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Noorings: Why ‘consumer-centric’ is a good buzzword to focus on

NooringsFor marketers who are working hard on understanding the challenges of operating in a digital world, buzzwords have an important role to play. The buzzword of the season ends up becoming indicative of how much the CMOs, the brand managers, the so-called digital media heads really know about the changes in the environment around them. This is not necessarily the right way to look at it – it is arguable whether becoming an industry of buzzwords makes any practical impact on the business objectives itself, even in the long run. However, this is what the current industry mindset is about.

Buzzwords can really be deceptive. They sound smart, at times futuristic, and tend to give the impression that they have a role to play in staying ahead of the game, of being in the know and similar sentiments. Some buzzwords are simpler – social media strategy, digital visualisation, mobile marketing, digital ecosystem to more serious ones like cloud computing, programmatic advertising, near field communication. I would even say Internet of things and Big Data are some buzzwords.

Now, no one is saying buzzwords are silly or wrong or herd mentality – journalists, myself included I am sure, have played a considerable role in creating some of these buzzwords (something clickable needs to make it to the headline) but buzzwords can be tricky. They begin as the ‘new’ thing, the ‘in’ thing like cloud computing, then there is subset of these buzzwords or affiliated words like ‘private cloud’, ‘cloud security’ that spring up and the final leg usually is ‘Was the industry hype around so-and-so-buzzword justified’. Cloud computing is most definitely making a difference but after a year or so in panel discussions and company presentation, the CMO and his office decided to leave this bit with the chief technology officer.

Big Data is going through something similar. Fact remains that irrespective of whether the industry should become slave to buzzwords or not, buzzwords are a bit like virus — they are not going anywhere and that is alright. And when that is a reality one has to work with, why not focus on buzzwords that are not likely to disappoint or disappear soon.

Consumer-centric is one such buzzword. It has come up in innumerable conversations over time but of late, as marketers settle down on what their approach towards marketing in a digital world should be, the consumer-centric thought process is getting attention again.

I heard it at great length at the recently concluded AdAsia 2013 in Vietnam from Mr Don Peppers, Co-Founder of Peppers and Rogers. His advice was for brands to move away from a product-centric approach and work in the interest of the consumer. Since only when you do that, you can win, what he calls, proactive trustability. The thought process – of consumer at the centre – is not new. Some of the brightest minds of the business have mentioned this timeless law on various occasions – Maarten Albarda, Marc Mathieu (amongst those whom I had the pleasure of listening to) have spoken about this for over the last decade or so.

The Adobe APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard, research released by the CMO Council, on November 21, 2013 in Singapore indicated some similar trends – that marketers in the region were looking at a customer-centric (let us not get into the consumer vs. customer debate right now and coming back to the point) digital approach in their marketing strategies – finally! Talk about developments that should ideally be norm. Digital media (also a buzzword) was always all about consumers. It empowered consumers, it was fuelled by consumers and it forced companies to rethink about walking their talk of consumer being the king. Why should the approach to digital not be consumer-centric by its very definition?

Consumers are not like the experts one needs to understand them. Consumers don’t lie or hide if you are listening to them. They don’t mince words, they don’t over-complicate anything and they are also not looking to slam a brand for the fun of it. Consumers can be very protective about the brands they love, and connect with. They also are open to being connected with new brands. The product definitely matters but if a company is in business for the right reasons – since businesses were created for consumers and not for any financial reasons – then chances are that the paranoia of getting the product right is taken care of.

According to Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, consumers form the fundamental of a good business. They are the starting point and the reason for being. Naturally then, consumers are already at the heart of this industry and marketing has to take the lead in forming the dialogue with the consumer, in articulating a company’s interest of winning the consumer’s vote of trust.

If buzzword-dropping has to find its way into decision making, consumer-centric is not a bad one to bet on. Because when the King is at the centre of the thought process, chances are that some right calls would be taken.


Noorings is the weekly column by DMA Group Editor Noor Fathima Warsia