Many decisions you make as a marketer, entrepreneur, or brand leader are clear. You probably make them without even thinking about them.
Then, there are those 50/50 decisions. The jump balls. The internal debates.
For those decisions, you need a North Star. A guiding principle to help you determine the best approach forward.
For me, that North Star is customer-first marketing.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, or just looking for some real-world examples, hopefully this article can help. Read on for examples from a multinational food products company, podcast platform, electronics wholesaler, and ecommerce mattress site.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
Customer-first marketing doesn’t come naturally to us flawed human beings.
It’s just human nature to start with ourselves – our company’s categories, our organization’s mindset, our product, our communication channel. Me, us, our.
But success lies in focusing not on you and your company, but on the other – the customer. “The customer’s desires are more vital than the company’s categories,” Flint McGlaughlin, CEO, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, said in a recent session about customer-first marketing (in which he teaches a three-part formula for focusing your webpage message.)
To help you break through this fundamental human challenge and inspire your next customer-first marketing campaign, in this article we bring you four quick case studies mapped to the key steps necessary for putting the customer first.
We begin with a food company that puts the customer first by investing in educational programming for children that serves as branded content for its ketchup. Next, a business that created a product feature based on customer needs. Then, an electronics wholesaler that added a customer-first objective to its website. And finally, an ecommerce site that found a way to more clearly communicate a discount to increase the performance of its conversion objective without alienating customers.
But first, a (not the) definition…
Businesses put the customer first by beginning their strategy with customer needs and desires instead of beginning with a conversion objective, product feature, website layout (e.g., a templated approach), etc. Putting the customer first is the highest of the five levels of marketing maturity.
National Foods Limited is based in Pakistan and has an international presence in 40 countries, including the USA and Canada.
Its National Ketchup brand holds the majority market share within Pakistan. That market is estimated to be valued at seven billion Pakistani Rupees (about $40 million at press time).
The company took a customer-first approach to its marketing in Pakistan – seeking to drive marketing and business success by reinventing online education for children. The team launched National Ketchup Factory, a digitally led branded content program aimed at making learning fun for children. Although the primary audience for ketchup is women between 20 and 35 years old, 50% of the consumption is driven by kids who influence the decision making of these mothers.
The team took a deep dive into the psychographics and behaviors of this group and learned they enjoy social media, and their biggest dilemma is being time poor. They struggle to balance multiple chores and do not have enough time to supervise their kids, often relying on video content to keep their children engaged. The team found research that showed although video education content online is the fastest-growing medium in the country, there was very little local programming on Pakistani television (the top content consumed on TV and digital was around animated cartoons and was mainly Indian or other foreign content).
This was further accelerated by Covid and school closures. Social listening and search trends led the team to conclude that mothers are increasingly concerned by the lack of localized entertainment and educational content for their kids. Mothers were raising concerns about the new normal and were looking for avenues through which their children can learn and grow while, in terms of food, they were always looking for new ideas for fun kids’ foods.
The team’s strategy was to translate these discoveries about the customer into a concept that combines fun and learning while focusing on building and strengthening the connection between the mother and her child via skill development activities.
They created a digital show called National Ketchup Factory. The goal of the show is to create a fun learning environment by mixing food into the teaching of subjects like science, arts and craft, music, marine biology, and animals and wildlife. The program was positioned around making learning fun for children (just like National Ketchup makes food fun to eat).
Creative Sample #1: Episode visual for customer-first marketing approach to branded content
The show consisted of 12 episodes with three segments per show – creative workshop, natwiz (team-up quiz), and the lunch box segment. The shows’ length ranged from 13 to 19 minutes.
Creative Sample #2: Creative workshop segment in National Ketchup Factory episode
Since it was a new content program for a very targeted segment, the team had to establish awareness about the program and communicate its relevance.
Due to targeting restrictions on audiences under 18 years old on digital, it became a challenge to reach the core audience for this program. So, the team designed a multi-touchpoint integrated marketing communications (IMC) strategy to reach kids (through their direct searches) but mainly their parents (as key content gatekeepers for kids) using a mix of communication platforms.
The team created 132 personalized 10-second ad units, showing the most relevant messaging from Ketchup Factory content targeted to audience interest and search history. TV and YouTube were used to raise awareness about the program. Display banners were used to retarget viewers who had viewed one episode and serve reminders to watch subsequent episodes.
YouTube Search and Google Search campaigns were activated on top searches for children-, education-, and cartoon-related topics.
Creative Sample #3: Search ads
Social media PR was leveraged to engage the audience and generate word-of-mouth via mommy celebrities and key influencers.
Creative Sample #4: Public relations via mommy influencer
Each episode had a separate visual identity and content was tailored accordingly, disseminated via National Foods Limited’s social media pages, bloggers’ stories, and watch parties hosted within parents’ closed Facebook Group communities like Babies & Bumps, Karachi School Guide and Super Creative Mamas.
Creative Sample #5: Public relations via group watch parties
The program aired for three months, from October 2020 to January 2021. Across all 12 episodes, 500,000 hours of content was viewed.
An online survey of parents who had seen an episode indicated a strong association of National Ketchup Factory with building children’s knowledge, skill development, and making learning fun. More than three-quarters (78%) of the parents responded positively in favor of National Ketchup Factory indicating that the program delivered on the above fundamentals.
“Building on the right brand experience can help drive both commercial and marketing success. National Ketchup Factory established a strong relevance between the consumer and brand by tapping into a core consumer insight resulting in best-in-class results across all key parameters of marketing effectiveness. The brand saw a significant impact on its equity and advocacy subsequently helping the brand grow its market share,” said Rizwan Ali, Head of Digital and Media, National Foods Limited.
Not only has National Foods Limited’s market share increased in 2021, but it also particularly increased during the airing period (October 2020 to January 2021).
Primary sales increased 27% and secondary sales increased 29% from February to July 2021 versus the same period the previous year. Not only was there a value growth in sales, but volume also grew by 19.8% on a year-to-date basis.
“Our customer-first ethos means that we are continually seeking out customer feedback – whether that’s through our social channels, customer surveys or customer reviews. We regularly improve our service and add new features on the basis of this feedback,” said Craig Hewitt, Founder & CEO, Castos.
For example, customer feedback led to a new product feature.
During onboarding, the software teaches new customers how to submit feature requests or bug reports to the podcast platform’s support team. These get sent directly to the product team.
As a result of this process, the team learned that there was some demand for a new feature to allow customers to republish their podcasts to YouTube.
Before they added this feature to the service, the team confirmed the demand with a customer survey and discussed the costs of implementation with the product team.
Introducing this new feature helped increase sales by 21 percent.
“Flint McGlaughlin from MECLABS has helped us a lot in implementing tried and proven marketing tactics,” said Megan Arkis, Co-founder and CMO, ICRFQ.
“The video from Session #2 covered the point ‘at least 70% of a (signal set) webpage should focus on a single objective.’ Which is also a point in the Customer-First Objectives video where he teaches a customer-first approach with three steps ( to help x, by giving y, in exchange for z) – this was very helpful, too,” Arkis said.
Here’s a quick look at how the team implemented these lessons.
Due to its business type, the electronics wholesaler has millions of products it sells to customers. The prices also fluctuate depending on the quantity and availability.
The website’s bounce rate was 49.73%. “A lot of the time it was quite impossible for customers to find what they want,” Arkis said. The only webpage visitors could use to request product information was the contact page.
Creative Sample #6: Contact page
So, the team added a page on the website that only focuses on getting specific quote requests from customers. “We created that RQF (request quote form) page almost 100% focused on a single objective which is to get specific orders and detailed leads from our customers,” she said. Customers could put in the details of their part(s), their target price, quantity, and contact info. The sales team then connects with them.
Creative Sample #7: Request quote form webpage
After adding this page, the website’s bounce rate decreased to 34.93 percent. The sales team got 11 percent more leads. Since these leads included specific details that were very helpful to the sales process, they were higher-conversion leads. The team made 9.13 percent more sales from those leads than in previous months. “The target price field gave us the opportunity to eliminate requests that won’t work for us and save both ours’ and the customer’s time,” Arkis said.
Can banners and discounts be a customer-first marketing practice?
Well, anyone who has spent any time online knows they can certainly be executed in a non-customer-first way – intrusive and unrelated to whatever information the customer is trying to find.
But keep in mind, just because these tactics are often executed poorly, doesn’t mean that these tactics themselves can’t be customer first. After all, customers do want relevant discounts (for example, 56% of people connect with a brand on social media to get regular coupons and promotions).
To get you thinking of how to utilize these tactics, here is the closest example I’ve found so far to a customer-first marketing approach.
“Instead of having to browse through the site to discover deals – which most visitors won’t do if their attention isn’t immediately captured – be upfront and showcase your current offers,” said Stephen Light, Co-owner and Chief Marketing Officer, Nolah Mattress.
In 2019, the team would vaguely mention discounts on its homepage. There were no details about specific deals, or how long the offers lasted.
Creative Sample #8: Before homepage showing discount communication to customers
In 2020, the team placed a prominent yet unobtrusive banner smack dab at the top of the homepage. The audience’s eye is drawn to it; it catches their attention quite quickly without interrupting their experience.
In the banner, the team states that the offer is available for a “Limited Time Only!” and showed a countdown timer in the banner to add urgency. The red CTA (call-to-action) button is meant to catch the customers’ eye and encourage them to clickthrough for further details.
Creative Sample #9: After homepage showing discount communication to customers
The banner increased conversions by 30 percent in the first quarter after implementation. “We haven't dropped this tactic since we first implemented it, because it's really helped us out,” Light said.
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