Customer Programmes: Innovation is not about wearing a white coat | Milner Strategic Marketing

Customer Programmes: Innovation is not about wearing a white coat


As we start 2010, I am sure that many of you in corporate or product leadership roles are wondering how to build and sustain competitive advantage in the market this year. In his weekly column in the FT (16th December 2009), the celebrated economist John Kay warned us not to think it is the technology in our products that makes them competitive. No, he said;

“Pioneers are routinely pushed aside by rivals whose skills are in the marketplace rather than the laboratory.”

In my research on the marketing secrets of Silicon Valley, part of the winning market strategy was to ensure customer and market interaction at multiple levels in the company. This included customer contact with the entire leadership team, product development engineers and product managers as well as the traditional customer contacts with sales, customer service and marketing.

Multiple customer contact may be a cultural or practical step too far at this stage for your company.

So if I had to recommend one thing that you could do in 2010, then I would suggest you run your first customer conference if you haven’t already done that. Even if you only have a few customers at this stage or you are wondering what you could possibly fill a one or one and half day conference with, my experience has shown me that this is a transforming event in a company’s relationship with its customers.

The first customer conference we ran for a company was small with 13 delegates from seven companies. By the time of the third customer conference two years later, there were 47 delegates from 21 customers. The conferences built:

  • customer loyalty
  • reference customers
  • contact between multiple levels in the host company and its customers
  • friendship and personal relationships with and between customers

These may sound like soft benefits but they genuinely flow through to revenues and company reputation. John Kay’s column was titled Innovation is not about wearing a white coat and he reminded us that “Apple may not be at the frontiers of science but are in close touch with consumers.” And what would you prefer; to produce a technically superior MP3 player or be Apple? I know what I would want.

If you want to have an informal chat about the practicalities of designing, developing and running a customer conference then please contact us.

Best wishes for 2010.

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