Strong brands are customer-oriented NOT customer-led

In the last class of the MBA Brand Management course I teach, one of my students asked me a very simple, but provocative, question.

 My boss often says the customer is always right. To beat the competition, all we need to do is to listen to her and give her what she wants. Intuitively this makes sense, but it doesn’t jibe with what we discussed this semester?

“You’re right,” was my response, “strong brands don’t just give customers what they want. They actually do something more insightful.”

The truth of the matter is that truly strong brands create distinctive and compelling value for their customers – they do more than respond to what their customers say they want.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 5.10.40 PM

There’s a difference – and it is quite profound.

Strong brands provide customers with compelling value

Customers give their allegiance to brands that provide them with relevant and distinctive tangible, emotional, and self-expressive values. The superior financial rewards earned are a consequence of sustaining this allegiance over time.

Brand owners must, therefore, focus on fulfilling the needs of the customers they choose to serve in ways that are better and different from their competition. The owners of strong brands are obsessed with creating compelling value. That’s how their brands achieve prominence and distinctiveness in the minds of customers.

So, where does the inspiration for this compelling value come from?

It comes from being customer-oriented, NOT customer-led.

 And, the difference is?

Customer-oriented brands surprise and delight customers

In my experience, the owners of strong brands are inspired by a deep-seated purpose and set of beliefs to make the world a better place–and it is that purpose which draws customers to them. It inspires the products and services they create. And these products and services invariably strike a deep cord with customers who hold the same worldview.

This passion starts inside the organization. And, that is what makes the brand distinctive. The brand owner’s underlying beliefs becomes the ties that bind them with their employees and their customers—all of whom share the same worldview.

The crucial point here is that these brand owners look out on the world and see a gap they feel compelled to fill. In my consulting work, I often chat with founders who say that’s the fundamental reason they started their company. They chose to address a gap they saw in the world­ that others had not yet discerned. To address a gap that was unarticulated and unrealized within the marketplace. The success of their company comes from the fact, that once they addressed this gap, customers flocked to it.

That is why the owners I meet, and the organizations they lead, are universally passionate and relentless in seeking and discovering new and desirable sources of value for their customers. Time and again, those sources of value surprise and delight their customers…which is why their brands garner such high levels of customer loyalty.

But what about the customer-led brands then…

They’re on the path to competitive sameness

Brands that focus solely on fulfilling the articulated, unmet needs of customers cannot build or sustain prominence and distinctiveness in the marketplace. These brands are often stewarded by owners devoid of a unique vision for their category and incapable of discerning new sources of value for their customers.

The owners of these brands rush to be first to fulfill the newly articulated needs of their customers—needs broadcasted to and heard by ALL of the players in the marketplace. The end result is that because all these me-too brands are in a never-ending race to meet these same articulated needs—no one brand ends up out in front.

Competitive sameness ensues.

Waiting for the customer to articulate his need is a poor way to build a strong brand. It does not lead to brand prominence or distinctiveness in the minds of customers. It does not build a strong brand.

Clearly, a better way is needed.

I would always bet on the brands that are customer-oriented versus customer-led.  It’s a better path to building a strong brand and business.

Where would you place your bet?


About ashleykonson

STRATEGY CONSULTING | EXECUTIVE COACHING | CORPORATE TRAINING | KEYNOTE SPEAKING | Ashley Konson is the Managing Partner of Global Brand Leaders Inc., a new kind of brand consulting company dedicated to making brands and their teams leaders across the globe. He is a Brand Leader, Business Consultant and Award-Winning Educator, and a recognized thought leader and fervent advocate of the premise that strong brands and businesses achieve and sustain their market positions because they are strong Inside out™.
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5 Responses to Strong brands are customer-oriented NOT customer-led

  1. Joel Dineiro says:

    The best companies build what consumers would want, not what actually they want right now. Think of Henry Ford and his famous quote about fastest horses and cars o Steve Jobs and the iPhone… If Apple had listen the customer they would had put more keys in phone (BlackBerry style), now you look at the outcomes (sales, financials, etc) Who made the best product choice? The rest are followers…

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Joel, my thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Much appreciated. It seems we are entirely in agreement. Hence, my use of the phrase “unarticulated and unrealized needs.”

  2. Chris says:

    Hello Ashley. I liked what you wrote, I’m studying this right now doing a Master of Marketing, and totally agree that customer-oriented creates more value, hopefully to create customer loyalty. Joel mentioned before Apple as an example. Well, for me they have to begin to listen to people, we don’t want better integrated camera’s year-after-year, we want USB for iPads for instance. When customers are not satisfied, they search for alternatives. Is ok to be market oriented, but a brand has to adapt their strategies to the present needs. A successful strategy could not be useful tomorrow.

  3. Phulvir says:

    I agree with your comment Chris but it is impossible to win 100% of the customers no matter which strategy you use. You and many more might be wanting Apple to change as per your likings but there might be more people who do not want this to happen. So for me this article is just suggesting that there are more people who want Brands to lead them rather than them leading the brands. It reminds me of Henry Ford’s famous quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

    • Phulvir says:

      In a customer lead brand the scope for Customer delight is limited as compared to a brand which is customer oriented.

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