OK, before I get into this post I have to get my point of view out there:

“Not only is every year the year of the customer, so is each goddamn each second, minute, day and month. Every freakin’ millennium is the millennium of the customer.”

 – Bob London, Annoyed Marketer

That somewhat understated perspective explains why I get agitated when I read marketing copy like this from an email promoting a report titled “Knowing Your Customer.”

“Forget content: the oft-overlooked king in today’s increasingly complex B2B landscape is the customer. As well as being always – or nearly always – right, the customer is the start and end point of any successful marketing campaign, B2B or otherwise. Without a deep understanding of these often elusive and hard-to-pin-down individuals, you’re playing a guessing game, darting between marketing strategies as you desperately try and hit that much sought-after ROI.”

“Oh, content isn’t king anymore? It’s the customer this year? Got it, thanks.”

– Bob London, Sarcastic Marketer

(BTW, the report itself was not bad! Some useful insights. I’m just taking issue the way it was positioned and marketed.)

My long simmering frustration is this:

Why does every year have to have a new marketing theme? It’s like the Chinese Zodiac: ABM. Content Marketing. Buyer Personas. Buyer Journeys. Growth Hacking. And when marketers focus on individual shiny objects and trends (I call them parades), they do so at the expense of real strategic thinking and planning, driven by what the target audience is really thinking and actually needs. (I call this the “Customers’ Elevator Rant.”)

Instead marketers end up focusing on the last big parade they (or their boss) heard or read about. And often what they hear or read about is from a semi- or fully-conflicted source within the marketing-industrial complex (i.e. vendors, niche media, service providers and analysts).

Some parades turn out to be worthy of marketers’ attention and budget because they prove to deliver real, long-term value (i.e. Marketing Automation, when done right, The Lean Startup Movement, The Challenger Sale/Customer approach). But there are many that are just shiny objects and have only a short arc or very limited application for marketing (QR Codes anyone?Snapchat maybe?). So they are just a big time- and money-suck. There are even examples of parades that start out hot, die down and come roaring back years later (Podcasting).

“Well, where’s the goddamn ‘customer listening’ parade? Not automated analytics and social sentiment, but actual listening to and insights from humans?”

– Bob London, Agitated Marketer

Actually a Forbes columnist has an interesting take here, which is that “2017 is the Year of the Empowered Customer.” But I still argue that customers have always been empowered to a degree; true, they are becoming more so but do “empowered customers” deserve their own “year”? Heck no! They deserve their own century.

I’m not hating–well, maybe I am.

I’m not naive; I don’t blame the players or even the game. I’m making the point that for every hour (or year!) a marketer spends chasing a parade is an hour (or year!) they are not building the underlying foundation for success. Which to me has always and always will be that:

“The marketer’s True North should relate to the customer’s True North. And until we know where that is, we shouldn’t spent a boatload of money chasing parades.”

– Bob London, Chief Listening Officer

But alas, 80% of the companies and CEOs I see don’t have a complete (or even good enough) grasp of their target audience’s perspective. They’re still pushing their perspective (product strategy, features, etc.) and hoping it’s relevant to the audience. Hopefully we can get that number down to 70% in the next decade–then we can really say that’s “the decade of the customer.”

Some free tools to help you find your customers’ True North:

Free Download: The Customer Re-Discovery Playbook
Free Webinar: “Burn the Whiteboard. Trash the Dashboard: 5 customer questions to uncover hidden growth opportunities.

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