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Customer Centricity: The Core of 21st-Century Business Growth

We live in an exciting time of unprecedented technological and knowledge advancement. Only 20 years ago (this was pre-Google), data was at the ultimate premium. Accurate, reliable information was highly coveted and had the potential to make huge impacts on business decision making and strategy at all levels and across industry. Today, information is a commodity, and the challenge is what we do with it all.

The output of the 20th century was an incredible abundance of prosperity, of information, of financial and societal growth, and of technology advancement. However, abundance does not entail simplicity—quite the contrary, as behavioral economists and psychologists have oft studied and demonstrated that additional options actually can negatively impact choice. Though we may emotionally desire more alternatives, psychologically, humans prefer simplicity. So the 20th century delivered immense abundance and, also, unprecedented levels of complexity; how we evolve to deal with this complexity is the key to success in the 21st century.

As business leaders, we see the effects of abundance and complexity every day. Today’s pace of change is the fastest in human history, yet it is the slowest we will ever experience moving forward. The rate of change is so quick that it inspires anxiety among business leaders. Mature companies worry about category-altering agile/nimble organizations and disrupting technologies. Startups are worried about being outpaced, out-funded and outperformed. Even the enterprises that have driven much of today’s reality, like Google, are worried about whether they can keep up with technological trends and category-blurring innovation.

So how do we adjust to the breakneck pace that is today’s new status quo? With so much information, insights are our new currency. Massive amounts of data provide a tunnel into the minds of consumers, but it is a treacherous path with lots of obstacles. Data can be as misleading as it can be enlightening; sorting through noise to find powerful insights is modern business’s biggest challenge.

Although we face the most fragmented and saturated consumer landscape ever, there is a real opportunity to infuse customer centricity into business. Tuning into changing customer needs is inherently difficult, and every real insight has the potential to drive a new pocket of disruption. Our challenge is to unlock the potential of insights ever increasingly through the use of analytics and through the sharpening of our intuition in a holistic approach that simultaneously combines both in a whole-brain understanding of the world. A whole-brain orientation will enhance organizational customer centricity and magnify our understanding of customers, critical steps in generating the next phase of business growth.

The opportunities are clear, so how do we infuse customer centricity successfully in an ever-connected, fast-paced and ever-evolving world? Companies that build one-to-one relationships with their customers and provide personalized products create a unique offer that appeals to the modern consumer. To do this, business leaders need to make sense out of the endless information available. Those companies that can extract valuable insights and build appealing stories will continue to outpace competition and remain relevant.

Last summer, we released the results of our Marketing2020 initiative that explored how companies can organize themselves to better embody customer centricity. The study revealed that marketers must leverage customer insight, imbue their brands with a brand purpose and deliver a rich customer experience. They must be able to connect, inspire, focus, organize and build.

As an extension of Marketing2020, our current initiative, Insights2020, conducted in partnership with ESOMAR, Kantar, ARF, Korn Ferry and LinkedIn, builds further by diving into the role of insights and analytics in delivering customer centricity.

It is essential to know your customer, but knowing is no longer enough. Connecting the dots and building real connections will allow us to understand, approach and satisfy customer needs in order to deliver the tailored, personal experience so necessary today.

We know the challenge. We don’t have the answers now, and we still won’t know everything at the conclusion of our study. However, re-orienting ourselves to a truly customer-centric mindset is a critical first step in adapting to constant disruption. Today, agility is success. Executives refusing to acknowledge this new reality are doomed to go the way of information: commoditized.

Mario Simon is CEO of Millward Brown Vermeer, a global marketing consultancy and part of the Kantar and WPP network, with offices in New York, London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Dubai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sydney, Cape Town and Sao Paolo. Simon will be giving a keynote presentation at the AMA’s Annual Conference, taking place in Austin, Texas, Sept. 27-29, 2015. For more information, visit