Customer-Focused: What Brand Leaders Should Keep Top of Mind in 2021

  • Lauren Cohen
  • MITX & Boston Chamber
  • Feb 1, 2021

With the acceleration of digital transformation brought on by the pandemic, brand leaders have had no choice but to adapt—and adapt quickly.  

During our recent FutureX Discover: Year in Review event, we convened REI Co-op’s Vice President of Marketing, Vivienne Long, who brings years of expertise working with Starbucks and P&G brands, and Citizens Financial Group’s Chief Experience Officer, Beth Johnson, whose role is all about building the company’s capabilities in a changing world in order to deliver personalized and excellent customer experiences. 

Vivienne and Beth both shared what is currently top of mind for them and what companies should focus on this year…

Customers need SUPPORT

Both women discussed how the hardships so many faced in 2020 created an atmosphere where brands couldn’t simply try to sell their products. They had to take a step back and acknowledge what their customers were going through.  

“It’s more important than ever to connect with our customers not about a product sale, but to help them during this time,” said Beth Johnson. Citizens Bank launched initiatives like their small business grant program to do just that. “It became very much about using all of our tools, all of our channels, [with] very tailored messaging and content to be able to be there and support customers during this time,” she added.  

“Given everything we were all facing, we understood we had to relate to people on a more personal level… We were there for our customers during a difficult time; we lived up to our brand promise.”

Beth Johnson, Citizens Financial Group

As difficult times are still ahead, it will continue to be crucial for brands to find more ways to show their customers they care. 

Customers crave COMMUNITY

Meeting customers where they are is becoming even more critical with the increased shift to virtual this past year. More and more people are using digital devices, wanting to get 24/7 content, and looking for more ways to get engaged and inspired.  

When REI was forced to close their stores during the initial phases of lockdown, they discovered there was still a lot of demand for their expertise, and many people joined their digital community. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time developing content for inspiration, education… [such as our] podcast and digital community to respond to consumers’ questions,” said Vivienne Long.  

Right now, people are looking for more ways to stay connected, and brands need to create different avenues for them to do so.  

Vivienne described how her team listens each week to customer feedback and shifts course however necessary. “Nimbleness continues to be critical now while we’re still [living through] the coronavirus, and is a muscle we’ve continued to develop,” she emphasized. 

Customers expect ACTION

If 2020 has taught brand leaders anything, it’s that the days of brands sitting on the sidelines of social issues are behind us.  

Customers are asking “what are companies and organizations doing and how are they leaning into their values?” said Vivienne. With everything happening with COVID and tragedies like the death of George Floyd, consumers are holding brands responsible for creating more equity.  

“There is a lot of desire for businesses to take on a lot of responsibility. Not only serving their customers but doing so in a way that has an impact on their broader community.”

Vivienne Long, REI Co-op

Using your company’s power, money, and influence to help in these efforts is not just a “nice to have,” it’s what many customers now expect if they’re going to stay loyal to your business.  


Reflecting on all of these key focus areas together, we’ll leave you with one final reminder from Beth: it’s critical for every company going forward to have a “never-ending, disciplined focus on your customers.”  

Missed this FutureX Discover session? Watch the full conversation now!

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Lauren Cohen MITX & Boston Chamber

Lauren Cohen is currently Senior Marketing Manager for MITX and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, where she works to ensure member organizations in tech, innovation, digital marketing, and beyond are actively engaged within the community and receive unique opportunities to connect, stay ahead of trends, and exchange ideas.
Category Marketing