Can true consumer-first thinking happen when you work for an organisation that has a product to sell?

I am absolutely buzzing today, after enjoying such an inspirational, exciting meeting with my client, Will Yoxall.

fuzzy thinking

Will is a very talented hybrid app developer and the Managing Director of Untapped Solutions. I have worked with Will successfully in a previous life, and I’m thrilled to be working with him again. We are currently working on an idea together for an app that could really enrich the lives of those who download it, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the journey.

I don’t think I have ever loved my work as much as I do right now. Such an amazing feeling. Working on the weekend not because I have to, but because I really, really genuinely want to and because this is so much fun.

It made me think, why is this work so different to the work I have done before? One of the biggest differences is that I don’t have to settle for ‘just OK’.  I don’t have to settle for an idea that goes someway to solving a consumer need, but not all the way, because, well, we have product to sell here people.

When you work inside the four-walls of a corporation, the person picking up the tab for the production of your ideas is normally the company you work for. If you are an agency, it is your client picking up the tab, but either way you obviously have to serve the company you are working for with every idea that you create. Not an unreasonable request at all from a business as I am sure you will agree.

However, this can lead to fuzzy thinking, that I would argue can’t be 100% consumer focused. As a marketer, how can you only focus on the consumer when you are employed to think about a brand? We strive for consumer-first thinking of course, and we talk about it at conferences, but the thinking we too often see is along the lines of ‘how can we make OUR consumers life better while they are interacting with OUR BRAND’.

So we think of the consumers interaction with us in isolation, and with only the benefits to the consumer while they are shopping with us in mind. The consumer does not think that way. I’d like to share an example of how brand-led thinking has possibly manifested itself in the world recently. Esso has released a mobile app to allow ‘their’ customers to pay for fuel at ‘their’ pumps, by scanning a QR code with ‘their’ app that you can download from the App Store.

I noticed this as a consumer while filling up at an Esso garage. While visiting a BP garage today, I noticed that they too have an app that offers a very similar service. Now, I can totally understand and appreciate that the marketing teams within each of these companies are only employed by their respective brands, and so only thinking about their own brand. About their customers. About their app. However, as I have just highlighted, I am a customer of Esso and BP, at different times, depending on where I am when I need petrol.


I love the idea of being able to pay for my petrol with a mobile app, and not having to queue in the store. I applaud that idea wholeheartedly, although, I do question how many incidental sales they will lose as a result of fewer people going inside the store, but that is a different story.

What I don’t love as a consumer is the idea of having to download a separate app for each and every brand I may want to shop with. I don’t love that at all. As a consumer, I am not likely to download one app that allows me to shop in one place. I think Nando’s is the only app I have that fit’s into that category, partly because if the question is where do you want to eat the answer invariably leads to Nando’s. I don’t think the consumer wants to think about separate ways to pay at different companies. I don’t think it is likely that a consumer is going to love BP that way I love Nando’s. At least I hope not, because that would be weird.  I may be wrong.

I think these two marketing teams were genuinely trying to think of making the consumers life easier on one level, and they went someway towards achieving that goal, but they were also likely thinking about driving loyalty to their own brand, which in my opinion, has led to delivering a sub-standard user experience.

Could they have improved on this idea by partnering with a credit card company, which can be used everywhere instead? That way an app download would deliver the opportunity to not only pay while shopping at Esso, but also at BP, and Shell, and Texaco, and Tescos, and Nando’s … mmm, Nando’s!

Since starting my own business just 4 short weeks ago I have discovered a new found freedom that is intoxicating. Liberating. Exciting. Outside of the corporate environment, we can start with a blank sheet of paper, with clear and focussed thinking, and with no company or client in mind to ‘fuzzy our thinking’. Only then, I would argue, can we be 100% focussed on the idea that will most benefit the consumer. Only once we have an app that we are totally convinced will truly benefit the consumer, do we even think about how we integrate a brand that might want to own or associate with the idea.

I would urge brand marketers to keep in touch with a network of talented, independent people like Will, so that when these people have an idea for a truly kick-ass app that will enrich a consumers life, you may be the first to hear about it. If the app idea started with the consumer first and not consumer+brand, and if your brand can benefit from the engagement that app generates, then you are on to a good thing as a marketer.


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