As you’ve probably realized by now, marketing experts like you and me can do just about anything — like seeing the future. 

What’s that? You were sick on the day everyone else had prophecy lessons? Not to worry — I’m here to be your guide. I’ve even got an extra crystal ball you can use. Just peer inside to get a glimpse of your marketing future.

Spoiler alert: You’re looking at your customer.

That’s because customer experience is sure to be the next big marketing strategy. After all, customers are at the heart of everything you do — so it makes sense that your marketing should be built around them, too.

Join me on a trip to the future so we can take a look at customer marketing and how it’s going to shape the business world.

What Is Customer Marketing?

Before we leave the here and now, let’s make sure we know what we’re looking at.

Traditional marketing is the process of telling your story to the world. That includes a lot of moving parts, such as your brand voice and tone, company values, product specifications and more. A marketing strategy can live in the real world or online — often both — and seeks to tell customers who you are, what you do and why you get up every morning.

Notice anything? That’s right: A lot of traditional marketing is all about you. That’s like throwing a birthday party for a friend and then spending the whole day talking about how much work it was to put those streamers up or bake that cake. Simply put, modern marketing tends to focus on the story instead of the listener.

Customer marketing, on the other hand, is all about the people you’re trying to engage with. In this party, all the focus rests on the honoree, not on the host. The key is to build loyalty among every existing customer so you’re a better partner for every new customer. 

Of course, someone still needs to do all the work to make this party happen. You’ll continue to leverage your brand voice, values and goals in customer marketing; the only difference is that you’re building it all around the customer instead of yourself.

Here are a few more things to know about this approach:

Customer Marketing Tools

The beauty of customer marketing is that it’s an umbrella term. Other approaches, such as content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO), are still on the table — you just need to think about them a little differently.

For example, where content marketing might previously have included blog posts celebrating your latest product, it’s now an opportunity to talk about how that product relates to your audience. Maybe you improved the design based on customer feedback or built it to solve a specific need in your community. Either way, you can connect with people more effectively because you’re talking with them instead of at them.

The same is true for SEO. While many of the same principles apply, you can think about SEO as a way to provide the right content instead of a shortcut to attracting the right audience.

Other customer marketing tools include:

Customer Marketing Teams

A lot of people can create customer marketing magic. They come from all backgrounds and disciplines, much like your customers themselves — which is part of what makes a cross-functional team so critical for this approach.

Here are a few people who might throw their hat into the customer marketing ring:

  • Company leaders.
  • Customer marketing manager.
  • Product marketing manager.
  • Social media strategist.
  • Public relations team.
  • Creative team.

Benefits of Customer Marketing

The truth of the matter is that you might not want to stop talking about yourself. After all, you’re pretty great, right? You’re the star of your own story, so it makes sense to focus on your brand in all marketing collateral.

But you don’t always have to be in the spotlight. When you jump into customer marketing with both feet, you could see all kinds of new benefits:

Increased Customer Success 

Customer success is a big deal. When you put your audience at the heart of everything you do, it’s much easier to make sure they’re getting what they want and need from your business — even if that’s just a quick answer from a blog post or a lighthearted laugh from your social media account.

Improved Customer Loyalty 

When customers feel like they matter to you, they’re more likely to stick around. Loyalty is good news for them, because it means they don’t have to spend time researching unfamiliar companies and offerings. (Hint: It can be even better if you utilize loyalty reward programs.) Your business gets plenty of benefits, too — like having a preexisting audience for new product releases, special events and more.

A More Engaged Audience 

When you spend all your time talking about yourself, you end up having a 1-way conversation. Back-and-forth communication only happens if you give customers the microphone and listen to what they have to say. These opportunities help keep your audience engaged and interested — especially if your attempts at gathering feedback are disguised as fun social media surveys or customer competitions.

Happier Employees

Your employees work for you because they believe in your brand and mission. However, they don’t want to spend all their time talking about it; they want to get out there and walk the walk. That’s what customer marketing is all about: Letting employees act on the promises your company makes. 

Why the Future of Marketing Is All About Customers

You have everything you need, Marty. It’s time to head to the future. Just peer into the Brafton crystal ball and you’ll see tomorrow unfolding right in front of you.

This is probably a good time to mention that we marketing experts can’t see the whole future. Trust me; I’ve begged this crystal ball to tell me when I’m getting a flying car, but to no avail. Luckily, we can see the marketing world pretty clearly — and it’s all about customer experience and digital customer journey.

You might be thinking to yourself, “How does she know that? This isn’t even a real crystal ball! It’s just a fishbowl with tinfoil inside!” First of all, that kind of negativity clouds your vision, grasshopper — and second, the writing’s already on the wall.

That’s right: Experience is a big deal, and it’s only becoming more important.

Take, for example, one of my favorite restaurants — the Rainforest Cafe. This jungle-themed chain doesn’t just offer some of the wildest food around (Rumble in the Jungle Wrap, anyone?). It also immerses you in a world complete with tropical fish tanks, animatronic animals, trees branching over your table and a “thunderstorm” that occasionally dims the lights and gives the room a thundery ambiance. 

At the Rainforest Cafe, customer engagement and experience are everything. You can probably get a similar turkey wrap at your favorite drive-thru, but you can’t hear a mama elephant trumpeting to her baby or find constellations in the starry ceiling — and Rainforest Cafe fans have realized as much. That’s why we flock to our nearest jungle for totally unmatched dining.

The moral of the story is that customer experience — and, indeed, experience in general — is more critical than ever. We’re tired of skimming along the surface of life; we want to dive in headfirst and be totally immersed in our world. We will no longer tolerate boring, impersonal experiences. After all, we know there are creative people out there who have dreamed up incredible things for us to see and do. Now that the technology exists to make it happen, there’s no excuse to stick with approaches that follow the old script.

The same is true for marketing. If you want customers to pay attention to you in a future full of virtual and augmented reality, social media engagement and other interactive experiences, you need to make them the stars of their own story, with your brand as just a supporting character.

Essentially, customer marketing finally achieves every marketer’s goal of putting the audience first. That’s what we’ve all been trying to do since the dawn of time (which I’ve seen in the crystal ball, by the way. No flying cars there, though). 

4 Super Futuristic Examples of Customer Marketing 

Unfortunately, I can’t send my powers of prophecy home with you. What I can do is point out some examples of great people-first marketing happening right now — that way, you’ll know what to look for as you work on your own customer marketing strategy.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. YouTube’s Personalized Recommendations

If you spend any time on YouTube, you’ve probably been rewarded with personalized recommendations to help tailor your viewing experience. This is what mine looks like:

YouTube knows I like live streams of places that aren’t my hometown. It also knows I enjoy highly specific but totally engaging playlist titles and customized mixes that combine some of my favorite artists. In this way, YouTube almost guarantees my loyalty — because let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t want to watch a day of fun at Disney’s Magic Kingdom?

Another benefit of this personalized approach is a fast-track to customer success. By paying attention to my interests and interactions, YouTube can provide content I’m more likely to engage with, minimizing the chance that I’ll struggle to find something interesting. 

Other companies do much the same thing, especially when it comes to product recommendations. There’s a reason Amazon fills my homepage with replicas of medieval Scottish swords: It’s putting me and my customer experience ahead of whatever its top-selling items might be.

2. Khan Academy’s Birthday Email

If any of you signed up for Khan Academy for help with math and other subjects during your school days, you might still be on their email marketing list. That means you might share this birthday celebration I get every year:

This is a genius piece of customer marketing material and an even better example of a top-notch nonprofit email campaign design. It doesn’t just acknowledge something that’s important to me; it also invites me to visit the site in a way that’s fun and engaging. The birthday probability problem feels particularly relevant when it’s actually your birthday — and those geniuses over at Khan Academy knew that.

3. The Rainforest Cafe’s Twitter Feed

Did you really think I was going to miss an opportunity to talk more about my favorite restaurant? Think again!

This time, we’re looking at a particular element of the Rainforest Cafe’s customer marketing strategy, and that’s their Twitter feed. If you tag their account on this and other social media platforms, you have a chance to be featured — just like this guy, who totally gets it:

There’s all kinds of value in sharing customer-created content as part of your marketing strategy:

  1. Firstly, you put your audience in the spotlight — and that’s a big deal for social media fanatics. 
  2. Better yet, an existing customer’s voice is likely more relatable than your brand’s, simply because you can’t exactly offer an unbiased opinion. 
  3. Finally, you get the opportunity to share customer success stories in ways the rest of your audience can engage with.

(Oh, and did I mention that content created by loyal customers allows us writers to take a break?)

4. data.ai’s Rovio Case Study

If you want an example of a great customer marketing tool, look no further than the humble case study. Case studies tell your customers’ stories, making them look good — and incidentally making you look good too. It’s like saying, “My friend did this awesome thing! Aren’t they cool? I’m so glad I got to help!”

In this example, data.ai does just that. The company focuses on its client through the effective utilization of quotes, letting the client speak for themselves. If a new customer was to see this case study, they’d know how real people think and feel about data.ai — and whether it’s worth clicking the big “Book a Demo” button at the bottom of the page.

(Psst! Want to write your own case study? Check out our eBook on writing smart questions!)

Building Your Customer Marketing Strategy 

Now that we’re back from the future, it’s time for you to get started on your own customer marketing journey. Here are a few tips the crystal ball wanted me to share with you:

  • Track customer success indicators: Key performance indicators, or KPIs, help you ensure you’re meeting customer needs. Make sure you consult these KPIs when building and fine-tuning your marketing strategy.
  • Gather customer feedback: Remember, you don’t need a formal survey to find out how your audience feels. Social listening and other solutions allow you to track social media mentions so you always know what’s being said.
  • Don’t get distracted: Keep your eyes on the prize — an engaging customer experience. If you drop the ball and fall into old habits (like talking about yourself too much), your audience might get bored.
  • Switch it up: Although content marketing, email campaigns and other familiar tools are a great way to dip your toe in the customer marketing ocean, there’s no need to limit yourself. Think about how new approaches like virtual or augmented reality can put your customers inside a story starring them.
  • Keep things simple: Not every customer marketing campaign needs to be big and flashy. Sometimes a fun social media exchange or a simple birthday email can go a long way toward building loyalty.

Get Humble With Customer Marketing

At the end of the day, customer marketing is an exercise in humility. If you can put yourself in your audience’s shoes, provide content and marketing assets they’ll love, shift the focus away from yourself and still achieve your business goals — well, I won’t need this crystal ball to know you’re on the path to greatness.

But I do still have those prophecy powers, and so do all my marketing friends here at Brafton. If you want to see what the crystal ball says next, subscribe to our newsletter and find out what tomorrow holds!

Ashlee Sierra is a senior writer and editor from Boise, Idaho. When she’s not buried under her giant dogs, she can be found playing video games, telling ghost stories and having passionate discussions about the Oxford comma.