The importance of being market oriented

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The importance of being market oriented

I’m going to talk today about the importance of being market-oriented. What we’re going to go through is:

  • What is being market-oriented? What does it actually mean?
  • How do you get there?
  • The challenges you might face along the way
  • Your role as a marketer. Your very important role as a marketer in this challenge
  • And then just talk through the winners and the losers who have been in this space

What is market oriented?

So, what is market-oriented? There’s a really nice quote from Peter Drucker: “Marketing is not only much broader than selling, it is not a specialised activity at all. It is the whole business, seen from the point of view of its final result, that is from the customer’s point of view.”

Now, Peter Drucker isn’t actually a marketer, he’s a theorist from a management point of view, so it’s really nice that he saw this at the end of the 20th Century as a really key point with businesses. So, whereas in the end of last century, everyone was very product-oriented or sales-oriented, actually this was seen as a new way of looking at things, and flipping it around to think, how does the customer see us? What is the customer’s point of view about our products?

And to do this, it’s really about seeing it from the eyes of the consumer and thinking, what do they think about our products? What do they know? Know who your customer is. What do they want? What do they think? And how are they spending their time, as well? Really getting under the bonnet of that.

Seth Godin as well: “Don’t find customers fuel products, find products fuel customers.” So, making sure that everyone in the organisation has got that customer focus. That is the essential element of being market-orientated. So, everyone in the business – and thinking about this with your clients – everyone has got a really clear focus on who the ultimate customer is and how they’re actually best placed to get to them.

How to become market oriented

So how do you get there? So, Mark Ritson explains this really nicely in terms of our first approach as marketers to being truly market-orientated. And he talks about the humility of marketing, which I absolutely love, as the start of the way that you market something.

Now, he has a theory – and I completely agree with this – when you work as a marketer, you actually lose your sense as a customer. You actually don’t have the right anymore to think I’m 100 per cent a customer, because you’re always going to have a bias. Even if you are actually in the target market, you’re going to have a bias about things that they do. You’re going to have an understanding that most customers won’t have. So, we need to know as marketers that we know nothing. At the start of the process, we need to think it’s a blank canvas and the greatest marketers will start there and know they they’ve got to fill in the gaps.

So, how do you do that? You need to start thinking about the who, the where, the why, the what, the when, all of those things. You need to dispel the myths of: “I’ve been in the industry long enough to know who my customers are”. You need to completely dispel the idea that: “I can assume my customers think this way”. The amount of times I have to stop myself – a lot of the times when I’m starting to get client briefs, and I know that some of you guys do as well – in terms of, when it is a product you that you have quite a lot of affinity with, your immediate thought is: “Well, I’m that customer, I know what they’re going to like, I know the adverts they’re going to like”. Well, you don’t. None of us do. So, it’s really important to think, from the blank canvas, how do we get there?

How do you do that? So, obviously through research. Research, research and more research. Obviously, there’s quantitative, qualitative. I’ve put ethnography up there as well. I think it’s a really interesting way of researching. From a traditional point of view, this is really getting into the culture of something. So, if you think about Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist, it’s really just getting into the understanding of how people are living and breathing what they’re doing. If I translate that to what people are doing in retail, it could actually be that you go out and actually spend time and work alongside the people that are in your stores. Just to find out exactly what they’re doing, how they’re actually inter-reacting with products in your stores.

The other thing is taking away the idea and the notion that potentially the most senior people in the client base will be the ones that know your customer best. Sometimes, the person that actually is the leader will be the least connected with the people that are actually your customers. So, you need to think about this and it’s not usually the CEO.

Who are they? Well, they’re usually the people that are actually on the ground, the ones that are actually listening to what the customers are saying. It’s really important to connect those two things, so one of the easiest ways to actually get research is really just to talk to the customer service team and find out, what are the customers actually asking for? What are the things they’re being challenged with? What are the things they’re complaining about? From that, you’re going to get a really, really good understanding of who the customer base is.

Another way to approach it, to be market-oriented, is really to think about embedding that test-and-learn culture within your organisation. One of the main problems, I think, and why research gets such a bad press, is because when a new concept comes up and a new brief, it’s a huge, huge task to actually find the research for those customers against that brief. Now, the reason for that is because the company hasn’t got that test-and-learn culture and is not constantly thinking, what are our customers thinking and knowing? It means you’re starting from the beginning every time. So, try to get that within your organisation, or when you’re talking to your clients. Think, how can we get on-site user polls? How can we get this just embedded so we’re always gaining data from the customers?

The challenges of being market oriented


Some of the challenges that people might face around this. Time, first of all. People don’t put enough time into the research phase when they’re starting off with any creative, any campaigns at all in marketing. People around the business will think that it will take too much time to really understand the customer and get that customer focus. If you think about the amount of time that it takes to get that up front and then think how much time it takes to reverse a product once you’ve launched it because you haven’t understood the customer, I think then you start to understand how important it is to put that time in at the beginning.


Budget. This is another one for research. It’s the way that clients will automatically think: “We haven’t got enough budget for that research, we’ve already got some dusty old personas, we’re going to bring them out and we’re going to use them for this product even though it’s slightly different”.

It always amazes me that this is the response, that there’s no budget to actually understand who your audience is, when there’s going to be probably [£]100,000 just in terms of creative concepting to some of the agencies. Look at the overall marketing budget, and think, from a rational point of view, take some of that out so that you can do research up front and really know your customer.


Assumptions as well. So, this again, it’s people thinking that they already know who that customer is. I mentioned dusty personas before. I’ve seen this many times where I’ve gone to work with new clients and they’ll say: “Oh yeah, we know who our customers are and we’ve got some personas,” when we these personas done? “Oh, they were done two years ago and I’m sure that those people are exactly the same as they were two years ago”. Well no, they’re not. People change, the products change, you’ve got to really dispel those myths.


And fear as well, I think this is the biggest reasons that people don’t really get into the mindset of the consumer. I mean this is a really scary place, right? You don’t know what that consumer is going to say. The consumer could come back and say: “Well, I’m not actually really in agreement with that product that you’ve come out with and that you spent a lot of time researching and innovating around.”

It might be that there’s so much data out there now that you can’t even start thinking about how you’d start segmenting it and understanding exactly who that audience is based on the data. As marketers, we need to kind of dispel the idea that there is this fear. The more information that we have, the more knowledge we’ll have to make sure that it’s a really, really solid marketing campaign.

The role of marketers

Our role as marketers within this, and it’s a really important role, within clients it’s only the marketing team that will be marketing-oriented usually. So, we really have to be the educators. We have to educate all teams on who the customer is and make it a really clear focus.

I’ve put there, provide a clear customer identity as well. Some of the audience segments that you’ll see are quite ambiguous, they don’t really describe who the customer is. Now, if you imagine a company with over 100 people through the Chinese whispers effect, if you have a really ambiguous customer name and then by the time it gets to the 100th person, it’s not actually going to make any sense. Think about that when you’re coming up with ideas of who that customer is and you’ve kind of got that final persona, think of something really, really rational that’s going to make sense to everybody in the organisation.

The winners and losers

I’ve just put some winners and losers, Sam’s already alluded to this already. We’ve all seen it, I think most people have seen this. The McDonald’s. So, this is one of the recent adverts for McDonald’s. They went out with obviously their usual product, so actually from a product point of view, nothing really changed. But they went down the point of view of going for the brand purpose approach to marketing.

Now, the problem with this is they didn’t understand what their customers would want because they went out, there was a huge backlash and they’ve had to actually reverse that marketing campaign being out. So, the amount of money that went into that marketing campaign and the creative, and they’ve literally had to pull it. Obviously, quite an extreme but that can happen at any part of product launches.

The other one that I just wanted to point out was M&S. We’ve seen over recent years M&S has lost its identity, hasn’t really known who its customer is. It’s actually gone so wide marketing that it hasn’t really honed-in and understood what the customer really wants from them. And that’s why they’ve had a big shift recently in the last year to get new agencies in, so that they can really get a different set of a really clear audience segmentation.

The winners, this probably won’t surprise anyone. So, Amazon: “We seek to become Earth’s most customer-centric company”. So, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, I think it’s kind of fabled and it’s Urban Legend now, but it’s true that he, at conferences and at board meetings, he actually leaves a chair empty and the point of that chair is that chair is for the customer, because the most important voice in any room in Amazon’s meetings is the voice of the customer. So, they go to that extent to say the customer is the focus and that’s inherent around every part of the organisation at Amazon.

The other company that does it really, really well and they’ve loads of awards in the last few years in terms of being market-oriented is Audi. Michael Renz there: “Only a company that understands its customers can achieve lasting success with its brand and products”. Really clear focus, everyone really understands who the final customer is that they’re trying to market to, and I think it’s really clear from all of the messaging, all of the campaigns that actually run for Audi as well.

Key takeaways

So that’s it. My key takeaways are:

    • The importance of being market-oriented, so thinking from the eyes of the consumer
    • Understanding the humility of marketing, so for us as marketers, it’s really important to get rid of any assumptions, get rid of any ideas and pre-assertions in terms of who the customer is. We’re able to actually do the research and because we’re good marketers, we’re able to actually find the connections that are going to segment those audiences but we don’t know what they are at the beginning
    • The power of knowing your customer, what that can give you. It can give you efficiency, it can make sure that all your campaigns are targeted in the right way.
    • Some of the challenges you might face and obviously knowing how to overcome those challenges.
    • And your important role as a marketer in this to make sure that everyone is customer focused and we’re seeing it from the eyes of that customer

That’s it. Thank you.