The timing of this article from Bill Lee at HBR Blog Network is perfect – Memo to the CEO: Customers Are the Key to Growth.
I read it following a blog post I wrote last week about Kiehl’s Since 1851 – a great brand backed by an equally brilliant consumer brand marketing effort. Instrumental to the success of this effort (dating back to the early days of the brand) is that the advocacy of their passionate and loyal customers continues to propel and distinguish this brand from its competitors.
Bill’s article (based on research he’s done for his new book) speaks to the fact that key to creating organic, sustainable growth is getting customers to market and sell for you. Out-performing companies (like Kiehl’s) are developing new approaches and competencies that focus on one thing: customers.
Here are three important points from Bill’s article (you’ll need to read it to learn the other two):
1. Get customers advocating for you right now. We know that prospective buyers these days trust one source of information above all others: their peers. Keihl’s has been benefiting from the “pull” of “customer peer” word-of-mouth for years. Creating beautiful interesting stores, wonderful products and living its philosophy of purpose beyond profit compels customers to do their advertising for them as one by one they spread Kiehl’s secret with their friends.
2. Find your customer product developers. In many industries, the source for most of the commercially successful new products is customers, not R&D. Too many efforts, based on Bill’s research, are isolated from customers. His example from 3M’s medical-surgical business is pretty compelling.
3. Get serious, and systematic, about learning what your customers value. Too many companies really don’t know what customers actually value in the products and services they buy. The problem is lack of systematic and meaningful conversations or other engagement that can uncover this. Companies that make the effort can put serious distance between themselves and competitors.
Unleashing the full passion and potential of your customers can spur dramatic growth. But this requires (as the author states) dramatically expanding the value you provide to them — value that goes substantially beyond the value they derive just from your product or service.
Businesses like Kiehl’s understand that their brands can, and should, play a larger role in the lives of their customers. Their brands deliver dramatically more value, and create separation from others, by serving as platforms to help move customers forward to a better place – making them more knowledgeable, more capable, more fulfilled. And when this kind of relationship exists – the value that customers receive adds value back to the brand and the business.