How incorporating human complexity can help your business succeed

Is the modern customer a paradox? While social changes and the climate emergency are inspiring audiences to shop with a clear conscience, the growing cost-of-living crisis is forcing them to prioritize the bottom line. And these external pressures are unlikely to stabilize anytime soon. At a time of geopolitical and economic uncertainty, knock-on effects will be numerous and difficult to predict.

A central tenet of modern customer relevance is the understanding that seemingly contradictory behaviors and decisions are the norm and should be accepted. After all, they are just part of being human.

By listening to their audience – both what they buy and what matters most why they buy it – companies can adapt to thrive in this unpredictable context. And end up doing good while they’re at it. A term used to describe this approach is “life centeredness”.

An example highlighted in our Human Paradox report is that over 60 percent of consumers said their priorities are “constantly changing due to outside pressures”—yet their expectations of brands are not lowering. Brands are increasingly expected to step up and play a helpful role in people’s lives as they try to manage uncertainty. The same study found that two-thirds of consumers expect companies to understand and respond to their changing needs even during these times of upheaval.

This creates challenges within the C-suite. Nearly 90 percent of business leaders have recognized that “customers and employees are changing faster than they can change their business” and need a roadmap to achieve and maintain relevance for today’s consumers.

In creating and executing this roadmap effectively, organizations need to consider two things. First, the humanity of each customer. And second, an understanding of how and why their needs, desires—even their identities—can change rapidly thanks to the unpredictable life forces that come into play. By building a strategy around these two perspectives, companies can thrive in the future.

This concept underpins our basic recommendation to managers: You need to evolve your business to be more life centered.

Here we outline the initial stages and considerations for organizations to embark on the life-centric journey.

See customers throughout their lives

In the last decade or more, companies have become addicted to a diet of compartmentalizing their audience. What we mean by this is that companies instinctively aim to sort their customers into neat boxes and serve them according to their understanding of those boxes – or even predict their behavior. In 2022 and beyond, this approach falls short. Rather than relying on static segmentation models, organizations need to take a more dynamic and holistic approach to data. Understanding that numbers alone can never tell a customer’s full life story is the first step toward a life-centric model that sees them as more than just buyers.

For inspiration, consider the case of the Japanese Bank of Fukuoka. Over a 10-year period, the bank saw a 40% drop in footfall at its physical branches — a trend accelerated, but not caused, by the pandemic.

It was clear that the expectations of both new and old customers were changing and that something new was needed to accommodate this organic change in behavior. Enter Minna Bank, a cloud-based banking system the company co-developed with Accenture that has redefined digital banking in Japan and on the global stage. By serving the country’s growing demand for internet banking, Fukuoka Financial Group has become an indelible part of the digital banking ecosystem of Japan and the world.

Solve for changing scenarios

Whether knowingly or not, brands have set a new precedent during the pandemic for the help they can practically offer to improve people’s lives. Whether it’s Burberry offering PPE in the UK or supermarkets extending opening hours for essential workers, brands have won by showing they can act in a crisis.

Santander Brazil provided an intriguing case study to show how companies can adapt to go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. With Santander Sim, the bank now offers the fastest and most convenient way to apply for a personal loan in the fifth largest country in the world. The digital platform has reduced both the time and requirements for applying for a loan, meaning more Brazilians than ever are hearing “yes” where previously they may have heard “no”.

Simplify for relevance

The world is increasingly chaotic and complicated. While consumers expect companies to acknowledge this fact, there are rewards for those who — in whatever way they can — help make it easier.

Pet food brand Blue Buffalo is a strong example of just this dynamic. Realizing that nearly one in five US families adopted at least one new pet during the pandemic, Blue Buffalo took steps to help these new owners settle into their pet parenting lives. Where pet insurance, training, wellness and nutrition can be complex areas to navigate, Buddies – a new app developed by the brand – has streamlined them. By creating a profile, customers can track their pet’s well-being, exercise, exercise and food preferences while earning points to spend on exclusive rewards for their furry friends.

All these successful examples show that the modern customer is not a paradox that is too difficult to understand, but is multidimensional. As we prepare to enter another era of profound upheaval and change, those companies that adapt their approach to this fundamental fact will thrive.

This is how a company can ultimately become life-centric. Brands can achieve relevance and success by treating customers not as numbers but as full human beings, and by offering solutions that provide material benefit to the changes they face in their lives.


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