Michael Doran: The customer is always right

Michael Doran, Head of Research, Planning and Brand, Sainsbury's Bank and Chair of Marketing Society Scotland
Michael Doran, Head of Research, Planning and Brand, Sainsbury's Bank and Chair of Marketing Society Scotland
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It’s fair to say we live in a time of uncertainty. Economies, companies and jobs are no longer as stable and secure as they once were. Much has been written about how organisations can ­navigate these uncertainties to drive sustainable growth. There are many ways to centre a business and many capabilities within an organisation that help support growth.

When I started my career with Procter & Gamble, it had a very ­compelling statement of purpose which I still remember: “We will provide products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers.”

Bob McDonald, a former P&G CEO once commented that they didn’t pay lip service to consumer understanding. He said P&G “immersed themselves in people’s day to day lives”, working hard to find the tensions that they can help resolve. He talked about the insights that came from those ­tensions which lead to big ideas and the big ideas being the basis of ­“powerful where-to-play choices”. However, it’s not just the old guard like P&G who centre themselves around the customer to drive growth.

Amazon claims that obsessive customer focus is the best orientation to ensure sustainable growth. In his recent letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos talked about the many advantages to having a customer-centric approach, the biggest being that customers are “always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy”.

Bezos says that a customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where “patient experimentation” and “doubling down when you see customer delight” can take place.

It is fundamentally the role of ­marketing to ensure it understands its customers. Not only do we need to know who our customers are from a demographic point of view, but also how the product or service we are offering fits into their lives.

Marketers can obtain this information by employing different types of research. These include qualitative research, where you talk directly with customers; quantitative research via traditional surveys, and ethnographic research, which observes customers going about their daily lives. The most insightful results can come from a combination of these. However, knowing is not enough. It is crucial for marketers to ensure this knowledge is translated into insights that can be embedded in the organisation.

Strong marketing leaders are required to speak up and ensure the customer’s voice gets heard at the appropriate decision-making tables within a business. We also have to remember that our job, as marketing leaders, is to see the world the way it is and not the way we are. Just because you like a certain feature of a product or service doesn’t mean your customers will too. This can cause friction within businesses if the implications of the customer input could mean extra costs, rework, or delays.

Marketers are also responsible for looking to the future and helping set the direction for the firm. Kim & Mauborgne, in their book Blue Ocean Shift, talk about the confidence executives require, in order to help shift a company’s perspective from short to long term. “They need to be able to help free imaginations, suspending belief in the limits of today, so it can see the possibilities of tomorrow”.

With such an important role to play it’s disappointing to sometimes hear that marketing as a function or ­profession doesn’t always get the ­recognition it deserves. A 2017 HBR article, referenced research that ­suggested 80 per cent of company CEOs are unimpressed with their chief marketing officers. Like most professions, there is a spectrum of practitioners within marketing and the term itself has come to cover a multitude of activities.

The Marketing Society in Scotland has a mission to inspire bolder marketing leadership and a key objective is to promote a better understanding of the role and value of marketing professionals.

We will achieve our mission through continuing to invest in a robust and inspiring calendar of events for our members (and potential members!). These events range from having practitioners from diverse backgrounds sharing real life examples around core marketing capabilities (for example, planning & creativity); to lending our voice to relevant conversations for business, such as gender balance, diversity, and mental health, to ­celebrating local and international success stories through our Star Awards and annual St Andrew’s Day Dinner. We are also supporting our next generation of marketing leaders through mentoring and our connections with local colleges and universities.

We are living in a world of change where the pace continues to accelerate. The long standing fundamental skills of marketing as a profession, and of the marketer, have never been more important. The Marketing Society will continue to support, develop and inspire bold marketing leadership as we face into the challenges of business today.

Michael Doran, head of research, planning and brand at Sainsbury’s Bank and chair of Marketing Society Scotland.