build Your Business Around Your Customers (not the other way around)



he classical attitude of most companies is to see their own brand culture as a Sacred Graal, a forever-attractive source of interests and desire for the customers. Marketing directors have the tendency to think their products and services just need to be seen (or heard of) to be immediatly appreciated. It’s probably true for a very small circle of elite brands who have reach the ephemeral paradise of business virtuous cycle: good service, good business (naming Apple, Nike, Research in Motion, and a couple of others.) The rest is struggling to stay in the focus of everybody’s attention for the simple reason that, by default, brands are not interresting. They need to work hard to be. Just like, we, people…

Brands are not interresting. They need to work hard to be. Just like, we, people…

For this reason, most digital communication strategies often feel poor, unattractive, and most importantly, unadequate. They behave like some loud and lousy people we sometimes come across, who usually polute any conversation they join. So, what drives customers feel that way around most companies and brands? How companies and brands can evolve in their attitude to change the appreciation of customers without being unpolite and intrusive, just by being interresting and attractive? This article presents a framework designed to help understanding the options available to solve relationship issues between brands and customers.

Lead 1: Watch, Listen, Capture

The best possible attitude when you don’t know what to say (or how to say it) is to listen and watch. In the field of user-centric research, capturing data is becoming a crucial approach for companies who want to build a better understanding of their customers’ goals and needs. Observations must be based on facts: at the early stage of research, marketing specialists must remain silent, attentive. Very few assumptions should be taken, so space is given to truly genuine insights and discoveries.
In digital communication strategy, generalization is the recipe for failure. In fact, discoveries come with the detailed examination of usages and often reveal hidden patterns. Furtermore, when a system, a service or a product is not optimal, users will try to get around with it by finding a hack: an alternative solution that increases usability and efficiency. By capturing data on global behaviours and by conducting observations and interviews on specific usages, it is possible to dicover the path for a better product, for a better service.

Lead 2: Discuss, get feedback, co-create

Nobody is blamed for asking but one can be blamed for NOT asking.

Remaining silent is a safe attitude but there’s a moment one needs to take a risk. Engaging direct discussions can initiate a virtuous cycle between a company-brand and their customers, a cycle of sane relationships based on trust and collaboration. Nobody is blamed for asking but one can be blamed for NOT asking. Numbers of platforms provide the ability to quickly engage customers community on giving feedback on a product or a service. Some great feedback tools are listed on this wikipedia page
At a very early stage of product definition or when a company needs to reflect on design issues, crowdsourcing platforms also provide a great way to rapidly browse a subjet, get a first range of ideas, see what could be the options. Getting practical feedback and ideas from outside the company natural bounderies is a source of insights that no expert can provide. provides an (almost) comprehensive list of crowdsourcing platforms. Getting feedback from within the company is also a source of insights that no customer could figure out. Call centers, customers support services, product distribution or store managers are great sources of information that scream to be used. They can inform us on the weaknesses of the system and provide great insights on quality and process potential improvements.

Lead 3: Slowly integrate your product into the market

To often, brand strategists have the tendency to favour a “launch” approach to a “release” approach. Unfortunatly, it has many pernicious effects and finallly depletes the quality of product and services:

  • It puts the focus on the company’s process instead of puting it to the customer experience
  • It gathers too much energy (ressources, money, creativity…) on a short phase of the product’s life
  • It gives the team the false impression that launch is the most important step in a product’s life

Don't "launch" your product. Instead, slowly integrate it into the market.

As they is no such thing as perfect product, there is no such thing as perfect moment of release. Products and services must be beta tested as early as possible. Opening a beta version is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. Instead of being “launched”, the product is integrated into a workflow for a progressive and iterative improvement of quality.
In this perspective, we should not be afraid of creating an unperfect product, we just have to be ready to modify its components after it has been tested by users.

Lead 4: Their product is your business: support it

Even if you’re Apple, your product is not perfect (remember the iPhone 4 signal dropping…) so you better be clear about your strengths but even more about your weaknesses. Every service has flaws: the job of the brand owner is simply to aknowledge them, without ressentment towards the users who will point them to you, or neither excessive justifications. All products are perfectible, so aknowledging your weaknesses is already half of the job done:

  • Accept the flaws, they carry loads of information
  • Don’t try to hide them, they will be discovered anyway
  • Share the defects with your customers, they will help you fix them
  • Your customers will forgive your biggest mistake if you show that you’re working improving quality

Lead 5: Data is the only thing that really matters

In the end, everything is about data.

In the end, on the web, everything is data, and every data is potentially relevant information. The core of the digital business is not about the way things look and behave, it’s only about the information they carry. Ask yourselves a few questions regarding data embeded into a product and service:

  • What is the nature of the data exchanged between the company and the customers?
  • Is this data relevant for both parties?
  • Does the extracted data will serve a better service or just the marketing departement own satisfaction? (make sure the deal is always good for the customer)
  • Is the data extracted will potentially bring improvement in quality of service in future release?

Conclusion: Use the power of design

No marketing school teach how to design, and even less how to use design methodology to organize your thinking, to elaborate a strategy. This is one of the reason why marketing strategy are often linear. Marketing specialists’ only design tool is unfortunatly… PowerPoint. Microsoft PowerPoint shape the mind along a very narrow path called “presentation” and its also often the way strategies are build: with a start (the launch), a development and a conclusion.

  • Design Thinking can bring another way to consider the relationship between a service provder and the customers.
  • Design can help visualize beyond limits: how would the final product & service will feel like in the end?
  • Design can create strategic modelization: what are the main principles? How do the relate to user needs? How your strategy evolves in the long terms?
  • Design can help organize your service: what are the components of the service? How do they relate to each other? what are the data flows? How does the ecosystem work?
  • Use design to tell stories: Strategies are not abstract concepts. Eventually they only exist in practical actions. Sketching can help visualizing these actions and how the customers will use your service.

To continue, also read article on Cyclic and Linear Thinking

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