• Aarron Spinley

Abandoning the Retronym: Customer Intimacy

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a retronym is “a new term created from an existing word”, the impetus for which can be ascribed to "progress or technological development".

In today’s world of rapid change, digitisation and the re-imagining of societal and business models, it could be argued that we are all rampant retronym-ers.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see it:

Like. Swipe. Click. Tweet. Check-in. Hack. Post. Feed. Link. Follow. Bookmark…

But have we gone too far?

I challenge the notion that all retronyms stem from progress. Just as there have been many average football players that have been hailed as “great”, so too there is perhaps a trend toward overhyping emerging concepts, especially in digital circles.

Case in point: “Customer Intimacy”.

There can be little argument that this is chief among our goals in the experience economy.

Indeed, the pursuit of genuine Customer Intimacy remains a holy grail for all brands, critical for its ability to invoke trust - the ultimate currency of brand experience – and the long-term driver of loyalty and lifetime value of customers.

Brands that are truly trusted, will be the most successful brands in the world as recorded by all the traditional measures of corporate and organisational value.

Survival. Growth. Profitability. A soaring market cap. Category Leadership. Prosperity. I believe all of these are achievable through carefully designed human experience. But Customer Intimacy takes time, investment and strategy. If the truth is told most brands are still struggling to 1st base.

Calling it too early

In the casual recycling of language there are many who now refer to the most basic customer insights as Customer Intimacy.

It creates a false sense of progress as to our capacity to understand our markets and our customers within them, at a time when we must be laser focused on growing this capability and providing meaningful commercial strategy for our organisations to adopt, and for executives to trust.

Worse; it creates a whole bunch of marketing professionals who don’t actually understand what Customer Intimacy is. Are you one of them, or are your colleagues?

What customer intimacy isn’t

Many marketing teams herald the importance of personalisation to their acquisition program - and they should. But bone-deep personalisation is not about acquisition at all. How can it be? If I’m not a customer of an organisation, it simply hasn’t had the opportunity to get to know me adequately.

It is a fundamental pre-requisite to delivering truly personalised experience, that the experience is uniquely meaningful to that person.

Customer Intimacy is more than deriving basic insights. It's more than sourcing segment data from a 3rd party, or using cookies to track an anonymous online journey, or accessing geo-data, or product search and cart abandonment insights.

Yes, all these techniques are important. But leading brands are coming to understand that this is not Customer Intimacy. Not even close.

Customer Intimacy requires deep, layered, and lateral understanding between brand and buyer. It is longitudinal. It is not a campaign or a promotion or a finite journey.

So then what is customer intimacy?

Irrespective of our ever-expanding bag of digital tricks, the human condition remains the human condition.

In life, we don’t marry someone straight away. We take our time. A friendly introduction turns into a coffee catch-up, which goes well so one asks the other to dinner. Maybe we’ll walk our dogs together that Sunday, and then we start to go on dates.

Over time we share social events, maybe a holiday - all the while offering more and more of ourselves. Mutual understandings deepen. We eventually share vulnerabilities, fears, hopes and dreams, past hurts. Each is safe, and trust is born.

One soul connects with the other. Intimacy.

This is how humans work. Just because you operate as a brand, or in digital channels, does not change this fundamental truth. Just like in our own personal relationships, we need to invest in ways that create depth, trust, a long term view.

The 4 key drivers of Customer Intimacy

There is no doubt that leading brands will get 4 key things right:

1. They will invest in understanding how to create trust

Just like in our personal relationships, trust is earned. It takes time. But here’s a little hack for you. Trust is a neurological human condition. When you understand this, you can build a strategy around it.

2. They will pay attention to the evolution of human bias and other non-rational and unconscious drivers of consumption behaviour

The non-rational mind is many, many times more powerful than our conscious mind. This isn’t about rational preferences, this is about the deeply engrained drivers of our behaviours. The best CX programs in the world will be led by those who follow the social sciences.

3. They will focus on crafting human experience

Great brands will only invest in understanding trust and bias, in order to inform the design of the experiences they create for their customers. We are coming into an age where the art and science of experience design will be one of the most valuable skills on the market.

4. They will learn how to measure experience

Always – and I mean always – learn to apply the right measures and be prepared to change things up. Society will keep moving, impacting the behavioural characteristics of your customers. Your capacity to change, to pivot, and to evolve will only become more critical.

The key is to do so on the back of great experience data. Measure. Measure. Measure.


Let’s not retrofit the term Customer Intimacy to mean some watered down version of itself, or to accept mediocrity. Instead let’s aspire to the summit. When it comes to true personalisation, we are only just scratching the surface.

And how exciting is that.

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