In 1993, authors Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. — in their prescient marketing book The One to One Future — predicted that “the future of marketing would focus on individual customers versus mass messaging” (Forbes).

At the time, the idea must’ve seemed radical. After all, how could a business (i.e., a large, national retailer) get to know their customers as individuals and provide them unique, tailor-made experiences? Even if they could, how could they do that at scale, so that the business could continue to grow? 

Fast forward to 2021. Not only is this type of marketing possible (yes, even at scale), it’s become a customer expectation. Customers want to be treated as individuals, which means your business should revolve around them. 

This year, customers must be the TOP priority. In order to drive growth and revenue, put the customer at the front and center of everything you do.

When It Comes to Customers, “Obsession” Is a Good Thing

Being customer-focused is a good start. But being customer-obsessed should be the ultimate goal.

According to Forrester, a customer-obsessed business will go beyond having a general awareness of who their target customer is, and instead, develop a deep understanding of their customer’s needs, desires, and motivations. This deeper understanding is then used to create and deliver the types of experiences customers demand, while also informing business decisions.

“Customer obsession is deliberately a little bit different than customer focus or customer service. If you think about something you are obsessed with, it is the thing you can’t get out of your mind. The thing that — even when you try — comes to the front and center of everything you do. Customer obsession is putting the customer at the center of your leadership strategy and operations.”

Forrester Logo
Shar VanBoskirk
VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester

But where does this understanding come from? Your customer data, for one. Every touchpoint along your customer’s journey — online and offline — yields data. This first-party data has significantly more depth, richness, and accuracy than other data you might use, and can yield insight into what truly motivates your customer.

Another source: the customer themselves. No surprise, listening to your customer will reveal the biggest insights about what they desire. Customers are happy to share their thoughts (good and bad). Cull feedback from your social media, service and support teams, or any channel through which the customer communicates with your brand. Whatever you glean can be used to inform marketing strategy and operations. 

  • Key Takeaway: Putting the customer front and center requires more than your focus; it requires your obsession. For a deep dive into what being a customer-obsessed business looks like, watch Shar VanBoskirk, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester in our on-demand presentation of The Anatomy of Customer Engagement, recorded during Emarsys’s Retail Renaissance event. 

Build Your Strategy Around the Customer

Digital transformation and a focus on customer experience can increase customer satisfaction by 20%-30% and revenue gains of 20%-50%.


Putting the customer front and center of everything you do sounds like a nice sentiment. But don’t misconstrue this as a figurative platitude — you need to actually build your marketing and business strategy around the customer so that you can accommodate all their needs and desires (and deliver results).

This requires you to: 

  • Reduce friction at every touchpoint
  • Consider the customer’s full-spectrum journey with your brand
  • Provide high-value experiences to the customer
  • Have the right technology in place and your data sets unified so that you can deliver the right message, to the right person, on the right channel, and at the right time.

“Value comes in lots of different forms. One is: Absolutely making sure the right product, on the right channel, at the right price … is there for [the customer], and not [offering] things that are irrelevant. But you can layer on more and more value as well [through] all of the other things you can do to make that customer have a better experience, and to provide them with more of a holistic benefit from working with you as an organization, rather than one of your competitors. And only you can do that, because only you have that data.” 

David Eldridge
Chairman and Co-Founder, 3radical

The massive shift to digital started in 2020 out of necessity. But this year, even as the in-store experience has a resurgence, digital channels will continue to be embraced by customers because of the convenience they offer. It will be on you to provide seamless omnichannel experiences so that customers can move easily from online to offline (and back again), whenever and however they choose. These experiences also have to be highly personalized (not a one-size-fits-all or one-to-many approach).

If you can’t offer this, customers will flock to whichever one of your competitors can (and their dollars go to another business).

  • Key Takeaway: As you build your marketing strategy, consider everything from the customer’s point of view — user experience, communication, channel, content, timing, etc. Evaluate any gaps in your technology or organization that might prevent you from providing seamless 1:1 personalized experiences on every channel. 

Relevant, Contextual Personalization Leads to More Revenue

Customers no longer tolerate cookie-cutter brand experiences. They want to be treated as individuals, not just part of a target audience. If you think the form-fill first name emails you send or the happy birthday mailers that are automatically triggered qualify as “truly knowing your customer,” that’s not enough. Customers expect more.

Considering the technology exists to provide relevant, contextual 1:1 personalized experiences across all channels, customers are more than justified in having these demands. Don’t expect them to willingly engage in a way that best suits your business, or for them to be satisfied with a status quo encounter. 

You should be drawing from all your data sets all of a customer’s unique attributes, behaviors, and preferences to create one-of-a-kind experiences that are relevant, contextual, and valuable (particularly if they are willingly providing data to you). You should also know when, where, and how each individual prefers to be engaged. Get this right, and they will shop with you again and again and again — resulting in better business outcomes and more revenue for the company. 

We wanted to deliver that unified customer experience, something that was connected and seamless and frictionless. We wanted to respond in real time too, so trades, tools, are needs-based products, they’re not one space. If a plumber gets called out to your house to fix a job, they need tools now to do that job. So we wanted to make sure that we could really coordinate our messaging across the channels, so when a customer shows interest in a particular product, we can support them in that moment of need.”

Total Tools 1
Elisse Jones
National Loyalty Manager, Total Tools

If delivering relevant, contextual 1:1 personalized omnichannel experiences at scale seems impossible, it’s not. But it requires you to unify all your data into a single source and put the right tech in place so that all touchpoints are connected. Add the power of artificial intelligence, it’s easily scalable and can be automated. 

  • Key Takeaway: Make sure all your data is unified and accessible from every touchpoint so that you can deliver true 1:1 omnichannel personalization at scale. Having a tech stack that is fully integrated and connected to other systems in your organization will help you unlock the full value in your data sets and scale more efficiently. 

Final Thoughts

In 2021, marketing predictions and hot trends won’t help you drive business results. But making the customer your number one priority and placing them at the center of everything you do will. Customer centricity is the key to better outcomes for retailers. 

Although the customer is your top priority, they won’t be your only priority this year. There are eight retail marketing priorities you need to consider so that you can deliver the superior brand experiences your customers desire and achieve the growth and revenue your business demands in 2021. 

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