The Japanese have a famous business mantra:

O-kyakusama wa kamisama—the customer is God.

That’s their heavyweight version of:

The customer is always right.

A young woman with long hair stands in front of a group of students, giving a presentation. The students are sitting at a table and have laptop computers open. The presentation could be centered around the benefits of customer-first branding and marketing.

However, your business is really only customer-first or customer-centered if you take the concept beyond positioning yourself as a Yes-man that responds to every little demand.

Instead, you need to ask the all-important question:

What exactly is the customer right about?

  • Customers are right when they tell you about their needs
  • Customers are right when they tell you what’s broken in their life
  • Customers are right when they tell you where they are hurting

What Customer-First Means for Your Business

The key to understanding customer-first branding (and effective marketing) is realizing that the whole reason a customer comes to do business with you is to solve a dang problem.

We win a customer’s business when we show them in a clear and concise way how we can solve their issues. We tell them without hesitation:

We hear you, and we can help you. Here’s how.

Easy to Say, Hard to Do

Many businesses understand this idea of identifying and meeting a customer’s true need from a conceptual standpoint, but they have a hard time picturing how in the heck to make easing their customer’s burden the focus of their day-to-day marketing and messaging.

Let’s look at 2 examples, the wrong way to go about it, and then an approach that’s much closer to right.

The Wrong Way—On and On About Yourself

When you think about branding your business or using one of the many marketing tools at your disposal to reach out to (potential) customers, it can be oh so tempting to tell them all about your amazing services, big changes at your company, or your latest achievements.

We wind up bragging.

We want them to see us, so we shine the spotlight on ourselves—a branding and marketing landmine you need to avoid stepping on.

How to Get It Wrong

A client we worked with recently owned a business that had experienced crazy growth over the past few years, and he was going through a rebrand.

He was tempted to tell his customers all about how these changes would improve his company and make his services better.

Umm… No tacos for you.

It was hard to tell him that nobody was going to listen, and that he’d be wasting a ton of money and effort—but we did.

“Dude, no one out there in the real world dealing with their own problems cares about your internal issues or how your brand and positioning impacts you! If you’re talking on and on about your business, when are you going to find out what problems you can solve for that potential customer?”

In other words, stop being so right, and let the customer be right instead.

Getting It Right in the End

When we shifted gears and started talking with this client about how the upcoming major facelift at his company would solve serious problems for his customers, lightning struck.

He woke up to the fact that he would get more prospects to listen by focusing on how his business can help them be the best versions of their kickass selves.

It worked wonders for his business, which continues to experience impressive growth as the result of figuring out who the star of the show really was.

The Right Way—Shine the Spotlight on Your Customers

There was a recent contest that one of our clients participated in. It was one of those “Best Businesses in the City” events.

Most businesses participating in the contest set off through the minefield, doing things the wrong way—talking about their amazing selves, and why they were the best.

Please vote for us! We’re awesome!

But, this client of ours understands their customers’ internal and philosophical needs.

This client takes great care of people and the community, but the trick was to prove it.

We decided to flip the script.

We helped the client highlight their favorite customers to show the community that the people in their city make it such a great place to live.

We launched a series of short, fun, amateur videos with employees introducing their favorite customers.

Those were shared on Facebook and YouTube throughout the entire voting campaign.

The Branding Payoff

By shining a bright spotlight on the people who matter most, by showing how the client met their customers’ deep-seated need to feel valued and cared for, the client saw some amazing, tangible results:

  • Over 500% increase in social media engagements
  • 1000s of video views and shares
  • 200% increase in page followers

While impressive, those are just the tip of the iceberg.

The true payoff is how they strengthened their connection with the community and seized the chance to show everyone just how much they really do value their customers over themselves.

They proved they meet the customer’s needs—heavyweight customer-first marketing.

Don’t Compete With Your Customers

Nutshell time.

Whether we want to admit it or not, potential customers are far less concerned about doing business with an awesome company than they are about whether the company can solve their problems.

So, when marketing focuses on the business’ accomplishments, what makes them great, and all the awesome things they are doing, it actually turns customers off.


They don’t give a crap about your business, and you can’t reach them by telling them all about you. Stay off of that landmine!

Instead, you need a consistent branding message that focuses on the solving of your customers’ problems, a message that’s constantly reinforced through every piece of content you publish and every marketing move you make…

That’s customer-first marketing—getting the attention of people who have a need you meet.

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