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Let’s Drop the Adjectives So We Can See the Customer

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Sadly, marketing is a fractured discipline. Too many adjectives – inbound, outbound, guerrilla, digital, social, social media, etc. – have splintered what should and must be its fundamental focus – the customer.

In 2009, Roland Rust, Christine Moorman, and I published an article titled “Rethinking Marketing” in Harvard Business Review. Our suggestion was simple: Reinvent the marketing department as a “customer department,” appoint a Chief Customer Officer who oversees all customer-focused functions including R&D, customer service, market research, and CRM. The hope being that companies would shift their focus from product profitability to customer profitability, and would emphasize cultivating customer relationships over pushing brands.

But that didn’t happen. Companies today are no closer to their customers than they were in previous years. Despite “getting closer to the customer” being, and having been a high priority for both CEOs and CMOs for several years now. Paradoxically, the distance between customers and companies appears to have widened, and several companies appear to be operating as if the “the customer doesn’t matter.”

Perhaps all of us – practitioners and academics alike – will be better off, if we heed the late Harper Lee’s advice in To Kill A Mockingbird – “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” Let’s delete the adjectives. Then perhaps we’ll be able to see, understand, and serve the whole customer, not just the parts that suit our purpose.