The Tale of 5 Blind Marketers: Moving to a Customer-Centric Philosophy

Bruce Ernst
by Bruce Ernst 29 Aug, 2014

There's an old tale many of you may be familiar with of the five blind men traveling in the jungles of India. In the story, the five blind men come upon an elephant. One blind man feels the elephant's leg and calls out, "It's a tree!" Meanwhile, another blind man touches the elephant's trunk and says, "I've found a snake hanging from the tree!"

It's a perfect example of a group of people who cannot see the entirety of their situation, but instead chose to focus only on that which is in front of them. Perhaps if the five blind men had communicated and collaborated on their observations, they would have quickly discovered that they had come upon an elephant. But instead the men were concerned only with that which they could touch, and, in a vacuum, arrived at the wrong conclusion of what was in front of them.

That's exactly what's going on in most marketing departments right now. Most companies are optimizing their websites in a vacuum, separately from other marketing channels. The website is separate from social media and both of those are separate from mobile, even though all of these touchpoints directly impact the customer.

And optimizing these channels separately means companies are missing the big picture, very similarly to the five blind men and the elephant. But in this case, it's not five blind men, it's five blind marketers, all of whom are focused on optimizing their own channel without understanding that the real task which stands before them is the customer. 

There are multiple digital channels in which a brand can communicate with its fans, followers and customers: websites, email promotions, social media, and mobile applications. Yet most brands optimize them separately and individually. There needs to be a shift in philosophy: companies need to become customer-centric, not website-centric. We've been optimizing the website for years, but now it's time to optimize the entire customer experience in a coordinated way, across all touchpoints.

Brands have been taught that knowing their customers equates to knowing what they like on Facebook or what they tweet about, but that's a superficial approach to understanding customers. Too often marketers forget customers are varied and complicated people living in the real world. Brands need to know customers individually and respond to their needs in an effective, helpful way.

Here's a great example: My wife is a big fan of free shipping offers. She goes crazy for them. She thinks companies that charge her for shipping are immoral. Every chance she gets, she's cashing in on a free shipping offer. If you offered my wife $7 off her order or free shipping, she would take the free shipping every single time, even if she'd technically save more with the $7 off.

So offering someone like my wife a 10 percent off coupon as part of a blanket offer to all customers is a wasted promotional effort. There's nothing personal about that offer. It doesn't prove that you know her, as a customer, and that you're responding to what she likes. She's a customer segment that wants free shipping, and you should know she wants free shipping and deliver that message each and every time.

Obviously achieving this degree of customer personalization across all touchpoints requires the right technology and tools. But first, companies must change their philosophies in order to put their customers at the center of their universe.

Once you make that commitment, your entire marketing strategy changes - your messaging, your offers, and your deployment. It's a fundamental shift in thinking, but the rewards are huge: a loyal and dedicated customer base that will continue to come back to your company, and will shout from the rooftops about their incredible experiences with your brand.

Your website isn't the center of your universe. Your Facebook page isn't the center of your universe. Your mobile app isn't the center of your universe. The customer is the center of your universe. We're in the age of the customer, and it's time brands started working that way.

Bruce Ernst is the vice president of product management at Monetate. Prior to joining Monetate, Bruce was head of Webstore product management at GSI Commerce (now part of eBay), a Monetate customer. Prior to that, Bruce was VP of product management at Commerce360 (now ClickEquations) where he developed and implemented the product vision for the revolutionary software product that provides expert advice on the management of search engine advertising campaigns.