The Grayson Report

Make Your Marketing Customer-Centric

By Suzanne and Bob Grayson | April 30, 2008

We recently read a book called Rules to Break & Laws to Follow by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers. They vaulted to fame with a book titled, The One to One Future, giving fresh insights into customer relationship management. Their new book includes a simple anecdote that is so profound that we have been passing this little gem along to many of our clients and business associates. In the interest of space, we’ll paraphrase, except for direct quotes.
A top executive was attending an internal sales meeting at Siemens. On the way to the conference room he met the sales manager carrying a folding chair. When asked about it, the manager explained that whenever he brought this chair into a meeting, the whole character of the discussion was different.
“Just watch,” he said.
When the manager brought the chair into the meeting room and opened it, the question arose about the need for more chairs and who else might be coming. Should they get more chairs? 
“No,” the manager replied, “this is my customer’s chair. I brought it to the meeting so my customer can sit right here and listen to the discussion.” 
Think about that! The customer is right there, listening.

Who Speaks for the Customer?

As a result of this enlightened concept, we now focus on some recent events and wonder if the customer was in the room when the decisions were being made. Take the airlines’ requirement to refund the fare difference if the price has dropped between the time you bought the ticket and when you took the flight. This might have been the scenario at American Airlines. As management was being informed of this “rule of refund,” someone (must have) said, “Well, why not just consider that in the category of re-ticketing? We now charge $100 for re-ticketing! And isn’t it only rarely that the price would drop more than $100? So why worry? One cancels the other.”
Would that discussion have been the same if the customer was in the room? Note: United does not have a charge for re-ticketing for a refund!  (Tell your friends!)
And we hardly have to conjure up the meeting that proposed eliminating telephone receptionists with:
“Our menu has recently changed. Press 1 for English.”  After that, it’s 3 for accounts receivable, 6 for bookkeeping, etc. When you finally get to the right person, you hear:
“I’m either on the phone or away from my desk, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Or worse, you are disconnected. Was the customer in the room when that decision was made?  En passant, two notable exceptions are P&G and Estée Lauder. A real person answers the incoming call! Did you notice how that execution fits both brands’ attitude about the customer?
Finally, when The New York Times had the budget meetings that ultimately did away with the stock market tables, and another that did away with the week’s television section in the Sunday edition, do you think there was a customer in the room?
Here’s a key quote from the book:
“Several times during the meeting (at Siemens), participants found themselves asking whether a particular point would be made in this particular way if the customer were actually sitting there and listening. Would we say this in front of our customer? What would our customer think of our plan for dealing with this issue? How do we think our customer would interpret our new policy?  Would our customer agree with us that this is a good idea, or not?”
Most companies have meetings to cut costs, increase profits, and/or maintain retail prices (or at least to minimize, any price increases). In lieu of the extra chair, does your company have someone who is “customer-centric” and in charge of maintaining the image? Probably yes, in entrepreneurial companies, but in the larger ones, the further away one is from the customer, the less likely it is that those in the meeting will even consider the real and psychological impact on the consumer.
A motto which might be on everyone’s desk is: “Have I done anything to increase brand loyalty today?”  Or, “have I done anything to create some good buzz today?” 
Perhaps an extra chair in your office would be a good idea.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Back in the primitive marketing days (circa 1966), when product managers pounded out numbers on a huge Frieden calculator that rattled the desk, a book by Al Ries and Jack Trout (long out of print and now best forgotten) extolled the virtues of NOT diluting the basic brand with line extensions. It was the start of long and successful careers for both of them—together and then separately—but the basic concept to keep the basic brand image pure and targeted, has long since been eroded by the need to (chose one or more):
    • Trade on the equity of the brand image to develop one-offs to gain shelf space,
    • Grow the brand,
    • Reduce the risk of introducing new brands,
    • Provide a larger pool of potential advertising dollars or
    • Increase the power of a global brand.
Remember this: in 1966 there was one Tide, likely in three sizes and one Oil of Olay (lost the “Oil” circa 1999). Now, without peeking ahead, how many iterations of Tide are there? How many Olays?
In the past 20 years, P&G has done a great job of extending its brands. But there's always the chance of overextending!
There are 89 Tides!  And 117 Olays!  Between Tide Liquid and Tide 2X Ultra liquid there are 46 iterations alone. Virtuous single product branding has come a long way, baby. The single product drawbacks are obvious (OK, a few sizes are allowed), but what are the extensions-galore advantages? Think about Olay. It has literally surrounded every conceivable feminine need for face and body. No crease or wrinkle has gone untouched. The brand has divided every skin type–combo, dry, extra dry, normal (whoever that person might be), oily, and sensitive and then conjugated these against different product types such as anti-aging, body cleansing, body moisturizing, face cleansing, face moisturizing, and then threw in special treatments and a sunless tanner. Olay has become the category! Once the woman decides to trust Olay, she can have every need satisfied without ever getting undressed for Dove.
What about distribution? Surely the retailer, even the big box stores, can’t possibly carry the full assortment especially when several facings for specific products are necessary for impact. So, the retailer picks over the chicken entrails trying to discern what are/will be the best sellers.
Enter the age of websites!  On the Olay site you can get in touch with a consultant, view every product, get product information and then order what you need. The computer has made it possible to make some sense of 117 Olay products. And, there are Olay’s specific ads, single pages and spreads, to send you to the dedicated website for a personalized analysis of your specific skin care needs—not just a web address in barely readable type, as in most ads.
This website,, is promoted in all Olay ads—you know what kind of coverage that will achieve! This is a “dominate-the-category” strategy, with retail as the springboard. (Note:  Even a department store beauty advisor would have difficulty in differentiating all the products for the consumer.) 
Now, we know. This is how a mass company can answer the vast array of specific needs of consumers, without the need to be on the shelf (after the introduction). Up until now, only Avon has had this advantage in mass—the catalog providing this advantage before the advent of the Internet. And, once you have the customer online, you can personalize to the nth degree. The ultimate in consumer-centric marketing. Neat.

Soaring Demand for Natural

The growth of the natural personal care has been dramatic. Two years ago, we wrote, “the future is here.” What an understatement!  Today, it is better said, “if you’re not already in natural/organic, it has passed you by!”  
Until now, natural personal care product manufacturers had to go to the West Coast to get some exposure at Natural Products Expo West. Maybe it’s time for an “all natural” conference/exhibition closer to home. Save the date: Oct. 21-22, 2008.

About the Authors
Suzanne and Bob Grayson are respected, professional marketers, having spent their careers with the leading companies in the beauty industry before staring their successful consulting business in the early 1970s.
Their consulting clients have included Avon, Bristol-Myers, Estée Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Revlon and Cover Girl, among others. They reside in San Juan Capistrano, CA and maintain an office in New York City. For more information, they can be reached at or