Getting customer 'centred'

What makes the difference between good marketing companies and outstanding marketing companies? This is the question that went through my mind as I had the privilege of facilitating the speakers at last week's International Marketing Leaders Programme (2013). Now in its tenth year, the Marketing Society's development programme for rising stars draws on many of the UK's most influential marketing leaders as contributors.

Two companies that have been strong supporters of the programme over the years are Tesco and P&G. A potential answer to my question came up as I listened to the beliefs and stories of Ian Crook (Marketing Director for and Roisin Donnelly (P&G's UK Corporate Marketing Director). These are two marketing leaders who don't just talk about being customer-focused, they take it to new levels in the way they live their lives on a day-to-day basis.

Ian Crook's obsession with customers came across when he presented seven tips about how to be a great marketing leader. Every single one of them contained the word 'customer' (interestingly, Ian wasn't even aware of this until it was pointed out to him). Roisin described the amount of time she and her colleagues at P&G spend in direct contact with customers and it really is quite extreme compared to most other businesses I have come across. As an example, she personally speaks to the manager of a retail store close to her house twice weekly. How many other Board level marketers could say the same?

In discussing this observation with Anni Townend, the leadership coach who will be helping me run the programme next year, she pointed out an interesting insight. An extensive piece of research has been done recently by The Work Foundation to identify the characteristics of great business leaders. The key factor found to differentiate outstanding leaders from merely good ones was the fact that they were people-centred. They combine a drive for high performance with an almost obsessive focus on people and relationships as the means of achieving this.

I like this idea of being 'centred' on something - it implies that your actions and decisions are founded on and defined by this something. For this reason, I think it has relevance in the realm of marketing leadership, though in this case the orientation must be towards customers and not just the people inside the business. Rather than talking about businesses needing to be customer-focused, the best-of-the-best marketing companies are genuinely customer-centred. They don't just take the needs of their customers into account, they truly place their interests at the heart of the company culture and its decision-making processes. They see the creation of value for customers as the central raisin d'etre of their businesses, as well as the key driver of its long term growth and commercial success.

There is no doubt that P&G and Tesco have been customer-centred over the years and their reputation as outstanding marketing businesses has been founded on this fact. Indeed, to support the case, Tesco's leadership team have themselves admitted that the main reason for their recent performance issues has been that they've made the mistake of taking their eye off the customer in recent times. If Ian Crook's testimony is anything to go by though, they are certainly getting back on the case. It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the coming months.

Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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