How to Cultivate a Customer-Centric Approach to Brand Building
Get a clear understanding of the differences between the top-down and bottom-up business approaches.
Over the weekend, I listened as my fiancé complained and deleted more than 100 emails out of his promotions folder — all of which he received in the last 48 hours.
As a marketer and business owner, I’ve become somewhat desensitized to this. I don’t consider it abnormal to receive email marketing, even in staggering quantities. My fiancé, on the other hand, is an average consumer and was, at best, entirely dismissive.
Most brands take a self-centered approach to customer communication, believing that more and louder will cut through the noise (and get their consumer’s attention), when, in fact, it just contributes to it. It’s a hard pill to swallow as a business owner looking to make a difference and connect more deeply with more people, but consider this: It’s estimated that the average person experiences 6,000 to 10,000 ads per day.
Think of a major brand that you know and love. I’d be willing to bet that you don’t just love the product they sell. You also feel like the product aligns with your identity. Loving the product allows you to lean into other things you love, too. Buying this product (and using it) makes you more you. It stands for something you believe in — and likely, what status or group of people you want to belong to.
That’s the thing about compelling brands: They don’t just sell a solution to a problem. They’re effective at creating a culture and engaging a community that drives that culture. Their brand isn’t just splashed across their website. It’s a lived experience that their consumers feel a part of.
There’s more than one way to have your message ring true in the ears of many — and contributing to the noise through (what we’ve come to know as) traditional marketing tactics is becoming a less effective way to do this.
There’s a shift towards consumer-centered experiences
Traditional models of marketing and customer acquisition have historically relied on a top-down model that requires your authority-driven presence. It tends to adhere to industry standards and is focused on capturing an existing market. It starts with an external goal, and your efforts are directed at getting that goal to trickle down and affect individuals. Top-down marketing can be shiny and sexy — and likely is the easier, faster route to growth.
Bottom-up business growth is a slow build. It often occurs long before it’s seen. It’s built on a belief system that becomes a concept, then evolves into a culture. When that culture is effectively championed, it can enroll a community. It grows through participation — both in depth (loyalty, return customers and referrals) and breadth (attracting more people who share the same beliefs).
When done successfully, it creates a brand bold enough to support your business throughout evolution and changes to the industry landscape. Rather than focusing on being louder or being everywhere or being on all the time, bottom-up business growth challenges the status quo and targets a smaller, more bought-in customer base — and puts them at the center of the brand experience.
We as leaders need to stop assigning more value to being less accessible and instead embrace communication and connection to the consumer. A consumer-centered experience is felt, and that feeling has to be generated.
Cutting through the noise
The world is used to, and comfortable with, businesses taking a top-down approach. The top-down tactics are easily adopted — and usually fast, inexpensive and low-risk.
So, if this model has consumers consuming, why should any thought be given to doing it differently?
Consider someone like me: I’ve become desensitized to most sales efforts. Consumers like me (and you) are accustomed to this style of communication. Most of the content we consume doesn’t resonate, doesn’t compel and doesn’t elicit our attention — let alone action.
While we’ve become more digitally connected, we’re often less invested in the companies we interact with and purchase from.
To become emotionally invested and connected to our consumers is to shift gears to a less templated, or one-to-many, approach to building business and an experience-oriented effort.
The call for better
Modern business is calling for better. A better understanding of our consumers and their needs. A better consideration of their daily experiences. A better connection based on values and beliefs.
This sounds impactful and empowering. So maybe you’re wondering, What’s the catch? Why isn’t this the norm?
This methodology and practice require leadership from the brand. It requires that you stand for something and invite people to be a part of it.
What do these brands have in common?
They create a counter-culture that sets a new standard.
They don’t consider themselves competitors with others in their space, because they can see that they’re creating their own category.
They define success differently, and through their definition, empower others to not only subscribe to the new standard, but champion it too.
What’s possible for brands that take a leadership approach to building their businesses?
An immediately recognizable brand, not just within their community, but by "outsiders’ too.
A loyal community that sees them not as the first choice, but the only choice.
Repeat business and referrals, as a result.
Related: How to Optimize Your Branding
Strategies for building and leading a customer-centric business
Shift from "me" to "we" — abandon the domination approach to leadership, and embrace being accessible to your community and consumers.
Lead with empathy, not enticement. Adopt a human-centered approach to the way you build your brand and the interactions you have.
Call people in, instead of calling people out. Create a belonging and a brand that makes people feel more themselves, and more part of something bigger than themselves.
Instead of solving a problem or putting out a fire, think about how to make people feel heard at every juncture of the client's journey.
It’s time for a different approach to business-building and business-leading. One that leads a movement, not just hard-hitting messaging. One that leads with empathy and emotional intelligence.
It’s not about making the most noise, it’s about calling in the right customers, making ourselves accessible to those around us, shifting from "me" to "we" brand building, and ultimately considering our communities a verb, not a noun.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor