How to create genuinely customer-centric marketing

A virtual roundtable of five experts discusses how to build on strong brand foundations for deeper, long-term customer engagement

Roundtable participants

Jed Mole, CMO, Acxiom
Johan Jervoe, group CMO, UBS
Samantha Greenwood, CMO and commercial director, Northern Europe, Kraft Heinz
Walter Susini, senior vice-president of marketing Europe, Coca-Cola
Natalie Wills, director of social media and consumer PR, Zalando

To watch the full roundtable on demand, visit

How has the role of brands changed in terms of what customers want from them?

WS The relationship that people have with brands has become different. People wouldn’t be bothered if 75% of brands disappeared overnight. We need to bring real value and memorable experiences that people can share, talk about and feel. That is the way for brands to be relevant.

JJ Brands and people are not that different; we all know lots of people but not everyone is our best friend. Think carefully what insights you’re serving when you communicate. If you do that the right way, you stay top of mind.

NW We need to have made a positive contribution to society. Brands have to work very hard to show that they don’t just have values, but that they’re actually making an impact.

SG A basic level of service isn’t enough and we’re really pushing ourselves to find ways to be relevant, even if it doesn’t benefit our brands in an obvious way.

JM We only sustain relationships with people when we share the same values. If someone treats you like a stranger when you feel you know them well, or treats you badly, that relationship is lost. We must use data and technology to understand each other and so we can remember people and communicate with relevance and respect.

Can brands be purpose-led and avoid the trap of ‘wokevertising’?

WS In the digital world today, weaknesses of any brand can be exposed quickly if you don’t do what you say. When Covid hit, we decided to stop advertising and use the money to help the people who make our business: bars, restaurants. Sometimes it’s better to stay silent and do.

JJ During Covid a number of companies at the beginning of social distancing took their logos apart. That doesn’t help me understand the concept and it doesn’t build trust. We spent the first three months giving credit. Within 12 hours of submitting, the money was in the customer’s account. That builds more trust than taking our logo apart.

JM Consumers have that sixth sense for when something is for show, versus for real. We can affect change very quickly and while Covid wasn’t something I’d want to live through again, it was a great shot in the arm for innovation and it’s shown us how people-centric we can be. For example, with insurance premiums being returned, that felt real and built brand trust.

SG We were concerned about children at risk of food poverty not having breakfast because they weren’t in school and we were able to help by providing actual food, partnering with people like [footballer] Marcus Rashford and the charity Magic Breakfast. It’s focused on actual acts rather than how we can spin it for the business.

How do you approach the building of a life-long relationship?

SG Covid means people are re-evaluating how they feel about their eating habits, becoming more plant-based for example. We need to find new ways to reintroduce ourselves to consumers to keep that relationship going versus just shouting for attention.

JM Don’t get good at selling; get good at helping. The numbers will take care of themselves. The true purpose of the brand is to provide value.

NW Customer lifetime value is our north star. Every marketing initiative is an opportunity to build a more engaging brand, and marketing stories are never created in a vacuum. We need to understand what drives our customers.

Where do we best use data to help brands get creative with experience?

NW Data-driven marketing is a very powerful tool for making content more inspiring and relevant. We obviously use it to make sure that the shopping experience for customers makes their life easier, and that we’re selling products they want to buy.

JJ Money is emotional but if banking is anything, it’s a negative emotion. Banks have got really good at explaining why it’s complicated. But it isn’t really, it’s just cumbersome. If, as a bank, you can make it feel easy, that’s the first step. It feels like I’m helping you achieve your dream.

JM Data is a partial art – part art, part science. It’s unfortunate that along with a growing awareness of data there is also suspicion and misunderstanding. Perhaps it would help to be able to explain why good things happen – data helped us treat you as a valued customer.

Can you connect with customers without being intrusive?

JJ As a marketing team, you are responsible for looking at first-party data and figuring out what the best solution might be. That’s why we often choose brand journalism to tell our story.

WS It’s important to reassure people that they are in control through transparency. People are willing to give you data, if you give back something of value, but they have to feel in control. Things like pop-ups really go against that feeling.

SG There’s a fine line between assuming you know exactly what people need to hear from you. I’ve witnessed the swing from being hyper-targeted and seeing effectiveness drop off a cliff where you got too narrow.

NW It’s key for us to show that every piece of information the customer shares with us will improve and enrich their experience. It’s a commitment rooted in trust, but we also need to show we’re offering utility.

Are we inclusive enough in our quest for data?

NW We have to make sure we are representing diverse backgrounds and experiences. Embracing diversity will allow us to understand and serve a more diverse set of audiences and it’s something more businesses need to invest in.

WS Diversity and inclusion has to start from inside. We did a fantastic programme for Ramadan last year because the entire team that worked on the projects were either Muslim or from Muslim organisations. The only way the programme was relevant was because the team knew what was and what wasn’t an issue.

JJ [There are better] single-digit top lines and bottom lines, as well as a better high single-digit stock performance, of those who have a more diverse setup. So, it’s not only the morally right thing to do but it’s also, numbers-wise, the right thing to do.

SG We’ve got to force ourselves to ask the question about how representative we are being, not just in our decision-making, but also where we’re getting information from.

To watch the full roundtable on demand, visit

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Promoted by Acxiom