How much closer can brands get to customers? – by Virgin Mobile’s Rob Beswick

Getting as intimate as possible with the customers is the goal, writes Rob Beswick, managing director, Virgin Mobile UAE

Rob Beswick, managing director, Virgin Mobile UAE

In the time I’ve been in the marketing industry one of the most radical changes I’ve witnessed has been the amount of data we are now able to collect and understand about our customers. Hyper personalisation is now the holy grail of marketing – enabling us to know how our customers think, what they feel, how they interact with our products and services and how they live in minute detail.  From growth hacking, A/B testing through to algorithms and AI we can track their sentiment and their actions, and we work hard to use that data to pre-empt their needs and desires in an ongoing quest to build out our relationship with them, build better products and drive value for the businesses we work for.

With the metaverse exploding we will soon see a whole new world (literally) to explore together.  But is it the same as catching up over a coffee?  The art of face-to-face conversation, where we share our highs and lows, our frustrations and our bad jokes, is the dwindling art that I’m passionate about. Not only is it infinitely possible to maintain – it is crucial for brands.  From crowd sourcing to chat forums, from beta testing to simply meeting up – it matters.  So how can brands benefit from putting it back into the heart of their marketing strategies.

First up, the data matters. We pour over it and we analyse it in ever-increasing detail. And that’s incredibly valuable.  However, data alone will only tell you so much. Undoubtedly, we can use our data points to understand our consumers, but the real learnings and Eureka moments really come about when we get closer to them. When we invite our customers to collaborate, feedback, and test our thinking and our products the real insights come. Only when you combine the data with the insights you get from a real physical relationship do you really start to get the full picture. Getting that balance right allows us to really test what we’re finding and to hear first-hand the real-world challenges our customers are facing. This is where we get to truly see the pain points and the winning moments that lead to adaptation and innovation. This level of collaboration is critical to brands who want to build experience led products and cannot be overlooked if we are to build transparent, authentic relationships with our customers.

Of course, this is nothing new. Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote about “putting your backpack on and visiting customers in their homes” in his 2004 book ‘Lovemarks’ where he described brands and products that inspire ‘loyalty beyond reason’. He takes it one step further, explaining it as two axes, one based on low to high respect, and the other based on low to high love – for a brand to reach the heady highs of becoming a ‘lovemark’ it has to be high on both axes. If a brand aspires to invoke love it must truly seek insight to understand the customer’s needs, and data alone will not give you that rich insight.

The real difference now is the impact of technology on how we can do this – and the speed with which we can then act on it – changing our products with new features as soon as we gather fresh insights and opinions and push to stay ahead in meeting our customers’ needs. When you get it right the results come just as fast with a consumer advocacy that is built on a strong foundation of responsiveness, communication, personalisation and trust.

When we invited our customers to beta test our product before we launched in the UAE it was a brave move – it couldn’t be a PR tactic, we had to be prepared to truly listen and act on what we heard. And we did. Now we have The Virgin Mobile Research Lab, which is a platform for customers to share their feedback on beta products, new projects and ideas.  It’s one of my favourite new developments as it brings our customers into the heart of our business – a space for us to play and learn together as we collaborate in our quest to continuously push for ongoing improvement and innovation in all that we do.

So, before you join your marketing team call this month or get your agency on a call to chat about the next campaign, instead ask yourself when you last chatted with your customers and really listened to what’s on their mind.  It’s that perspective that maybe will allow you make that all important competitive advantage or differentiator fly.