With a nod to the growing importance of knowing your customers, Direct Marketing has launched this “Customer Centricity” column for 2017. I’m pleased to kick off the new year with this inaugural piece and share my perspective on an orientation that I’ve always considered a key success factor for any organization.

What is customer centricity anyway? It simply means putting the customer at the centre of everything a business does—strategy, operations and execution. From product and service design to customer experience, knowing the customer drives every step in the journey. Is this new? No. Marketers have been striving for this ideal forever. But what’s new is the power that marketers have to use detailed information about their customers’ needs, choices and preferences to better connect with and delight them. And what’s different is that marketers have better and more numerous ways to apply this knowledge at more touchpoints with the consumer.

If you’ve read my columns before it shouldn’t surprise you that, for me, customer centricity all comes back to data. As marketers, we have access to authoritative data about so many aspects of our relationships with our customers—and more capability to use these data than ever before. But the landscape is always shifting. What’s different? What can we expect to see in 2017? Here are my top five trends as they relate to customer centricity:

Post-hype reality is setting in
While the last five years of talking about how much data we have and how important analytics are to marketing has resulted in greater awareness, we have to admit that some data and analytics initiatives have been somewhat disappointing. But that’s changing. In the past few months, we’ve seen more enterprise focus on using—not just collecting—data to understand customers. And we’ve seen more sharing of real business results across an organization.

Big data are starting to enter the mix
Transaction and third-party data are being joined with real-time data collection from web and social sources to give a more robust and up-to-the-minute picture of consumer activities and preferences. And that trend is just beginning.

We finally understand that there is no “digital versus traditional” media or channel
Digital is pervasive, part of the mix and no longer a siloed marketing channel. It’s central and driving much more intimate, detailed customer knowledge.

Not only do we have more insight into customers, we also have greater capability to get our messages to the best prospects in a way that works for them
Today’s consumers have put themselves at the centre of the marketing model, and they choose how they want us to interact with them

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. We win by following their lead—and ignore them at our peril.

Our goal to get the right message to the right segment using the best medium is closer.

And even more important, we understand it’s not quite so simple. Customers engage with us at multiple touchpoints—in store, online, mass media, customer service—and ensuring that all of our interactions are intelligent, data-driven and effective is within reach.

The combination of business leaders embracing evidence-driven decision and the new empowerment of consumers affords marketers an opportunity to engage and connect as never before. Data scientists and data users collaborating with business leaders and creative types will breed/produce/generate/result in more precise and effective messaging. And through it all, measurement enables us to test, learn and adjust in an agile way.

Customer centricity isn’t new, but our unprecedented ability to embrace it and act on the insights it provides represents a momentous shift in the marketing landscape.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Jan Kestle

Jan Kestle is the president and founder of Environics Analytics.

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