The Drum Network recently met Andrew Kelly, VP sales and marketing at Olson 1to1 and The Future Customer, to discuss his recent move from the US to London and how the empowered customer is impacting more than ever before on the way brands do business…
Hello Andrew. So, what brings a New York boy like you to London?
Well, London is always a great place to be, but ICF Olson’s recent acquisition of The Future Customer was the impetus for my move. I’m here to support and promote the end-to-end loyalty and CRM capabilities that Olson 1to1 (the loyalty and CRM practice of ICF Olson) and The Future Customer now possess, from a global perspective.
The Future Customer’s capabilities in consultancy, design, customer strategy and experience-centric thinking add a complementary layer to Olson 1to1’s loyalty technology, operations, strategy, creative and analytics capabilities. In terms of establishing our London base, we’re expanding our footprint in one of the world’s hottest markets. Pretty exciting stuff.
What were your expectations of the UK market before you arrived and how has the reality differed, if at all?
Many Americans are familiar with quite a few UK brands, and I think the general perception is that there are a few key players in each sector and the rest of the competition is biting at their heels. What I’ve found in the last half year or so of engaging with our group here is that the market is actually quite diverse, with emerging contenders, challenger brands and disruptors all jostling for position. While the overall trends in the UK mirror that of the US, with certain sectors experiencing softness more than others, I’m seeing a lot of innovation and change making.
The agency name ‘The Future Customer’ is unusual – why the focus on the customer?
The Future Customer name stems from the belief that for any brand or organization, their number one asset is their customer base – that they are their current and future profit center. Our agency DNA, both across the pond and in the UK, is steeped in loyalty expertise and customer strategy, and, in everything we do, we apply the lens of the customer rather than the organization. We even have guiding principles that champion the customer and govern our approach to client challenges because we understand the power customers have and the short-term and long-term impacts customers have on your business.
How and why has the power dynamic between customer and brand evolved?
Customer preferences and expectations are shaping – literally impacting – brands in the marketplace with widespread effect. Customers are in control more than ever before. This isn’t new by any means; however, the rate and scale at which this is happening is accelerating, even in the last several years.
Think of it this way: for everyone brand that is getting it right - and that ‘it’ could be anything from an app experience or in-store interaction to mobile checkout or a product return experience - there are potentially a hundred (arguably more) who are getting it wrong. Who wins? The brands getting it right, not because they have the better app or the sleeker store or because they have free returns, but because they are helping the customer win, in whatever that context is.
What are the main changes brand marketers need to make to adjust to this new breed of customer?
Brands might benefit from looking inwards, re-evaluating their brand promise and questioning how they are delivering on that value. In other words, what do they specialize in? What do they get right? What are they known for? What are the one or two things they do better than anyone else? Double down on that to shape experiences that create confidence, remove friction and build brand love while extending it to other parts of the brand/customer relationship.
What’s the role of agencies like The Future Customer?
You could argue that there’s a bit of a war going on between consulting firms and traditional agencies, between brands and customers. Contrarily, you could also argue that what one might call a ‘war’ is simply a shift in thinking. We wrote a piece recently on how Gen Z is impacting the larger market, irrespective of demographic. My point is, there is a lot to wade through, and the role of the agency is to guide clients.
No matter what school of thought you find yourself in, however, one thing is for certain: loyalty strategies are being adopted by broader organizations because customers, and therefore customer strategies, are changing. The role The Future Customer plays is to facilitate this transformational change with confidence and expertise.
What other organizational factors need to be considered when looking to improve customer loyalty/retention/advocacy levels?
One major pitfall that I’ve seen among brands and organizations is to treat loyalty as a separate department that is siloed and is standalone from the rest of the business, instead of treated as a long-term business strategy. The entire organization should consider loyalty as an outcome and not just a program that lives within the marketing or digital department.
And, in that same vein, organizational alignment is obviously fundamental across the entire business for customer loyalty initiatives to succeed, from IT and Marketing to Finance and Operations, there has to be a shared vision of what loyalty means for the brand, and the implications that that investment has across the organization, as well as the financial impact and return.