A customer-centric approach for Brand differentiation

Today, a key challenge for brands is to differentiate themselves in highly competitive markets. Internet helps customers enjoy tremendous ease of access and they are spoilt for choice in most categories. In their perception, everything else being equal, price becomes the primary driver of what they choose or buy. For marketers differentiating their brand has become a significant challenge.

But how do you do that when there are so many other brands out there offering similar products or services? You may internally feel that your product and offering is unique and no-one else offers the value that you do. However, customers may feel differently and ultimately customer perception drives their actions and your revenue.

A deep understanding of your customers and their needs may be the path to unlock growth for your brand in a highly competitive market.

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Bringing focus to right customer segments and their requirements

An in-depth understanding of customer segments leads to effective marketing actions. Nuanced understanding of how customer requirements vary by different customer groups enables the choice of target segments and shapes marketing actions. This understanding goes beyond merely measurable data and stated needs to unstated needs and deepest motivations that drive category behaviour. Such insights can unlock growth not only with current offerings but also bring to light new lines of growth.

Similarly, deep actionable insights into buyer journeys provides understanding of customer motivations and barriers at each stage of their purchase process. These insights can influence all aspects of the brand from product to marketing to sales.

Example: A case of insights leading to differentiated positioning for a new brand

A new brand was entering a category with already established competition. The competitors were very strong and the brand had to offer a clearly distinct proposition to make a dent in the market. There was little scope for product differentiation as customers could not really perceive the technical differences. Our qualitative research with the customers and influencers revealed deep motivations and anxieties related to the category that no other competitor had addressed. This led to a refreshing new positioning that really stood out in the market. It determined not only the new brand’s communication, but also the packaging, customer services and helped prioritise the products to be launched.

Fostering alignment through the insight development process

When companies are small, teams work closely together. They have a reasonable and coherent understanding of the customer. This drives consistent action across functions – R&D, sales, marketing, finance.

As companies grow functional teams, usually, begin to operate in silos. Each team works with their own understanding of customer needs. The brand begins to get distant from the customer. We have seen repeatedly that a well thought out customer insighting process is one of the most effective ways of bringing the organization to a common view of the customer.  Once that is achieved, it is easier to build alignment around a strategy. Without customer insights as an important factor in decision making, we have seen many discussions becoming endless iterations of opinions. 

Example: Two cases with different outcomes

Case 1:
We were hired to develop a positioning strategy for a global technology company. We decided to base the strategy on internal stakeholder insights. However, with the company and market context rapidly changing, each stakeholder had their own interpretation of what customers needed, thought, and felt. Months passed without a consensus being reached, and as a result, no action was taken on the positioning.

One way to improve this situation would have been to conduct external research to get a better understanding of what customers actually needed, thought, and felt. This would have provided a more solid foundation for the positioning strategy and made it more likely that stakeholders would agree on it.

Case 2:

We helped develop a funding strategy for growth of an educational technology initiative of an established university. The entire process was driven by customer conversations and insights, as well as internal stakeholder insights. Within six months, we had aligned on a strategy, briefed agencies, and launched a highly successful digital campaign.

If we had tried to do this without a robust customer insighting process, it would have taken much longer for the teams to align, or perhaps alignment would not have been achieved at all.

Brands need to make customer insights integral to their sales & marketing as well as product development roadmaps. There must be a structured and ideally an independent effort that brings together analytical, digital data as well as qualitative understanding of their buyers and organisations they work in.

There are a few ways to achieve this. With online tools, global market research has become much more affordable. There are numerous data feeds (social media, analytic tools) available that a skilled insights professional can synthesise into actionable inputs for a brand to create a differentiated and effective customer buying journey and experience. Importantly, insights development is an iterative and ongoing process and needs to be interlinked with business goals and strategies.

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