I’ve been thinking a lot about the tale of the five blind men traveling in the jungles of India. It’s a story many of you have probably heard before: The five blind men come upon an elephant. One blind man feels the elephant’s leg and calls out, “It’s a tree!” Meanwhile, another blind man touches the elephant’s trunk and says, “I’ve found a snake hanging from the tree!”

shutterstock_123933754This story feels incredibly important to me right now, because it’s a perfect example of a group of people who cannot see the entire picture. If the five blind men had communicated and collaborated on their observations, they would have quickly discovered that they had come upon an elephant. By only focusing on the part of the elephant each one of them could touch, in a vacuum, they came up with the wrong idea of what was in front of them.

That’s exactly what’s going on in most marketing departments right now. Most companies are optimizing their websites in a vacuum, separately from other marketing channels. Website optimization is separate from social media optimization and both of those are separate from mobile app optimization, even though all of those touchpoints directly impact the customer.

And optimizing these channels separately means companies are missing the big picture, very similarly to the five blind men and the elephant. But in this case, it’s not five blind men, it’s five blind marketers, all of whom are focused on optimizing their own channel without understanding that the elephant is the customer.

We have multiple ways in which a brand can communicate with its fans and customers: website, email promotions, social media, mobile applications. So why do we optimize them separately and individually? Because we’re doing what we think we can, not what we think we should. That’s the problem.

So what’s the solution? It’s a shift in philosophy that has to happen now. Companies need to become customer-centric, not website-centric. We’ve been optimizing the website for years, but now it’s time to optimize the entire customer experience in a coordinated way, across all touchpoints.

Knowing your customer requires knowing a lot more than just what they like on Facebook or what they Tweet about. It requires knowing them individually, and responding to their needs in an effective, helpful way.

Here’s a great example: My wife is a big fan of free shipping offers. She goes crazy for them. She thinks companies that charge her for shipping are immoral. Every chance she gets, she’s cashing in on a free shipping offer. If you offered my wife $7 off her order or free shipping, she would take the free shipping every single time, even if she’d technically save more with the $7 off.

So offering someone like my wife a 10% off coupon as part of a blanket offer to all customers is like marketing with a machete. There’s nothing personal about that offer. It doesn’t prove that you know her, as a customer, and that you’re responding to what she likes. She’s a customer segment that wants free shipping, and you should know she wants free shipping and deliver that message each and every time.

Obviously, knowing your customer this well, and across all touchpoints, does require the right technology and tools. But I’m not here to talk about that today. Instead, I want to talk about companies changing their philosophies in order to put their customers at the center of their universe.

Once you make that commitment, your marketing strategy and your messages and offers change. While this requires work and a fundamental shift in thinking, the rewards are huge: A loyal and dedicated customer base that will continue to come back to your company, and will shout from the rooftops about their incredible experiences with your brand.

Your website isn’t the center of your universe. Your Facebook page isn’t the center of your universe. Your mobile app isn’t the center of your universe. The customer is the center of your universe. And in the age of the customer, that change needs to happen within organizations now.

Big Picture image appears courtesy of Shutterstock.

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