How customer centricity drives corporate communications

Stefanie Soehnchen, Uwe Schubert

Unternehmenskommunikation“The customer is queen” – so familiar, so not-new. The topic of customer centricity is old hat, at least in the jargon of companies and consultants. However, the concept and also the demands on its implementation are undergoing major changes due to digitalization, new tools and increasingly fluid transitions between communication disciplines.

Uwe Schubert, the German chief strategist at FleishmanHillard, explains in an interview why it is important for successful corporate communications to think not only in terms of stakeholders but also in terms of customers.

Uwe Schubert was in conversation with Stefanie Soehnchen

Uwe, why do we need to take another look at such a self-evident fact as customer centricity?

“Customer Centricity in marketing is not new. Digitalization has opened up a more direct and transparent form of relationship between people and brands and given companies opportunities to better understand customers. Netflix, Amazon, N26, and Amorelie have all demonstrated this. Now, more and more companies are aligning their product development, processes and communication more radically with the needs and expectations of their customers. This means a major shift in many companies – anyone who really takes customer centricity seriously today senses that many of the things we have done in the past no longer work this way. For example, silos have to be broken down and all processes have to be much better networked.”

But most companies would already claim that they know their customers well and also focus on them. What’s the new development there?

“When it comes to product development or the design of new digital platforms and applications, people are indeed thinking and acting in an increasingly customer-centric way. Interestingly, I see enormous pent-up demand in our communications discipline in particular. Corporate communications and marketing are still treated too much separately.

That’s an interesting point. Why do we still have separate silos in communications and marketing?

“While large parts of corporate organizations now think in customer-centric terms, PR still thinks too much in terms of stakeholders and interest groups. As a result, the boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred – between internal and external communications, PR and marketing, and consumer and stakeholder. Social media and content marketing set this development in motion. When it comes to purpose, at the latest, the silos should finally be broken down. After all, purpose is an identity- and relevance-creating driving force for reputation management, marketing, internal communications, and relationships with social and political actors. Therefore, a good purpose should always be customer-centric. Of course, you can still address all target groups separately – employees, customers, B2B contacts, etc. – but the target groups will get the benefit of the doubt. But in this digital age, the target groups are aware of this. And then the integrity of the messages is in danger. That’s why the new question for successful communication must be: How can we communicate the needs of all stakeholders authentically and transparently?”

And if you think of communication in a networked way, you find that PR and corporate reputation also play an essential role within the customer journey and influence the customer experience.”

Does data then also play a role in making corporate communications customer-centric?

“Thinking about it further, customer today is becoming a ‘real-time KPI’. Thanks to a wide range of tools that provide us with lots of relevant and inspiring data, we can answer more and more quickly and much more clearly: What makes consumers tick? How do they talk about brands and companies? Where do I meet them along the customer journey and how can I offer them the brand experience they want? And then, of course, how can I apply these insights more effectively in my corporate communications?

Tools and analytics today can also tell us how customers interact with each other. We know what ideals and visions of the future they share. Responding to this in communications, and then in a format that picks up on customers accordingly, is modern customer centricity. If you don’t do that, your competitors will very soon pass you by.”

What does that mean for PR in concrete terms?

“Of course, PR has to react accordingly – after all, it should also reach consumers and not just the mediating stakeholders such as journalists. In concrete terms, this means that PR must also get used to thinking in terms of customer journeys and to knowing and understanding terms such as KPIs. Because communication is no longer simply a ‘loudspeaker’ – a tool that can and must only generate reach and awareness.

Instead, it can make a critical difference along various points of the customer journey – such as consideration and advocacy – though perhaps not exclusively on its own. It’s important to understand that today the customer sets the communications agenda, and PR leaders who simply blast out their message without this new form of customer-centricity will sooner or later lose out.”


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  • Uwe Schubert

    Uwe Schubert is Senior Vice President and leads the strategy team at FleishmanHillard in Germany. With more than 15 years of experience in the field, he uncovers meaningful consumer insights and develops strong brands with purpose and conviction. Combining different...

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