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Focus Returns to the Customer. Finally, We’ve Sobered Up

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focus on customers photoValue prop, showrooming, growth hacking, mobile, viral, inbound, outbound, 360 everything—marketers love buzzwords. And during Adobe Summit 2014 it’s clear that there’s a new big buzzword in digital marketing: Customer.

Often, these buzzwords represent trends—considered revolutionary at the time—that quickly fade away. But I have a feeling this one will stick. It’s painful, actually, that there has been such a pronounced lack of focus on customers in marketing over the last 10 years that such an essential element of every business could become a buzzword. And it’s only buzzy now because organizations are being forced, finally, to actually listen to their customers. Listening to customers? What a novel idea!

These last few years have brought incredible technological innovation to the industry—and this was the worst thing to happen to marketing. As digital marketers fell in love with new tools and new opportunities to communicate, our focused shifted to implementation and execution and away from strategizing, finding the best way to use this technology. We staffed for execution and measured success with short-term metrics. We did this with banner ads. Then paid search. Then social. Then mobile advertising.

A new cohort of marketers entered an industry that valued impressions and clicks over lifetime value and engagement. Now we have an army of marketers that don’t remember how to run focus groups or seek out test markets; a generation that doesn’t understand the methods to truly learn about the people marketing aims to reach. Marketing was once focused on the customer but we lost our way.

We got drunk on the possibility and promise of technology. I got drunk too. I would attend product demos and ask “Can we do this?” and be satisfied with the answer. Instead we should have asked, “Should we do this?” or “Does it make strategic sense to do this?”

We’ve sobered up.

Fortunately the technology has caught up too—and the focus is once again on the customer. The next big trend in marketing is the customer—and I’m confident this buzzword is here to stay.