"Despite all talk of customer-centricity, most firms remain woefully product-centric"

Success is measured by product units sold. In all this product-fixation, the customer is lost, says renowned marketing strategy expert Niraj Dawar

by Priyanka Mehra
Published - Dec 18, 2013 9:16 AM Updated: Dec 18, 2013 9:16 AM
"Despite all talk of customer-centricity, most firms remain woefully product-centric"

Niraj Dawar, Professor at the Ivey Business School and a renowned marketing strategy expert and author of ‘Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers’, speaks about the reasons behind writing the book, the gap between consumer-focused and product-focused organisations, telecom industry in India sacrificing the customer experience because they lack the imagination for fighting increasingly competitive battles and more.

Prof Dawar will be talking exclusively at the IMPACT One On One With Prof Dawar in Mumbai on December 19, 2013. He will also moderate a panel discussion on ‘Walking the talk of consumer marketing’. The other panelists include, Rama Bijapurkar, management and market research consultant, and author; MG Parameswaran, Executive Director and CEO, Draftfcb+Ulka; and Shireesh Joshi, COO, Strategic Marketing Group, Godrej.

What led you to write ‘Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers’?
I have been doing research on marketing, teaching marketing and working on marketing projects with some of the leading organisations across the world in the last 20 years. I remain convinced that there is a lot more that firms can do for their customers. There is a lot of untapped opportunity in every company’s downstream activities – the activities where they interact with customers, where they acquire, serve and retain customers.

Customer is king is an age-old adage, but how successful have companies traditionally been in understanding their customers and what needs to change?
Despite the centrality of the customer in marketing, and despite all the talk of customer-centricity, most organisations remain woefully product centric. Walk into almost any company and what you find are product divisions, product managers, running product budgets to achieve product market share. Success is measured by product units sold, and profit is measured by product sales. Marketing and sales people count on product pipelines and product innovation to extricate them from competitive battles. In all this product-fixation, the customer is lost. The book ‘Tilt’ was written to place the customer back at the heart of firm strategy and marketing.

Would you say that innovation at the marketing or CRM level is more important than at the product stage?
I think product innovation is important to stay in the competitive game. But we already have fairly well-honed skills and processes for product innovation. The neglected opportunity resides in innovating in our customer interactions.

Social media has emerged as a new favourite of marketers. How high would you actually rate its effectiveness as a marketing and customer service tool?
Social media is a fascinating tool for marketers to engage with their customers. It not only helps marketers reduce customers’ costs and risks of obtaining information and products, it also is a fantastic influence tool. Instead of selling directly to a potential consumer, you can get their friends to nudge them into buying. And finally, social media allows marketers an ‘always on’ market research channel for obtaining customer feedback. Something they should value.

Speaking of the Indian market, how are Indian companies faring when it comes to keeping their customers happy? Which areas can they show improvement in?
As in any market, some companies are doing this well, while others succumb to cost pressures and short-term thinking. An example is the telecom sector, which had so much going for it, but has sacrificed the customer experience because they lacked the imagination for fighting increasingly competitive battles.

Are there more books in the pipeline and any other particular topics that you would like to focus on?
There are other books in the pipeline, but for now, there are several articles related to ‘Tilt’ that are currently hitting the press, including in Harvard Business Review, Ivey Business Journal, Strategy + Business, and other outlets.

Dawar has also been on the faculty of leading business schools in Europe and Asia. He works with senior leadership in global companies and has executed assignments for BMW, HSBC, Microsoft, Cadbury, L’Oreal, and McCain on three continents, as well as with start-ups in the biotech and information space. His publications have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, the M.I.T. Sloan Management Review and in the leading academic journals. His press commentary has appeared in the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, and the Globe and Mail. 

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