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Customer-Centric Thinking

The benefits of shifting to a Customer-Centric style of thinking are increased brand loyalty, increased market share, and increased profits, but it is a term that is easily misunderstood.

Customer-Centric Design for product design, packaging design, and branding is something that is easily misunderstood. Here is an explanation of how we understand the differences between customer-centricity and the more traditional way of marketing to a target audience, and why it is likely better for your company and products.

History:

  • Customer-Centric Thinking has only been around since the mid 1990s, when it appears to have crossed over from from the educational theories of the Learner-Centered approach, which is the key element of the Constructivist Theory of Learning.
  • The research that lead to Constructivist Theories of Learning are much older, dating back to the turn of the 20th Century, and stems from work on how students learn that was done by theorists like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, among others.
  • Modern research has been done by theorists such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, Joe Kincheloe, Shirley Steinberg, and  L.S. Sherman.
  • “Knowledge is not about the world, but constitutive of the world.”- L.W. Sherman 1995. We restate this in terms of product, brand and package design as: 
Design is not for the consumer, but of the consumer.

Company-Centric Thinking: Traditional marketing sees customers as targets.  It is one way, from company to the customer.  The company and its products are in the center and the company tries to figure out how to convince customers to buy their products; often the thinking and research is focused on “creating a need”. It tends to see the target audience as a homogenous whole. Research is often about finding the target audience’s lifestyles, interests and desires so they can be manipulated into wanting and buying the product.The negative effects of Company-Centric thinking:  In this one-way approach customers may have needs met but often will not.  Also in today’s media savvy times they sense when are being seen as mere targets, and, do not feel respected as individuals.  This will lower the mutual feeling of respect that creates brand loyalty.  This one-way approach worked very well for a long time in the age of one-way TV, but that time has passed.  People need, want, and demand more.  They demand to be seen and treated as equal partners in the deal, because they have many more options than in the past, from choice of retail outlet to choice of type of retail (brick and mortar, online).

                                                                                       Source: All Tech Considered

Customer-Centric Thinking:  Differs from the traditional marketing, branding and packaging in that the focus and purpose of the research is different.  It asks different questions.

  • Places the customer, as a unique individual, fully at the center of the company’s thinking (but not as a target).
  • Is a two-way active relationship. For example:  the internet’s interactivity vs. television’s passivity.
  • The brand is a relationship that exists, and is experienced, in the hearts and minds and personalities of the users.
  • It is a system: Customers comments are listened to, their feed back becomes a part of planning and design process, which feeds innovation.
  • It is about needs, not wants. (This is a major paradigm shift away from creating a need, to finding existing needs and designing for those.)
  • Asks: What is the value of the brand to the customer? What service is being provided? What problem is being solved? What true need is being met?
  • Tells stories with characters the customers can relate to, in situations that are familiar.  The customer as hero in the story.
  • Is a cultural shift, both in the company and in the society the company serves.
  • Thinks in terms of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
  • Tests early and often.  It is a key element in backward design.
  • The design is not “for” the consumer, but “of” the consumer.
  • Companies do not own the brand, the customer does. 
  • Talks less, listens more.
  • Empowers people.

        

                                                                                                       The Lego Story video

What Customer-Centric Thinking is not:

  • It is NOT traditional target marketing that seeks to design for customers’ wants or to create desires.
  • It is NOT done after the design process, instead it is a part of the design system.
  • It is NOT about taking experts or their vision out of the equation, but putting them on the side of the customer.
  • It is NOT about letting untrained consumers design the product.
  • It is NOT about making customers feel heard, but is about actually listening to them.

Benefits of Customer Centric Thinking:

  • It can greatly increase brand loyalty.
  • It can greatly increase market share.
  • It can greatly increase profits.
  • It makes the customer feel like the owner.
  • It increases and deepens the customer experience of the brand.
  • When you meet needs not wants, your product is more viable in an extremely dynamic market place. When the economy drops, wants are left behind, but needs remain.
  • It increases word of mouth because people like to talk about themselves, things they are included in or a part of.
  • It helps companies to become more agile due to its frequent testing and iteration, practices.
  • It leads to research-based decision making as opposed to anecdote-based decisions.
  • It aids the transition to sustainability, because its agility makes it easier to change to more sustainable models when they become financially feasible.
  • It encourages democratic thinking and ideas of equality.
  • It empowers people.  Empowered people are happier more productive people, who tend to have more money to spend of products.

Note: This is a non-technical description of how we at B&H understand Customer Centricity at the present time.  If anyone is interested in the more technical side or materials we've adopted from educational theory, please leave a comment and less us know.