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Digital Marketing May 31, 2018

Spoilers from TNW 2018: customer-centricity is the future of marketing


TNW Conference always gathers a crowd of innovators, entrepreneurs, techies, media professionals, creatives and many other curious minded people. As it goes with these conferences, there was a mix of presentations, some better than others. The best ones were from speakers with a clear message to deliver, who were visibly passionate about their topic and who managed to engage the audience with a seeming case. Obviously, the future of marketing was a hot and much discussed topic and the one that presented the most interest not only for me, but for all aspiring marketers out there.

Strikingly, the best talks about marketing had a similar main message that was addressed from different angles. This main message could be summarized as following: “The only way for brands to be successful with their audiences is to create a consumer-centric brand strategy. All other marketing activities should align with this strategy.” Greatly simplifying, consumer-centric brand strategy involves:

  1. A brand having a deep understanding of the needs of its target audience
  2. Evaluating if these needs align with what the brand has to offer and/or building the offer based on these needs
  3. Communicating the brand position not from the angle of “why is the brand great”, but from the angle of “what the audience needs”

This seems a rather logical way to build brand strategy but in reality many companies are still focusing on themselves instead of their consumers.

To illustrate, here are some examples of the most interesting marketing talks at the Next Web Conference 2018:

Tricia Wang, Ethnographer and co-founder of Sudden Compass

Tricia Wang talked about the existing myth that Big Data provides customer-understanding. Even though more and more companies are using data in their marketing efforts, very few are satisfied with the results. Marketeers, she says, spend too much time staring at dashboards and numbers, and confuse reaching the audience with understanding it. Big Data is useful to scale and accelerate customer understanding, but not to generate it. She argues that qualitative research is the true source of your audience insights. However, in the current world qualitative data is seen as “inferior” to data that can be measured. According to Wang, using both qualitative and quantitative data is the right strategy to a successful business. It is her job to help companies integrate “Thick Data” (term she uses for qualitative research to make it sound “sexier”) and Big Data to “unlock new growth opportunities by putting customer obsession into practice” (quoted from Tricia Wang’s LinkedIn).

Watch her full talk on this here.

TNW 2018 Dept
Dept TNW 2018

Mark Adams, VP and Head of Innovation @ Vice

In his talk, Mark Adams focused on strategic storytelling and how brands can create relevant branded content. It starts with correctly defining the audiences. Segmenting the audiences based on characteristics that do not describe your customers will not be useful. An example he gives is “Mark, 26-year-old millennial”. Such categorization will not help brands understand what their audiences are passionate about. This understanding is important since passion is the second ingredient of successful brand storytelling. Brands need to identify the true passions of the defined audiences. It all comes back to understanding audience demands (i.e. needs).

The third step is to question if your brand can create an authentic connection with the passions of the defined audiences. It is crucial to critically access whether there is a right fit between the brand and people’s passions. Can your brand bring value to these people? If not, then it is best not to participate in that conversation (Adams illustrates the mismatch with the infamous Pepsi commercial example).

Fourth is creating value for the chosen target audience. It starts with creating original content that would resonate with the audience and only then will the paid-media strategy add more value to the brand. This way strategic storytelling is created.

Check out the more detailed summary of this talk here (best talk among those I have seen), since the video of the talk is not yet available.

Bottom line

To sum up, the idea that consumer-centricity is crucial to building successful brands was present in most of the marketing talks at TNW Conference. The first example focuses on integrating qualitative and quantitative data to become a successful brand. The second example looks at the content creation side of brand building. However, both speakers point to the importance of putting customers first when it comes to brand strategy. Having a deep understanding of the target audience and its needs as well as making sure that the brand can authentically connect with these needs, are the crucial ingredients for the successful brand (and marketing) strategy.

Other talks that I found very interesting that also focus on customer-centricity:

Ron Faris, GM @ Nike’s S23NYC Digital Studio talks about the future retail and digital community. It is like Pokémon Go but with sneakers.

Henry Davis, President and COO @ Glossier (online cosmetics retailer) talks about taking back the ownership of the brand community from social media.

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