I spent most of my career working in corporate marketing, with multiple stints as a chief marketing officer for major retailers. People often ask me what the biggest difference between the two experiences is, and while the day-to-day is certainly different—juggling multiple brands’ needs rather than a single entity’s—I’m still grounded in the same purpose. We’re solving business problems and meeting opportunities.

There’s a unifying factor with every challenge and opportunity, too, and it’s the most important one. Whether you’re managing multiple businesses or a single brand, everything comes back to the customer.

Creative marketers make and do and create, but to really be customer-focused, you have to be great at (and committed to) listening and observing. That’s what helps you determine who your customers are, what they need, how they communicate, and how they behave. Their behaviors offer valuable feedback that can dictate where you steer your marketing strategy.

Many businesses, surprisingly enough, skip right past this. Executives decide on a particular direction with products or services, not knowing (or asking) if their customers want those things. I’ve seen it in corporate marketing and with agencies I’ve worked with in the past, and it’s led good teams into frustrating spirals. The only way out is finding your direction in what your customers want and need.

When you have firm customer data, you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your brand. You see your customers’ entry points and learn where your brand becomes sticky. You get detailed insights into that inflection point where they go from loyal customer to brand evangelist. These data points are a full-color roadmap that tells you where you should communicate with your customers, how often they want to hear from you, and to what degree you’re successfully immersing them in your brand.

One of Alive’s special attributes is that our leadership comes from the other side of the table—brand marketing and marketing technology.

Our past roles gave us valuable perspective on the importance of discovery—a perspective we can extend to the teams we lead here. Lots of agencies talk about discovery, and some clients have a hard time seeing its value. We’re always ready to give voice to that value.

There are universal truths, like “it’s always about the customer.” But mapping the customer journey and understanding the customer experience, each to the last detail, is the foundation of our work.

Too many agencies think great creative or a great tactic will lead the way. What I’ve come to believe is that when the team understands a company, its customers, and its competitors—that landscape of discovery—you empower your account strategists and inspire your creatives. When account executives have their hands on deep and clear research, their strategies speak with confidence and authority. When creatives can see into the soul of a brand’s customers, magic happens.

Ultimately, you need to understand that each client is a unique opportunity, and each has unique problems and challenges that you’re there to help to solve. So you really have to take each opportunity as its own, put the right team around it and dive into it. Saying “we hear you” isn’t enough. You need to listen, understand, and guide clients with a strategy that has a foundation in who they are, authentically, and what their customers need from them.

This seems simple, but it takes focus and commitment to get it right each time, whether you’re a corporate marketer or working at an agency.

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Alive Agency