Every Customer Is Different. Treat Them That Way.

The commoditization of retail sectors like clothing, consumer electronics, and household goods — previously the domains of prominent brand manufacturers  — continues unabated. Online retailers race to the bottom on price and customers have been trained to expect daily discount promotions. So how can “Brands” (with a capital “B”) generate value beyond price consideration and connect with loyal customers in meaningful ways? Introducing customer-centric initiatives into your existing digital marketing strategy could produce distinct competitive advantages.

Customer centricity is not about more customer service or messaging to the lowest common denominator. It goes beyond broadly segmented email lists and even “personalization.” The first question for customer-centric marketers to ask: are we accurately defining who our best customers are and spending an appropriate amount of resources to reach them, understand them, acquire more like them, and maximize their Life Time Value (LTV)?

Customer centricity is a growth/engagement strategy designed to work alongside product-driven offers, not replace them. By taking into account the DIFFERENCES between customers, marketers can increase their focus on how, where, and on whom to spend marketing dollars. And while budgets don’t necessarily need to be increased, they will require data-driven “realignments” that deepen relationships and maximize the power of the Brand’s best customers. This is one way that smart, forward-thinking Brands can create a hedge against the unyielding pressures of commoditization, technology, and increased competition.

A customer-centric approach to marketing is not right for every business. But for those that seek to create resilient, long-term relationships with their best customers, here are a few ways to get started… 

Customer-Centric CRM

1. Is there a focused effort to super-serve the 20% of customers who generate 80% of revenue? And within that 20% is there detailed segmentation that allows your Brand to speak very specifically to sub-sets of individual customers? By de-coupling your best customers from mass marketing you can, in the paraphrased words of Wharton Professor and behavioral data expert Peter Fader (from his book, “Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage”):

– identify who focal customers are (and who they aren’t)
– more accurately estimate customer LTV and equity
– align marketing and sales strategies based on the data
– make the best decisions about where, how, and on whom marketing dollars are spent

Have another look at your CRM; is it producing this kind of actionable, customer-centric intelligence?


2. There’s a major clothing brand I shop at two-four times per year. Yet they’ve never explicitly offered me their rewards card or the opportunity to join a loyalty program. Sure, there are links around the site and in emails; but I’ve not been directly messaged a value proposition for engaging more deeply with the Brand. In a growing word-of-mouth referral economy, this seems like a missed opportunity.

3. For those that have loyalty programs in place, are those customers encouraged and/or incentivized to advocate for the Brand? What value-adds might be offered through a robust loyalty program – a monthly/quarterly printed magazine, access to a password-protected first-look site, or…?

4. Do you personally reach out to the top 1% of loyal customers via phone, hand-written note, or other personal communication to say, “Thanks, we love you. What more can we do for you? What items do you like best? What would you like to see more/less of? As a token of our appreciation please accept our gift of a [cool product offer here].”

5. Finally, do not under-estimate the power of sending a catalog, postcard or other physical collateral to your best customers. Direct mail still has real, tactile power — so old school that it’s almost new again.


6. Does your Brand use blogs, seasonal style guides, or other content strategies to drive traffic and engagement? It’s not hard to imagine a Brand losing relevance by not being part of (or driving) a bigger conversation around its industry or specialty sector.

A strategy that includes on-site and influencer-hosted content (and not just product marketing) can help develop an organic, evangelizing fan base; increase LTV of the best customers; and give new customers great content to share beyond the Brand’s existing community.

7. Content also helps with organic search. When your Brand is searched, does a wikipedia page, credit card offer, and/or yelp review of a single retail location appear on page one? Would Brand equity increase if those generic results were replaced by well-trafficked lifestyle blogs or popular YouTube videos featuring your products? A creative content strategy can provide enormous benefits for a Brand’s organic search strategy.

More Customer-Centric Opportunities

8. Work with affiliate publishers beyond the coupon/deal sites. Invest in efforts to tell your Brand’s story on influential blogs that are incentivized to link to your shop or favorite online retailer (and in-turn generate a commission for them). The best part of affiliate marketing is that it front loads sales and back loads costs — a win-win-win for the Brand, the publisher, and most importantly, your customers.

9. Host parties, pop-up shops or other kinds of “street” marketing in the offline world. These can be promoted to the larger online audience, and over time have a significant impact on brand visibility and perception.

10. Do Paid Ads cannibalize organic search? Sometimes. For example, most Brands easily win the top spot in organic search results for the “brand name” search term; still, Brands continue to buy ads on their name which appear above the successful organic result and draw the most clicks. It’s puzzling why those Brands with little competition for their name  routinely pay for clicks that can be had for free. Could those duplicative costs be re-allocated to fund and test more customer-centric initiatives?

11. Amazon: There are good reasons for not selling on Amazon, but there is also a large new audience that is not considering your Brand at all because it is not present on the world’s #1 shopping site. Aside from direct sales, Amazon availability can provide a halo effect that lifts sales across multiple retail channels. Don’t offer your entire product line – hold back an appropriate amount of exclusives or curate select items to support Brand recognition. Customers who want to shop a more comprehensive selection will visit the Brand website, where you can collect an email address and begin your customer-centric conversation directly.

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