Get the 'earned vs paid' balance right to capture engagement
A view from Joerg Niessing

Get the 'earned vs paid' balance right to capture engagement

Do you really know what your customers want, or just what they might need? There is an important difference in a digitally led, customer-centric business, says Joerg Niessing.

Digital technology and the Internet of Things are transforming every sector and every business. Recent studies forecast that almost 100bn connected devices will be in use by 2020.

The digital revolution is transforming the economics of marketing and making many of the function’s traditional strategies obsolete.

Using only paid media to build awareness, drive consideration and ultimately inspire purchase does not work any more

But what is changing for you as a marketing executive? New technologies, lots of data from various sources, new consumer touchpoints and more empowered customers are making it increasingly necessary for marketers to lead in a very complex and dynamic environment.

Today’s digital customers expect more, trust their peers, are informed, and have choices and a voice. In addition, the classical marketing funnel has transformed into a multichannel consumer journey: Web 1.0 was about ‘reading before the purchase’ – Web 3.0 is about ‘writing after’.

Comsumer imposed brands

Web 1.0 was about ‘companies pushing information’ – Web 3.0 is about ‘communities’. A brand is no longer what a company tells the consumer it is. A brand is what consumers tell each other it is. Web 1.0 was ‘unilateral’ – Web 3.0 is ‘mutual’.

You have to interact and engage with your consumers along the customer journey in a transparent and authentic way. That also means that you have to spend your money in the right channels.

Using only paid media to build awareness, drive consideration and ultimately inspire purchase does not work any more.

You have to find the right balance between paid and earned media that captures engagement and, furthermore, how consumers connect with your brand, and the interaction between your company, your customer and their communities.

This also means that companies are not building brands alone any more – many have started co-creating products and services by integrating consumers in their processes.

A strategic customer segmentation is needed: if you’re on the wrong train, every stop is the wrong stop.

Being customer-centric

Although there has been, unquestionably, a major shift in how individuals and organisations communicate, the idea of being customer-centric, introduced by Levitt in the 1960s, has not really changed and should guide you through these turbulent times.

This sounds very straightforward, but many marketers have been struggling with this even before the digital revolution.

Ask yourself whether you really know what your customers want – or do you just know what they might need? This is a very important difference. Customers ‘need’ a device to make phone calls, surf the web 24/7 – but many ‘want’ only an Apple product.

Is the objective quality of Apple better than Samsung, HTC or LG? Apple’s customers don’t care. Apple has understood how to create meaningful customer experiences, which customers care about.


Instead of trying to be a little better than your competitors, be significantly different by setting yourself apart and not focusing solely on tangible product attributes.

Successful brands combine functional and emotional benefits that cannot be copied easily. In addition, they stick to their brand positioning, but are also agile enough to develop meaningful experiences offline and online, which reflect the essence of the brand at every touchpoint.

Brands like Starbucks, Evian, BMW or IKEA are perceived as relevant and authentic and are able to connect with consumers. And they don’t forget that no product is bought by everyone.

A strategic customer segmentation is needed to be successful in the digital era: if you’re on the wrong train, every stop is the wrong stop. It is easier to be significantly different and customer-centric if you focus on a target segment.

The digital revolution has not really changed the key concept of customer-centricity, but it has changed the customer and the way you implement that focus.

Netflix or Amazon are successful not because they offer digital products instead of tangible products, but because they have embraced a customer-centric culture at every touchpoint in the multichannel consumer journey.

Joerg Niessing is affiliate professor of marketing at INSEAD.