‘He profits most who serves best’ is a quote from Arthur Sheldon, a Rotarian and Business School owner who lived between 1899 and 1929. The quote, used as the Rotary theme for many years, was considered to mean that those who offered service to the community would benefit the most in life. The Rotary motto has since changed to Service Above Self, removing the reference to profit because Rotary is a voluntary humanitarian service organisation and no financial gain is expected by its members for their charitable activities.
However, in business the quote is accurate because companies that offer the best services get the most customers. Leading brands tend to be highly customer centric in order to compete effectively and remain relevant to their target groups. At a Coca-Cola global conference in 2009, Joe Tripodi, the chief marketing and commercial officer said that for many years the company was too internally focused and was not paying attention to the changes taking place with their customers. This happened because they were too busy looking at the dashboard and were not sufficiently paying attention to the world outside of their windshield. He said it was necessary for the company to return to its heritage of focusing on the customers if their brands were to maintain their top positions in their major product categories.
It was then that Coca-Cola purposed to put the customer at the front and centre of their strategies so that they could be aligned to the dynamic shopping and consumption environments and to leverage on this in order to meet the customers needs in each product group. In Kenya we saw the implementation of such customer focused strategies in the Case Lots distribution system as one example. The Case Lots were wholesale and retail based small businesses run out of remodelled shipping containers and were very popular in and around urban neighbourhoods. It was an innovative way to promote small and micro entrepreneurs and ensure that their brands were an arms length away, or at least around the corner for a majority of their consumers.
Tripodi also recognised the changing media environment where online media was becoming more important in consumers lives and warranted a change in their advertising strategies. He said that they were moving away from producing TV commercials to creating and curating content to connect, entertain and engage with their target audiences. Digital media provided an opportunity to shift from mass advertising to more one-on-one advertising due to the ways in which people were experiencing it.
The key lesson we learn from all of this is that their business, operational and communication strategies were focused on being number one to the consumer and developing Brand Love.
Steve Jobs was well known for his dislike of market research preferring instead to work with his own judgement. That judgement however was driven by an intense inquiry into users needs, habits and motivations in order to bring them products that were intuitive and went beyond their expectations. Credible consumer research is important to understand what drives them, but it is not everything. As Jobs demonstrated the power of observation is critical and you must spend a great deal of time getting a sense of the consumers circumstances for yourself.
Mr. Macharia launched Royal Media Services in the nineties and grew the Citizen TV brand from scratch into the most successful Kenyan TV Channel of our times. He and his team have been able to acquire loyal audiences for their programs like bees to honey and this has been possible by a deep understanding of viewer preferences across the country. Not only do they go through the audience research reports with a fine tooth comb, but they also spend a tremendous amount of time travelling around the country and interrogating viewer perspectives and habits for themselves. The combination of the two sources of information, formal and informal, leads to powerful insights upon which to develop programming strategies, local drama plots, and show acquisition plans. Through this they have been able to change the paradigm of TV viewing and radio listenership in this generation and their return-on-investment has been massive.
Alan Lafley, the executive chairman of P&G said that they were the greatest marketers in the 20th century because they were the loudest shouters, but if they are to be the best in the 21st century it will be because they are the best listeners. A customer centric approach to your marketing becomes more important as the competition in your sector increases and you intensify the battle to win the hearts and minds of your customers.