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What does it mean to use “customer-first” marketing? The Marketing Sherpa Customer Satisfaction Research Study surveyed more than 2,400 customers from the ages of 18 to 81 about brands they are satisfied or dissatisfied with. The study found customer-first marketing is a key differentiator between satisfied and unsatisfied customers.

Customer-first marketing means more than just sending personalized emails or segmenting your marketing offers to different demographics. It’s like an expanded approach to the old marketing saying, “Sell the benefits, not the features.” 

In other words, instead of telling the customer what’s so great about your product or service, explain what’s in it for them.

Here’s what consumers in the survey say are the characteristics of a customer-first company:

  1. I consistently have good experiences with it - 56 percent
  2. It is easy to conduct business with the company whether online, in person or on the phone - 43 percent
  3. It doesn’t always try to sell to me, but tries to provide value - 35 percent
  4. Its marketing is not intrusive - 34 percent
  5. It is respectful of my privacy - 33 percent

Unfortunately, just 23 percent of respondents said many or most companies use customer-first marketing.

Here are the characteristics of companies that don’t put customers first, according to the survey:

  1. The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals - 35 percent
  2. The company doesn’t make me feel like I have a relationship with them - 34 percent
  3. The company always tries to sell to me instead of providing value - 27 percent
  4. It is not easy to conduct business with the company whether online, in person or on the phone - 26 percent
  5. I’ve heard negative things about the company from people I know - 25 percent

How to be customer-first

Customer-first marketing starts with putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and looking at the world from their perspective.

Here are some ways your business’s marketing can put customers first.

  • Focus on providing value, not just making the sale.
  • Educate the customers. Help them make the best decisions for them.
  • Don’t be intrusive; be informative. Put your brand in front of prospects when they need answers or are looking for information. For example, your organic search result or paid search ad could pop up when they’re searching online for information.
  • Listen to what customers are saying, whether online, on social media or in person, to get insights from those conversations.
  • Go beyond providing a convenient experience to an enjoyable experience.

Level up

The report defines five different levels of marketing maturity:

  • Level 1: Incentive-based marketing. At the lowest level, companies encourage customers to take action by using incentives. While this can work in the short term, it's not a viable long-term strategy.
  • Level 2: At the next step up, the company not only uses incentives, but also provides convenient customer experience that makes it easy for customers to buy. However, the survey notes, this approach is easy for competitors to copy.
  • Level 3: Companies at this level have a clear, powerful value proposition that explains to the customer, “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitors?” At this level, companies have developed a sustainable competitive advantage—one that competitors can’t easily replicate.
  • Level 4: These companies practice “customer-centric” marketing, which designs and delivers marketing messages based on potential customers’ needs and motivations. Customers who get relevant, personalized offers and information are more likely to buy than those who just get general marketing messages.
  • Level 5: Customer-first marketing means the business truly puts the customer first, choosing conversion goals that are in the customers’ best interest and provide them with value. That might mean not making a sale in the short term in order to provide better value for the customer in the long-term and build a relationship.

Few companies can reach Level 5, but those who can will have customers for life.

Need more advice on creating a customer-first marketing strategy? Your SCORE mentor can help.