What These 3 Customer Obsessed Brands Are Doing Right

Building Relentless Relevance is tied to several critical must-haves, none more important than being obsessed with customer obsession. This is not a new trend and its not earth shattering, but what the old pros like General Mills, P&G, Nike ID, Mini-Cooper, Patagonia and Burberry are teaching us is that ceding your brand to customers (in a good way!) in order to drive relevance and bring your brand promise to life helps you win in ways that your competitors can’t. These companies don’t just listen to their customers, they embrace them as true partners in achieving commercial and brand success, taking co-creation, collaboration and participation to entirely new levels. If you want proof of obsession just look at this years’ list of Fast Company’s Fast 50, led by Warby Parker, one of the most customer-obsessed companies out there today.

Looking at these examples it’s likely you’re asking, “Do I have to go that far? Can I continue to live in a product/service push world versus a customer pull world?” My answer is a resounding NO. Each category I have worked with in the last three years, both B2B and B2C, are going through radical changes. Whether brands are being dis-intermediated by Amazon or a new app just made their old business model obsolete, the mantra ‘adapt or die’ is a reality regardless of your category.

Customers, especially Digital Natives and the ever-present Millennials, expect you to tap into them in order for you to tap into their wallets. They are experts at sharing, thanks to companies like TripAdvisor, Uber and Airbnb. By some estimates, 80 million Americans now take part in the sharing economy at some level. But a handful of brands are taking it a step further, leveraging customer insights as an integral part of their strategy and ultimately their P&L.

When I’m asked for examples of my favorite customer-obsessed companies, three always rise to the top. They are:


This innovative app taps the amateur traffic reporter in all of us and relies on the Golden Rule of co-creation: Users understand that just as they give good information about the traffic snarls they face on the way to the office, they’ll get equally reliable intelligence when they head to the gym. Customers love the idea of real-time crowd-sourced transportation info because it saves them time and hassle. Importantly, customers are taking it to the next level by integrating Amber Alerts. Cities are doing the same as the D.C. Department of Transportation and Waze formed a partnership in February and parent-company Google just announced this week that Waze will become one of Google’s pre-installation options for all Android devices. Customer-obsessed + technology empowered = life changing!


This aptly named hybrid is a hub for would-be inventors, acting as a social network, e-commerce site and collaborative sounding board for designers and manufacturers. The idea is that customers share their ideas—a magic snow melter, for example, or blue-tooth enabled tire nozzle caps alerting users to low tire pressure. Community members vote on the ideas they like best and can offer suggestions to improve the design. Quirky pulls in community members at weekly meetings where they decide which ideas have the most potential. Or you can skip all that and just buy what suits you from the more than 400 products it’s actually helped launch in the last six years. Quirky recently launched its own line of customer-created, Quirky-branded line of “cool stuff’ at The Container Store.


A hive for ambitious artists who think their designs belong on T-shirts and posters, this site is part KickStarter, part Gap. Users can score a design and see what percent funding the artist has already achieved. Or you can just buy the shirt you crave, whether it’s geeky (“Video games ruined my life. Good thing I have two extra lives.”) or hipster (“I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet.”). While the brand has been around since 2000, it stays relevant to its community with frequent contests and design challenges, plus plenty of respect for the process. Every piece carries the artist’s name, and it’s “Make great together” tagline sums up the collaborative ethos beautifully.

So, what can you do if you are not taking part in the obsession with customer obsession?

I’ve helped clients adopt three easy fixes:

  1. Create smart customer panels that are segmented in ways that mirror the customers that you want to win with. Lean on those panels for everything from ideation to concept testing to key service requirements. Even if used in small steps, these panels can pay off in big ways.
  2. Leverage standard, episodic research tools such as ethnographies more digitally and more frequently. Companies that are truly customer obsessed are as obsessed with how customers make decisions in the 99% of their life in which they aren’t interacting with your brand or brand category. More immersive ethnography techniques (we use one called Revelation) gives you a complete customer life perspective which can alter the way you think about how your brand fits in your customer’s life.
  3. Go big and big picture. Take a fresh look at your insights and market research efforts overall across business units, geographies, products and services and look for ways to integrate those efforts to get a more holistic, customer obsessed way of going after insights. This is not just about cutting costs, but all about increasing obsessivity (and yes, I’m using that word!).

If you don’t become customer obsessed quickly, your closest competitor (or worse, a competitor that hasn’t been revealed yet) will do it for you. Then the word “obsession” may take on a whole new meaning altogether!

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