For over 10 years, I have been using the Blue Dot Consumer metaphor with global audiences. I am yet to find a better metaphor or teaching tool that better demonstrates the need to place the customer at the centre of the business, while also exploring the values of the modern consumer.

The metaphor goes as follows. Before digitization, we all navigated our way through the world using large, unyielding fold out paper maps. They were the cause of many a divorce. From a user experience perspective, they weren’t a great piece of technology. Assuming you had managed to unfold it without tearing, and were holding it the right way up (a challenge many failed), as the user, you did all the work.

You had to first know where you were on the map, to know your exact location. This wasn’t always easy, as to be using a map in the fist place usually meant you were somewhere you didn’t know. Let’s say you were on a weekend away in Amsterdam. You’d have to know the exact location of your hotel on the map, the street and canal intersection.

You then had to know where it was you were going. It wasn’t enough to just know that you were headed to the Anne Frank Museum, you had to know exactly where that was, which street, on which canal. Once you had identified your start (where I am) and end points (where I want to be), only then could you navigate your way through Amsterdam. You would have to work out the best route yourself, folding and unfolding the map as you went.

Back then, you learned that the world is a big place and you are a small part of it, that you need to find your own way to navigate through it. But that was then. This is now.

Google Maps places you at the centre. That blue dot is at the centre of everything, the world shown from your perspective. You are always at the centre, the world pivoting around your frame of reference. You are no longer navigating through a big world; you are the world. I take a step left, I expect your brand, your business, to take a step left with me. This has changed the nature of business forever.

Be Effortless

One of the reasons this metaphor is so powerful is because it acknowledges the importance of eliminating friction for your customers. Firstly, let’s take Effort. In terms of mobility, taxi ranks were the old paper-map equivalent, requiring you to do all the work, to walk from the restaurant, to find a taxi rank, to queue. 

Then Uber and Lyft took mobility blue dot. You now stay where you are, enjoying your dessert wine (you suddenly became very posh) and today, the car comes to you. In hospitality you had to go to the restaurant, now with GrubHub or DoorDash it comes to you. In entertainment you had to go to the cinema, now Disney+ stream into your home. Blue dot is about removing effort for your customer.

Mobility Redefined

It touches every industry, every distribution channel. Returning to mobility, the old way of moving people around cities was to use buses and trams. The infrastructure would be laid down, at significant cost, the assets fixed for all time. What we said to users was that we would bring them near their final destination (as near as their local bus or tram stop). They’d have to walk from there. We then gave them a timetable that told them to wait at the stop until the next bus/tram going in their direction had arrived. Sadly, none of this fits with the expectations and values of the modern consumer, particularly around instant and personalisation. 

This is why brands like Bird and Lime, with their hire-by-the-minute electric scooters are eating short-journey city mobility alive in Europe and the US. You open your app, locate the nearest scooter and ride it to your destination. Not near your destination, no waiting or timetables. It is your journey and you’ll do it when and where it suits you, something the fixed assets of a tramline can never deliver.

Blue Dot is about CONVENIENCE. Fancy a date? You could go to a bar, make eyes at someone, have another beer (everyone looks better after a few beers!) or just swipe on the apps, dating from your couch, only shown matches in your area. Blue dot is all about personal context.

RELEVANCE is key in modern marketing. The best time to showcase your product/service is when a prospect is in ‘active consideration’. There is a reason Google Maps will show you restaurants, bars or attractions near you, not 20km away. It makes more sense to prompt you with restaurants on the street you are walking down. It is all about Context

Similarly, it is about Personalisation. You wouldn’t follow someone else’s blue dot around Google Maps, you follow your own. It would make little sense following someone else’s, you’d end up where they wanted to go, not your destination. So it is with consumers.  Their customer journey is just that, theirs. It is personal and as business providers we need to treat it as such.

This has been a huge challenge for commodity environments like physical retail stores, presenting every shopper with the same offerings regardless of their personal circumstances. While the Vision Pro is bulky, the future of an Augmented Reality layer over our real-world interactions will help personalise shopper journeys. 

Imagine you are standing in-store in the shampoo aisle, 100s of different bottles to consider. But you want to buy a shampoo specifically for dry hair, with dye-fix additives suitable for blonde hair.  As a customer you don’t want to wade through all the bottles and labels to find what you need. Online you would just type it in and be shown the options. But in-store you are made do all the work, until now, With an AR overlay, the relevant products cannot be highlighted in green, making your time at shelf far more productive. 

I Want It Now

Blue Dot is also INSTANT. It shows your journey in real time, live. We have all had the frustration of losing signal and having our little blue dot stall as we travel, lagging behind. It would be a somewhat pointless app if it did not update as we journeyed. And this is also the challenge for business. Keeping the customer informed, being transparent, delivering on instant. As a customer, I want it and I want it now.

But above all else, the Blue Dot Consumer is about that frame of reference. Old school paper maps represent a ‘product centred’ approach. Any improvements never put the customer at the centre, they were just marginal improvements to the product. Pocket-sized maps, laminated maps, spiral bound map booklets. They all still required you to do most of the work. It was product/process first, customer second. The customer was the end-point of the customer journey, often treated as some inconvenient truth.

Your Customer Is Your Pivot Point

Modern consumer connections come from putting the customer at the centre. The customer is not an end-point, they are a fulcrum, a centre-point, around which everything revolves.  Some industries have been better at adapting to this shift than others. Healthcare is an industry that broadly remains largely product and procedurally led, the focus being on the clinical procedure, the patient often feeling invisible as a person once the plastic wristband goes on. Financial Services are similarly transactional and product led, mistaking customer retention as loyalty.

The Blue Dot Consumer metaphor challenges every business to see things from the customer perspective, to start from there and build out. ”We are customer centric”, “customer experience is key” and “we run a customer first business” are all easy things to say but few businesses back that statement up at the organisational level regarding their philosophy. 

I will leave you with a hilarious example of customer first thinking I came across today. MOB is a UK-based recipe and meal planning business, offering free tasty meal ideas via their app. Their premium version (Mob+) offers you to personalise the meal plans, for a small monthly subscription.

Today MOB shared the email below on the Instagram. 


The monthly subscription is less than £5, so their generous lifetime access doesn’t really add up to much. Most brands would have simply deleted the email, assumed it was a scam or a customer simply trying to get money back for a service already consumed. And even if that is true, their own response and actions are wholly customer centred. They do not question if the customer is telling the truth (the story is somewhat unbelievable – what teenager cooks all the household meals, and if they do I need to have a word to mine, and on further investigation it was indeed an internet scam). However, they use the opportunity to empathise, to offer to return the money and to give a lifetime membership to the ‘offending son’.

Customer At the Centre

By placing the customer and their issue at the centre, they produce a brand story worth telling. It is shared on social media, makes people smile, and brings the brand to life.  Many brands received that same scam email and simply deleted it. This brand took the customer centred approach, and it went viral, which is how I read about it. And now you know about the Mob App too, which is how peer-to-peer brand storytelling works. Get the customers themselves to be your marketing assets.

So, take a look at every aspect of your business, every customer interaction, how you deliver, how you communicate, the very essence of the product proposition. Is it ‘Blue Dot’?  Is it customer-led, the frame of reference built around the customer? Is it personal? Is it contextual, timely and relevant to that customer at that time? Is it instant? Is it effortless? 

Don’t let your brand be like the folded paper maps of old, gathering dust on a bookshelf somewhere, tattered and now irrelevant. Apply the Blue Dot lens to your brand at which point customer lifetime value, loyalty and the sales successes should look after themselves. 

Right, I’m off to try and convince my 16- and 17-year-olds to take over the household meal planning and cooking. I fear it may be a failed mission.

This content is drawn from Ken Hughes’ internationally renowned keynote The Blue Dot Consumer: An Exploration of Modern Consumer Values. It is one of the most booked keynotes on customer centricity, customer experience, and retail disruption on the International Conference Circuit. 

Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

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