Before exploring the strategy behind customer obsession, let's begin by looking at a handful of brands that exemplify customer-centricity.

Amazon is an obvious one. Part of their mission statement is that they strive to be the world's most customer-centric organization, and the services that we know and love – like Amazon Prime’s same-day delivery – are all based on customer insights.

Next up, we have Etsy. Do you remember in the early days of the pandemic when there weren’t enough masks and they put out a call to sellers to start making them? Within a month, there were 20,000 sellers making masks, and 12 million masks sold through Etsy.

That shows an incredible understanding of the market. They understood what their customers needed and took action to make those things available.

Patagonia’s another one. They just made the incredibly bold customer-insight-driven move of donating the entire company to fight climate change. And there are many other examples – Kroger, Lowe's, Rothy’s – all customer-obsessed organizations with valuable lessons to teach us.

For these organizations, customer obsession is part of their DNA. The CEO or founder has made it a priority. However, that’s not necessarily the case for everybody. Many organizations may well be customer-focused, but they're not customer-obsessed. Today, we’re going to turn that around.

What is customer obsession?

I want to share a little bit about the difference between being customer-focused and customer-obsessed. We’ll see how you, in your role as a product marketer, can become more customer-obsessed and take your customer experience to the next level.

Jeff Bezos is seen as the father of customer obsession. There’s a super famous quote from him: “We’re not competitor obsessed; we’re customer-obsessed” and I know it to be true – I worked at Amazon for four years.

Everything the company does starts from the customer and works backward, whether that's an event they're planning, a video they're shooting, or a new product they're ideating. It's incredible, and it results in incredible experiences, services, and products.

The customer isn't this ethereal anonymous being, although in large enterprises, and especially in B2B, we often fall into the trap of thinking they are. Behind every transaction is a human being with feelings and needs. They want to be excited. They want to be engaged.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If you take nothing else from this article, if you stop reading now, I want you to take away that you as a product marketer have a responsibility to make your customers feel a certain way with every piece of content you create and every interaction you build. It's how you make them feel that matters.

If you make a boring product video, people aren't going to remember how exciting that product really is. You have the opportunity to create a lasting feeling that people will never forget, and that'll help catapult your business and your results forward. Let's talk a little bit about how to do that.

Customer obsession vs customer focus: what's the difference?

It all comes back to the distinction between customer obsession and customer focus. Gibson Biddle, the former VP of Product at Netflix, wrote a really interesting blog post explaining how Netflix adopted customer obsession during his time there. I think it sums up a lot of the contemporary thinking around customer obsession and customer focus.

Here are the five major differences he outlines:

  1. Listening to what customers say is customer focus, and that's awesome, but to be obsessed, you should be testing, learning, and using data to drive new customer insights.
  2. Understanding customers' needs and wants is customer focus. Again, that’s awesome – everybody should do that. However, to be obsessed, you should be innovating and delivering on unanticipated future needs. Nobody woke up one day and said that they needed an iPhone. Nobody. This was an innovation that served an unanticipated future need.
  3. Focusing on customer satisfaction is, of course, super important. But to take it to the next level, you need to aspire to long-term customer delight. When you consistently delight the customer, you create real impact.
  4. Customer-focused companies provide better products than the competition. Well, forget about the competition. How about you pioneer new frontiers with no competition instead?
  5. Finally, customer-focused organizations balance customer satisfaction and profit margins to build their businesses. Meanwhile, customer-obsessed organizations lead with customer delight and higher margins follow.

5 key strategies to implement customer obsession

Let's dive into each of these customer-obsessed strategies.

Strategy one: Learn

Our first strategy is all about data and going beyond insight into customer empathy. As product marketers, we know that all too often somebody on the product management team has an inkling that becomes an idea that becomes the truth. It’s our responsibility to deep dive into the data that's available to us to check those assumptions about our customers and make sure they’re valid.

You don't need a big budget to do this. You just need to define your customer segments and personas and understand the buyer journey. Take a walk in your customer's shoes. Go on that customer journey.

As you do so, you’ll realize just how much data is available to you. There are so many different stages in a customer journey, and if you've got the right telemetry, you can pull and analyze data from each one of them to understand what's happening with your customers.

You also want to add some human interactions to the mix. To create empathy, you need to see what your customers are doing. What are they talking to the support team about? Listen in on those calls and find out. If your organization has created a community, embed yourself in it to learn about your customers’ wants and needs.

It’s also worth paying attention to third parties. Many marketers miss opportunities to gain insights through analyst reports, for example. You should be building a 360 approach that combines first-party data, your first-hand experiences of walking in the customer’s shoes, and customer research then triangulates all of that to get a complete picture of your customers.

Earlier in my career, I worked at Philips, and one of the brands I worked on is Sonicare. Does simply brushing my teeth every day allow me to fully understand what motivates somebody to buy a Sonicare? No.

We went deep to understand people's at-home brushing habits. We did studies around the world to learn how people brush their teeth, how they hold their toothbrushes, and their daily routines.

We combined those real-world insights with message testing, focus groups, and research, but the most insightful part was understanding what people do in the home. It doesn't get more real than that.

Before Philips, I worked on QuickBooks at Intuit. One of the incredible things we had there were usability labs, which we could run either on-site or off-site. Customers would come in and conduct their day-to-day accounting tasks in the software, and we’d watch them.

We paid attention to how they navigated the software, their facial expressions, where their eyes were going as they looked at the page – every aspect of their experience.

We gained a huge amount of insight from this. For example, we quickly realized that one of the first tasks customers want to carry out with our software is customizing invoices, and we needed to optimize that. That was just one of the easy ways we found to enable customers to get to their first moment of delight. All this came from listening, learning, using the data, and moving from insight into empathy.

Strategy two: Innovate

The next step in building your customer obsession is taking all you’ve learned through data and empathy and using it to innovate. Let’s follow Google’s lead on this one. A quote we use all the time is, “Know the user. Know the magic. Connect the two.” That came from Google Creative Lab, and it’s the philosophy that allows us to innovate and deliver on those unanticipated needs.

I'll give you a personal example. Last summer my family and I went on a huge trip. We traveled from here in Seattle to mainland Spain, then to Ibiza. The kids went to Paris, we went to the north of England, and then we all met up again in London before we flew back to Seattle.

I had no idea that Google had this magical way of extracting all of our bookings for every hotel, flight, and car hire. Without me taking any action, our full itinerary had been pulled into a new Google travel listing.

I didn't have to create a spreadsheet with all of our flight details and where we were going to be on what day – it was just there, on my phone. I couldn't believe it. To me, that's knowing the user, knowing the magic, and connecting the two.

Another example comes from my time working on Amazon Web Services (AWS). It's an example of not really knowing the insight, then testing, and innovating to get to a place that's very insightful and appealing.

We launched a product called AWS DeepLens, which we began marketing as “the world's first deep learning-enabled developer kit.” What the heck did that mean? Lots of people were excited about it but had no idea what they could actually use it for, so we innovated.

We listened to some customers and found an incredible use case that we thought would appeal to everybody in a humorous way and bring some magic. Let me hand it over to Ben Hamm, cat lover, to tell you a bit more about it.

Go ahead – watch the video. I’ll wait.

Ben and his murder cat, Metric, brought to life what had been a pretty bland campaign. We took something complex and made it interesting and relatable. It’s innovative product marketing at its finest.

Strategy three: Delight

As product marketers, we can drive customer retention by delivering long-term customer delight.

The first step in this process is making it delightfully easy to get started with a product. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent many hours and months poring over onboarding content, trying to figure out how to improve the onboarding experience of your customers through tutorials, presentations, and webinars. It's our job as product marketers to support customers on those all-important first steps of their journey.

The next step is making your product delightfully easy to use. Now, I'm sure we all wish that all of our products were delightfully easy to use all of the time, but the truth is they're not. It's our job as custodians of the customer experience to provide the guidance needed in the documentation so that when customers hit a roadblock, they can quickly overcome it.

Once you've got those foundational pieces in place, it’s time to create a delightful customer experience. A great way to do this is through the gamification of learning and discovery.

Another way is to build a delightful community. We’ve done this through our Google Cloud Innovators Program, which adds value to the customer experience by bringing users together for a common cause and making them part of a movement.

Whatever kind of business you're in, fostering a community and bringing a value-added experience will no doubt drive retention. According to a recent HBR article, retaining a customer is five to 25 times cheaper than acquiring a new one. We all know how critical customer retention is, and I see that as a huge part of being customer obsessed.

Strategy four: Pioneer

The fourth element of customer obsession is pioneering new frontiers. This is about not only standing out from your competitors but competing in a space that only you can own. Let’s look at some examples.

Our first example is Google Cloud’s partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB), which takes cloud technology and capabilities and makes them relatable through sports.

What’s more, it brings a value-add to that sport by attracting more viewers. We provide Statcast, which enables MLB to use machine learning, and our Anthos service, which brings new statistics to an old ball game. It's always been a data-driven sport, but this takes it to the next level.

Similarly, AWS has a partnership with the NFL. Next-gen stats powered by AWS machine learning can make predictions on the speed of a runner and the live win probability. These are both super interesting ways of showing products and services in action through pure marketing execution.

Another example of pioneering is the creation of new sports and experiences. Back in 2018, AWS started the DeepRacer League, which uses reinforcement learning to drive 1/18th scale autonomous vehicles around a track, creating a racing league that exists both online and in person.

This was based on the insight that developers want to make machine learning accessible and democratize that technology.

All of these pioneering ways of engaging with customers were built on insights about who they are and what they like. Developers love sports, they want new ways to learn, they want friendly competition, and they want to be the hero.

Each of these moves is so insight-driven and powerful that it takes customers beyond just engaging with the company for its services and creates true fans of the brand.

Strategy five: Repeat

The final strategy is repetition. True customer obsession is an ongoing cycle of learning, innovating, delighting, and pioneering, not a one-off set of activities. You need to make this part of your DNA and the rhythm of the business. If you can do that, you will truly up your game and take your customer obsession to the next level. I’m excited to see how you apply this customer-obsessed ethos to your product marketing.

Finally, a little about me...

Hello, my name is Sally Revell, and I'm delighted to be able to share five key strategies that will take your customer obsession to the next level. I’m the Head of Product Marketing at Google Cloud for their Infrastructure and App Ecosystem, but all the thoughts and opinions I share here are my own.