Account Planning in the New Age of Customer Centricity

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“Customer-centric” is the marketing buzzword on everyone’s lips. Coupled with an increased emphasis on customized communications, it means we need to understand consumer attitudes and motivation in greater depth than ever before. This gives account planners a central role in the new marketing paradigm, but only if they — and their agencies — can find new ways of working to take advantage of the opportunity.

Account planning, a staple of multi-national networks in the pre-dot.com bust era, is enjoying resurgence as clients once again focus on strategies for growth. But our world has changed radically since the core tenets of account planning were established by Jane Newman in the late 1980’s — and now it’s time for a re-think.

We’re all familiar with the story of media proliferation and fragmenting audiences.

In response, we’ve seen the percentage of total TV content devoted to advertising increase by 21% since the 1980s. But more advertising does not bring more recall — quite the opposite: According to Forrester research, the percentage of TV viewers who were able to remember any brand that had advertised in the show they had just watched fell from 36% in the mid 60s to only 10% in 2000.

Not surprisingly, we’re seeing a steady erosion of perceived value and differentiation between brands, from athletic shoes to breakfast cereals, with consumers becoming correspondingly more price-conscious.

Clients are reacting by shifting their marketing dollars away from mass media and towards a more targeted strategy, incorporating more customized content. But what’s changing is more than just media strategy. What is emerging is a profound shift in clients’ marketing philosophies—away from the product-centric culture that we’re all familiar with, and towards a new age of customer centricity that leading retailer Best Buy calls “a journey towards a deeper relationship with the customer.”

All of which puts account planning at the heart of this new marketing culture. But are account planners really prepared to meet the demands of this shift? Following are some examples of the new challenges which we are increasingly faced with, as well as some recommendations for the changes we will need to make in the way we work in order to succeed. Let’s start by looking at the consumer herself.

We all know that the Internet has been a great catalyst for change. According to Forrester, 64% of consumers now say the internet has changed the way they make purchasing decisions as compared to 5 years ago. We also know that the 75% of the US population over the age of two that has internet access increasingly invests time and effort in online research — not just to get product details and specs from manufacturers’ sites but also to take advantage of the experiences of other owners and users to help guide their choice.

There are two converging forces in operation here: Change is being pushed by new technologies, but it is also being pulled by time-starved consumers who want us to cut to the chase and talk about what the brand is going to do for them: What will it be like to use this brand? How will it feel to be an owner of this brand?

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