We live and work in an era where businesses are determined to portray themselves as customer centric. At many companies this has led to the demise of the CMO, as CCOs (Chief Customer Officers) take responsibility for masterminding brand-led growth. But what does it mean to be truly customer centric, and which brands are leading the way?

 Key themes explored in this article

  • There is a rising emotional need for growth, learning and discovery shaping the decision-making of young adults

  • Leading brands in food delivery, money management and entertainment have recognized and responded to this change ahead of the competition to fuel a deeper consumer connection

  • These brands are transcending old category boundaries to play a greater role in the lives of consumers – providing content that facilitates growth


Nurturing a rising need for growth

Netfluential research conducted amongst 10,000 UK respondents is revealing that some of the fastest growing brands are redefining what it means to be customer centric. We recently launched LENS, our Live Emotional Needs System for monitoring how the emotional needs of consumer groups are changing and diagnosing how well brands meet those needs. The findings show that when businesses can anticipate significant changes in the emotional needs of their target audience, they can re-engineer products, experiences and communications to meet those needs more effectively than competitors.

Based on existing academic frameworks and research, and our own extensive consumer research, we created a system based on six core values, each with a set of underlying emotional needs that drive instinctive decision making.                          

  • Certainty: safety, security, protection, routine

  • Significance: uniqueness, recognition, belonging

  • Growth: learning, discovery, ambition, achievement, challenge

  • Variety: change, adventure, excitement

  • Contribution: kindness, giving, self-worth

  • Love: connection, acceptance, support, loyalty

One of those core values - Growth (characterized by the needs for learning, ambition, meeting goals and overcoming difficulties) – is rising in importance, particularly with young adults. Within Growth the underlying need to learn and discover new things has emerged as the most important emotional impulse driving the decision making of young adults today.

This shift manifests itself in different ways across different categories, and several pioneering brands are developing new products, experiences and communications to exploit the opportunity.

Netflix – facilitating learning and discovery from the comfort of your own home

Netflix is a powerful example of the value of responding to your audience’s changing emotional needs. Traditionally entertainment brands such as Netflix, Sky and Virgin Media have primarily delivered against the core value of Variety, which is characterised by the emotional need for change, excitement and interest. The content providers have competed on range, focusing on breadth of content across different genres.

But Netflix recognised that the new battleground was to deliver against the rising need for growth and revised its strategy accordingly. Netflix’s offer is increasingly defined by original content - the recent focus on exclusive documentaries such as ‘Fyre’ (the infamous music festival that never happened), Formula 1: Drive to Survive, and David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’, is introducing its audience to new stories and new perspectives. It is content designed to trigger thought and conversation, and this is helping Netflix to resonate with an expanding community of subscribers looking to learn more about the world around them.

Netflix now has the highest rating of any entertainment brand on the attribute “can help people learn or discover new things” (55% strongly agree for Netflix, vs 48% for Disney and 47% for PlayStation and Sky). This rises to 61% for Netflix amongst 21-39 year olds and has helped the online streaming service to become the most loved entertainment brand in the UK.


Deliveroo – helping people to discover the diverse world of food

Online food delivery services have sparked a revolution in the UK takeaway market which has grown rapidly in the last decade. Brands such as Just Eat, Deliveroo and UberEats have risen to prominence by providing choice and convenience, allowing consumers to access a greater range of takeaway food options more easily than ever before. As with the on-demand TV content sector, these brands originally emerged to satisfy our emotional need for Variety.

But Deliveroo has identified an opportunity to deepen its relationship with customers by addressing the rising need for Growth amongst young adults. Deliveroo is increasingly providing content that inspires people to try new things with website features such “our picks” and “healthy options”. Whilst its competitors provide access and choice, Deliveroo is becoming the destination for people who don’t yet know what to choose and need inspiration and guidance. This spirit of exploration and discovery is reinforced by the brand’s recent ad campaign encouraging customers to find ‘food freedom’. Just as Netflix helps people to explore the world from the comfort of their homes through on-demand TV content, Deliveroo is encouraging people to explore the diverse world of food.

Growth is not traditionally a natural territory for delivery brands to occupy. But Deliveroo is already ahead of its more well-known competitor Just Eat, as well as established restaurant brand McDonald’s, in responding to the rising emotional need amongst young adults for learning and discovery (a key dimension within Growth). 35% of people strongly agree that Deliveroo is ‘helping people to learn and discover new things’, vs 26% for Just Eat and 20% for McDonald’s.

Helping people take control of their financial future

The rising need for growth is driving significant changes in money management needs with people increasingly seeking openness, simplicity and ultimately greater individual control in shaping their financial future. This has allowed the UK banking market to become the most disrupted in the world, with mobile-first challenger banks such as Monzo and Starling used by around 15% of the adult population (source: Crealogix). The feature-led, money management approach of the challengers reflects the demand for personal financial empowerment. Monzo, for example, allows customers to easily set spending and saving budgets, and provides instant notifications if people are spending too fast.

Barclays is now following suit by aligning its brand experience and advertising behind new features such as in-app card locking and spend projection via the mobile app. Barclays has the highest rating of any high street bank on the core value of Growth, underpinned by the strongest rating in the category on ‘helping people learn and discover new things’. And while Nationwide is the most loved UK bank overall, this strategy is helping Barclays to have the strongest connection of any mainstream bank with a young adult audience (21-39 year olds).

Brands from the wider financial services sector have spotted the same opportunity. MoneySuperMarket is increasingly looking to transcend the insurance comparison category where it competes closely with the likes of Compare the Market and Confused.com, to take on a bigger role in people’s lives as a financial growth partner. The brand’s mission to help people ‘Get Money Calm’ extends beyond saving money on insurance, with the brand now helping people to improve their credit score, manage their bills and even plan for Brexit. This is a smart move, enabling MoneySuperMarket to engage with a younger audience before they enter the insurance buying market. MoneySuperMarket is now the UK’s 7th highest ranking brand on the attribute ‘helps people to reach their goals’ amongst young adults.

Key actions for your brand

A recognition of the changing needs in young adults has seen brands emerge as champions of personal growth, learning and development. Netflix, Deliveroo and MoneySuperMarket are transcending traditional category boundaries to become platforms for content that expands our world and triggers new thinking. This allows these brands to play a deeper role in the lives of their customers, becoming the destination of choice when people need inspiration.

And Netfluential’s LENS research has broader implications beyond the current opportunity for brands to align themselves with the emotional need for Growth. Consumer centricity is more than just a marketing buzzword - the brands forging the strongest connection with people are defined by a deep understanding and early response to the changing emotional needs of their target audience. Successful brands will need to leave generic demographic segmentation labels such as ‘Millennials’ behind, and instead embrace needs-based communities. Currently we are seeing a rising need for Growth, but the emotional needs driving consumer decisions can shift rapidly. With so much disruption brands need to keep their finger on the pulse of change or risk being left behind.

  1. Define your target audience by needs & behaviours – demographics can describe your target audience, but are rarely a suitable method of defining it

  2. Establish a fast system for monitoring how the underlying emotional needs of your target audience change in relation to experiences and influences

  3. Uncover the sector-specific manifestations of changing emotional needs – for example, the emerging need for Growth has very different implications across money management, entertainment and food delivery

  4. Transcend traditional category roles and deepen your relationship with customers by providing content and experiences that satisfy the targeted emotional need

  5. Ensure coherence across the brand experience – product, service and communication must all be aligned in serving the intended emotional need