Synopsis: The most important responsibility a marketing leader has is to be the voice of the customer. Proficient CMO’s get to know their customers deeply on a three-dimensional level. As highly visible customer conversations are wielding increasing power over brand perceptions, dollars and peer-influence, those transparent conversations are also increasing marketing’s ability to know those customers better. CMO’s, here are a few ideas on how to the customer expert in your organize and gain true insight into your customer’s “why”.

After interviewing leading marketers, five behavior patterns were identified as the underpinnings of marketing genius. This article details Pattern #1: Construct Customer-Centricity in a quick why, what, how format to provide actionable ideas to help enhance your own marketing genius.

This article is part of a series covering excerpts from “Unlocking The Five Patterns of Marketing Genius”. 

  1. Unlocking The Five Patterns Of Marketing Genius (Overview)
  2. Construct Customer-Centricity
  3. Gel Goals and Hone Focus
  4. Cultivate a Creative Culture
  5. Play Polite Politics
  6. Magnify Marketing Mindset

Pattern #1 of 5:  Construct Customer-Centricity

by Sandra Zoratti, inspired by Taryn Voget

Why. Knowing your customer – personally, intimately and three-dimensionally is your unique value proposition as a CMO.  Although we all know this, deep customer knowledge still falls short in real life.  Why?  Because it takes a big investment of time, perspective and data to really get to know your customers first-hand.  And for brainy CMO’s, the process of learning and knowing never ends.

What. Successful CMO’s do not act until they know their customers through first-hand interactions.  As David Cumberbatch of ACT and Microsoft states, “In marketing, the very first thing I do is educate myself on the customer. I spend the first few months on this. I am amazed by how many companies don’t know who their customers are. How can you make any kind of big impact if you don’t know exactly who your customers are?” 

How. Three key tips on how to construct customer-centricity in your role:

A. Walk a Mile in Your Customer’s Shoes.  One trait shared by all geniuses is that they become exceptional at stepping into others’ shoes to see the world through their eyes.  Top marketers are especially good at this.  They become the customer for moments along the customer experience journey.  This insight enables CMO’s to know fairly well what will work before it launches. Three “perceptual positions” can accomplish this:

First.  See, hear and feel the situation through your own eyes, ears and feelings.  You learn what is important and what you want to achieve.
Second. Step into the shoes of the other person to experience the situation as if you are that person. You think of how a situation might be interpreted by someone else.
Third.  Stand back from the situation and experience it as if you were a detached observer.  You think in terms of what opinions, observations and advice you would hear from an outsider.


    • Go to places where you can meet your customers in-person
    • Form a Customer Council with whom you can ideate and test new notions
    • Listen online to what people are saying about your brand — and act
    • Ask your customers their thoughts – directly and transparently

B. Put Something Out There and Iterate Quickly.  This practice has become known as agile marketing and allows for quick action, fast learning and very agile adjustments.  In the whirlwind that is marketing today, digital metrics that capture actual customer behavior enable this approach.  Piloting in smaller test markets also help make this approach helpful and limit risk.  In other words,  we can be genius and learn by doing.


    • Create a pilot campaign to test engagement; measure, readjust, expand
    • Ask people for opinions/votes on a social media platform
    • Utilize your sales reps to critique your marketing idea

C. Follow your gut feel.  Once you have established a strong foundation of customer knowledge, allow your intuition and gut feel to guide your actions.  Many marketing leaders use 50% research / 50% intuition to make marketing choices.  Data is a guide and it’s most instructive when paired with creativity and emotion.


    • Collect data and then use emotion to craft the creative
    • Test gut-feel ideas against data-driven profiles and predictions
    • If something doesn’t sit right with you, don’t do it.  Trust your gut.

EXAMPLE – Vail Resorts: Epic, The Experience of a Lifetime

Vail Resorts has accomplished something special. It began with customer-centricity. “At the core of Vail Resorts’ marketing efforts is the desire to put guests at the center of everything”, says Darren Jacoby, Director of Customer Relationship Marketing at Vail Resorts.

Their goal:  To create the experience of a lifetime for Vail Resort winter guests and have them share that mountain experience with the world. Along with SAS, Vail Resorts developed a groundbreaking online and mobile application called EpicMix. Skiers and riders capture and share their mountain experiences with friends, family and the world via photos and results of achievements in mountain exploration.  Simultaneously, data-driven customer insights, such as vertical feet and terrain covered, are gathered by Vail Resorts for each guest.

By the numbers: “In its first season, nearly 100,000 guests activated their EpicMix accounts. 40% downloaded mobile apps and 6 million digital ski pins were given out. 45% of the users chose to share their accomplishments on Facebook and Twitter – resulting in more than 35 million social impressions.”

What’s next for Vail Resorts? Well, they feel they have good handle on their customers’ buying behavior. Now they’re focused on understanding what motivates them to choose Vail over any other travel destination, as well as what motivates them to make the choices they do while at the resort.

The insights that Kirsten Lynch, CMO Vail Resorts, shared at The CMO Club dinner in Denver earlier this year were the inspiration for this example.