When I first thought about Social Media as a Big Idea, it seemed like a good topic. Until I started to think about it. Because forms of Social Media are ubiquitous – we all use them, so what can I tell you that you don’t already know?
We know what the oldest profession is… And the second oldest. But up with them, dating back to the earliest times in human history is the business of retail.
When Ug sold an arrowhead to Og, he became a retailer. And when Ig bought goods from Ug to sell, rather than make them himself, he moved sales from the factory gate to the retail market.
We may not all work in retail, but I’m prepared to bet that every reader of this article has experienced it as a customer. It is so pervasive, that one has to wonder: do we really need an article about it?
Philip Kotler is often viewed as the ‘father of modern marketing’. His contribution to the field is enormous. I’d characterise his principal innovation as bringing the analytical approach of a mathematical economist to what was a woolly and vague social science.
Philip Kotler was born in Chicago in 1931 and received his MA in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1953, studying with three Nobel Laureates. He then took a PhD in economics at MIT, before realising that economics was the wrong subject for him. He held post-doctoral positions at Harvard (in maths) and the University of Chicago (in behavioural science) before accepting an academic post at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. There, he chose to teach marketing and by 1962 was Professor of International Marketing.
In 1967, he became the Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing, a post he still holds today. Also in that year, he published a major work on marketing. Frustrated with the lack of intellectual rigour and analysis of all marketing textbooks then available, Kotler brought his mathematical training to bear on the evidence base of the marketing curriculum.
In Marketing Management, he created a best-selling textbook, that is by far the dominant choice of business schools throughout the world. Now in its 15th edition, Kotler typically revises it thoroughly every three years. He argues that yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems – marketing changes too fast for an edition to remain any longer. It’s good for sales, I guess, but in the case of marketing, I suspect it is more than justified.
Since then, Kotler has authored well over 50 books, and has garnered more academic and business awards and honours than you can shake a stick at. He even appears on a postage stamp (Indonesian, 2006, 1,000 Rupiah – around US$0.07 – for the philatelists).
Spat between Kotler and Levitt
In the 1980s, Kotler had a public spat with his contemporary marketing guru, Theodore Levitt. As we discuss in our article about Levitt, Levitt believed that corporations should standardise their products globally, and build global brand messages and marketing campaigns. Kotler, on the other hand, recognised the value of this but argued that corporations must not ignore cultural and other local differences. He advocates a mixture of global and local marketing that has become known as ‘glocal’. McDonald’s is an example; it produces local dishes in addition to core offerings, and even suppresses those products where they conflict with local values (such as beef products in Hindu countries).
Four Big Ideas that Philip Kotler gave us
The measure of a new idea is how deeply and how widely it becomes ingrained. Four of Kotler’s ideas now seem self-evidently true to a wide swathe of managers, within and outside of marketing functions. This was not always the case, and Kotler was instrumental in developing each, and putting them before generations of graduate business school students.
Marketing is a Core Business Function
There was a time when marketing was seen as a peripheral activity. Or maybe it was an adjunct to the sales function. If it were the latter, then clearly, it could only be an activity for commercial organisations. But it’s not, and therefore all manner of non-commercial organisations, like governmental tiers, voluntary and charitable bodies, and public services, need to engage in marketing. Without marketing, we now recognise, we cannot put our ideas and offerings in front of the people we created them for. Without marketing, there is no point!
Focus on Your Customer’s Needs
Create the products and services your customers need and want. Marketing is less about lining up sales for what you make, and more about figuring out what your customers will buy, and then letting them know about it, when you have something that matches.
Marketing as a Process of Exchange and Communication
Marketing is about building an overlap of values between your brand, and your clients. It is a social process that starts with a dialogue, where marketers create the conditions to hear from their potential buyers. It seems to me that this perspective has its roots in the time Kotler spent as a post-doc in behavioural science. It does for marketing what Daniel Kahneman did for economics: it places the quirky irrationality of humans at the centre of a discipline which was, before then, considered in theoretical and abstract terms.
Five Product Levels
Kotler introduced in, Marketing Management, the idea that there are five levels at which an organisation can offer its products or services.
The core benefit that the customers need
The generic product or service that the organisation has created
The product or service that the customers expect
A product or service that has additional benefits packaged in
A product or service that meets the full potential to satisfy its customers
Conclusion on Philip Kotler
Studying marketing without reading Kotler would be like studying English literature without reading Shakespeare. His ideas are foundational. But his rigorous discipline of constantly updating his principal textbook also means that his ideas will always be of the moment.
Some Videos of Philip Kotler, speaking about his idea
Why is it that some of the most successful companies spend surprisingly small percentages of their revenue budgets on marketing? The answer, if you think about it, is obvious: as total revenue income goes up, if you are a successful business, you get more bang for your marketing buck. They may be spending a lot, but the proportion is lower.
So, how do you get your business to this enviable position? The answer, says INSEAD Professor, Jean-Claude Larréché, is momentum. Some products do not need to be aggressively marketed to deliver superior sales performance: instead, their fit with customers’ needs and desires is so great, that they gain a momentum of their own.
Jean-Claude Larréché was born in 1947 and studied electronic engineering at INSA in Lyon, where he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in 1968. He followed this with an MSc in Computer Science at the University of London (1969), and an INSEAD MBA, in 1970. He then went on to research marketing modelling at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he was awarded a PhD in 1974.
Larréché’s research led him to develop a now widely used marketing simulation, MarkStrat, and his growing expertise in the modelling of how marketing works led to a non-executive appointment to the board of Reckitt & Coleman (now Reckitt Benckiser), that he held from 1983 to 2001.
In 1982, he returned to INSEAD as Professor of Marketing, becoming The Alfred H. Heineken Chaired Professor of Marketing in 1993. He continues to hold this role. Whilst collaborating in a number of books, Larréché’s most significant publication is his 2008 book, The Momentum Effect.
The Momentum Effect
Larréché differentiates between ‘upstream marketing’ and ‘downstream marketing’. Upstream marketing is designed to start the process of product or service awareness among appropriate prospects, and allow the business to refine their product or service offering, to meet potential buyers’ needs. You do this with customer insight and content marketing tactics. Downstream marketing is the communication and promotion that puts your products and services to the market, to generate purchasing intent.
The key, Larréché asserts, is to divert funds from downstream to upstream marketing, to ensure that you have a product or service that is so attractive to customers, that it creates its own momentum. The obvious example he cites is Apple’s marketing of the iPhone and iPad ranges.
Larréché’s book sets out his 8 component ‘Momentum Strategy’, which he summarises in a diagram like this one:
Here, Larréché separates out the design and execution (or build-sell-support) components of product development, giving equal weight to the two sides. He also shows these two components as interacting cycles. The cyclical metaphor is an important aspect to note: Larréché argues strongly for our continuing refinement of our offering, to continue to drive momentum.
Here is Larréché talking about his ideas in an InSEAD video
Larréché has transcended his earlier career focus on marketing. With The Momentum Effect, he is really talking about business strategy, and placing his ideas about successful marketing at the heart. You can get a real sense of this in this interview, where he answers some excellent challenging questions, including about how companies lose momentum.
The internet has changed the old pre-1990 world of marketing and advertising. It has thrown up new rules, new tools and new gurus. One of the very first to spot that this would happen, and then to study strategy and tactics, was Seth Godin. A serial entrepreneur and opinion former, Seth Godin is far better known among entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers than among the marketing managers of larger corporations. but he has worked hard to keep his analysis fresh and relevant, and there is much that any manager can learn from him.
Seth Godin was born, grew up and continues to live and work in New York State. Born in 1960, he read computer science and philosophy at Tufts University and then did an MBA in marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He then went to work at educational software business, Spinnaker Software, as a brand manager.
He started his first business, in book packaging, after leaving Spinnaker in 1986, but real success came in 1995, when he and business partner Mark Hurst started a marketing company called Yoyodyne. Godin is an avid reader and Yoyodyne was possibly named after a fictional defence contractor in Thomas Pynchon’s novels.
Yoyodyne used the concept of ‘Permission Marketing’. This is a term Godin claims to have coined with his book of the same name, published in 1999. The idea behind this is that we, the targets of marketing, give our permission for the marketer to send us their messages. In the case of Yoyodyne, it gained permission on behalf of its clients, by offering their prospects games and contests. With a blue-chip customer base, Godin sold the business in 1998 to Yahoo!, becoming Yahoo!’s VP for Direct Marketing. He only stayed for two years, which suggests that this was a tie-in period, before setting out on his own again.
Multiple ventures have followed: ChangeThis (an idea dissemination platform – sold in 2005), Squidoo (a web microsite platform sold in 2014), The Domino Project (a book publishing venture that published one book per month in 2011 – four have been reprinted by Portfolio/Penguin in 2015).
In amongst this, Godin has been a prolific author and a successful speaker. He largely promotes his own events based on a massive following for his daily blog posts. This gives him a massive permission marketing base for his books, events, courses and any other venture he is drawn to.
Seven Big Ideas
We can track Godin’s ideas through his books (currently over 20, I think). Let’s take a look at a few that will appeal to a range of managers and professionals.
The key is differentiation. Without it you won’t stand out and marketing will fail. You need to abandon product, place, price, and promotion in favour of p for phenomenal or, as Godin puts it: p for Purple Cow.
Doing things really well is hard. You make a lot of progress at the start of your learning journey and then slow down. This is the Dip. If you take on too much, you won’t have the time or attention to escape the dip on anything. True success means quitting on most things so you can succeed on a few.
Market by leading. Find like-minded people who believe in what you are doing and lead them. Create products or services that they want, and they will crave what you offer. The ultimate in permission marketing. See an earlier Pocketblog about Godin’s Tribes concept.
Market yourself by becoming essential to your organisation or your tribe. Do this with creativity and by doing the most valuable work that you can. This is a manifesto for personal success, rather than the success of your product.
Everyone is different and the internet allows us to make for and market to the long tail – small communities who would have been too small to build a career or product on before the internet allowed us to address the world.
It is a common cry that the internet has changed everything and almost equally common to hear that it has transformed marketing. One person leading the charge to dedefine marketing in the technology age is Guy Kawasaki; formerly, and perhaps most famously, Chief Evangelist for Apple.
Guy Kawasaki was born in 1954, in Honolulu. He says of his school that ‘it is not as well known as its rival, because no presidents of the US went there’. However, it did allow him to study psychology at Stanford University, from where he went on to UCLA, after a week at UC Davis; starting Law School, but finding it wasn’t for him. After gaining his MBA at UCLA, his first job was in the jewellery trade, which taught him how to sell.
Kawasaki’s next job took him into the milieu in which he has remained: the technology industry. It was when his employer was taken over, and he was asked to move to Atlanta, that he made the move instead to Apple, in 1983. There he took the role of ‘Software evangelist’ – his job was to convince developers to create products for a new computer that, at the time, had a tiny user-base, no backwards compatibility, and minimal sales. He stayed in this role for four years.
His next role was leading a software business, creating products for a new computer… He says deprecatingly of himself that he believed his own hype, but for a while, the database software that Acius created was among the best for the Apple system. A spell of journalism followed (in the Mac arena) and then he collaborated to set up another software company. But in 1995, Kawasaki returned to Apple as their ‘Chief Evangelist’ charged with developing and protecting the brand.
Leaving Apple again in 1997, he co-founded a technology venture capital business and gradually built up a wide portfolio of advisory positions with tech businesses. Indeed, he continued to found businesses too – most notably Alltop, and increasingly became a much in-demand speaker and author. He is currently Chief Evangelist at graphics and design software service company, Canva.
The first thing to say is that Kawasaki’s ideas are not original, and I doubt he would claim it for them. His skill is creating a coherent narrative around ‘marketing by enchantment’ – using the ideas of soft influence to engage an audience and build a loyal customer base for a product or service. He himself likens the content of his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, to Dale Carnegie’s earlier book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also describes himself as the author of thirteen books, or of one book, written thirteen times. Be aware of this when shopping, as it does contain a grain of truth!
For me, Enchantment is the book that contains his central thesis. He describes ‘enchantment’ as ‘to charm, delight, enrapture’, and as ‘the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea.’
So how can you create enchantment?
Kawasaki identifies three primary requirements for enchantment:
Greatness is about quality – you cannot truly enchant with a sub-standard product. If you want to enchant, you need to start with the passion to create a great product that people will crave, because it goes well beyond good: in Steve Job’s words; ‘crazy good’. Canva, with which he is currently associated, has been described as ‘the easiest to use design program in the world’. Whether or not you believe this is true, the fact that people with knowledge say this is a sign of its greatness (and it is pretty good – and free to use!). It is also an example of another of Kawasaki’s points: that a grand vision is not important, drawing the supposition that Richard Branson almost certainly had no concept of ‘Virgin Group’ when he started Virgin Records – he simply set out to create a great record label. For many years, Canva has been targeted at individuals; only recently has it started to create an enterprise level offering.
You need to make your product or service likeable, by being humble, generous, decent and doing what you say you’ll do. Answer your phones quickly, and do the right thing for people. Kawasaki is mistrustful of charisma and instead urges real engagement with customers and prospective customers. Show them courtesy and respect, and do nice things for them and they will surely come to like you and your brand.
Long-term, likeability will turn into trust. When you continually delight with both the quality of your product or service and treat people exceptionally well, they will come to trust you. Once you have that, as long as you do not squander it, you have created real and valuable capital for your brand.
I think you can see that none of this is revolutionary.
So why is it important? It is important because it works, yet is not that widely acted upon. The burden of Kawasaki’s advice is honoured more often in the breach than the observance, as the vast majority of corporations continue to invest highly in traditional forms of marketing and advertising, which fail to respectfully engage with their markets. Why? I think because it is easier. I think that you can readily hire an agency for the one, but need exceptional individuals and exceptional commitment to ‘do enchantment’ well.
Presenting to Enchant
A short diversion
I was very much taken, while researching this blog, with Kawasaki’s simple advice for presenters, so here it is…
The 10-20-30 Rule:
30 point font
Use lots of graphics and images
Where you can, demonstrate rather than explain
Guy Kawasaki is a much in demand speaker. Here he is at TEDx talking about ‘The Art of Innovation’. This is one of my favourite TED talks with plenty of aha moments.
George Eastman is mainly remembered as the father of Kodak, seller of cheap cameras and the film-stock you use for your holiday snaps. Yet I am aware that many adults reading this will only be dimly aware of the days when you had to get your photos developed. The ability to do that, however, was a huge step forward. Who knows what Eastman would have made of the iPhone and Instagram.
George Eastman was born in upstate New York in 1854 and his father died when he was still at school. This meant leaving at 14, to get a job at an insurance company, but at the same time he studied accounting at home, with the hope of getting a better paid job; which he did.
In 1878, while working at the Rochester Savings Bank, he was introduced to photography, buying a load of then state-of-the-art equipment and learning how to use it. The big problem he saw was the need to develop images quickly, while the emulsion on the photographic plate was wet. His genius was to take a suggestion of using a dry, gelatine emulsion and find a way to make it work. In 880, he patented this innovation and one other: a machine to mass produce dry plates.
Eastman gave up his job at the bank and, with a new partner, George Strong, he founded The Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1884. Eight years later, this was to be renamed The Eastman Kodak Company. In the time until his death, in 1932, Eastman proved himself a pioneer in six areas of management (at least), as well as a massive donor to academic, cultural and medical institutions across the US and in Europe.
In the final years of his life, Eastman suffered agonising pain from a spinal disorder that left him inactive and increasingly depressed. In March 1932, he committed suicide with a single gunshot through his heart. He left a short message: ‘My work is done – Why wait? GE.’
Six Pioneering Principles
1. Democratising Technology
When he took up photography, it was an expensive and complex niche pastime, that required much equipment and many skills. Eastman saw the potential to make it easier and less expensive. He took a new technology and, throughout its life, was actively involved in its maturation. Eastman wanted to ‘make the camera as convenient as the pencil’.
2. Crisis Management
Early on, some of the dry plates Eastman distributed were faulty. Without skipping a beat, he recalled everything and replaced them, using up all of his new business’s financial reserves. He recognised the value of reputation above all else:
‘Making good on those plates took our last dollar. But what we had left was more important – reputation’
3. Humanistic Management
At around the time when Frederick Winslow Taylor wanted to apply the principles of science to management, to create scientific management, Eastman took a different tack. It was a tack that would not become mainstream until Elton Mayo effectively knocked Scientific Management over and replaced it, in the 1930s, with Humanistic Management. In 1899, he started distributing a ‘wage dividend’ to all his workers, rewarding them all for their efforts in proportion to the dividend paid on the company’s shares. In 1919, he went further, handing a third of the company’s assets to his employees, and instituting life insurance, a disability benefit scheme, and a retirement plan.
4. Brand Recognition
The name Kodak is a made-up work – not a contraction, a translation or an acronym. It just sounded good to Eastman, who thought the K sound was strong (many English language comedians will also say that the K sound sounds funny – but not as funny as Q). He also chose the distinctive yellow and red colours of the logo. And the cherry on the cake was an innovative slogan, ‘you push the button, we do the rest’ that promised a new level of simplicity.
5. ‘Trust us’ marketing
That slogan is the basis of a style of marketing that is now commonplace: you can trust us, we’ll take care of it.
‘Don’t leave home without it’
‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a…
‘You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world’
‘It does what it says on the tin’
You identify the brands.
6. Black-box Service Offering
No longer did people need to understand the equipment they were using. To take a photo, you needed a simple camera and a roll of film. Technologists would sort out the optics and the chemistry for you. We now live in a world where everyone from politicians to crazed loonies derides aspects of science, without stopping for a moment to wonder how a mobile phone can possibly make a voice and visual link to somebody thousands of miles away, access a billion articles, take still and moving photos, as well as add up your shopping basket, store your shopping list and ring an alarm when it is time to go.
Christmas is coming and many readers will be considering perfume and beauty products as gifts. One of the biggest players in that market is Estée Lauder – the eponymously named cosmetics business founded by a determined and charismatic entrepreneur: Estée Lauder.
Estée Lauder was born in 1908 and grew up in the Queens suburb of New York, where her father (like mine) ran a hardware store. Her interest in beauty products started when her Hungarian uncle, Dr Schotz, who was a chemist, came to live with her family and created skin creams in the kitchen, and later in a laboratory in a stable out back. He also made paint stripper, embalming fluid, and lice treatment for chickens. We can only hope that there were no serious mix ups in packaging!
Lauder helped Schotz by selling beauty products and so began her career as a consummate salesperson and marketer, selling skin care and makeup in beauty salons, demonstrating her products on women while they were sitting under hair dryers. This cemented her belief that women must try if they are to buy.
The Estée Lauder name borrows from her given name, Josephine Esther Mentzer, which the family shortened to Esty, and her married name, following her marriage to Joseph Lauder in 1930 or, more strictly, I’d guess, following their remarriage in 1942, following separation and reconciliation. In 1946 she and Joseph Lauder launched the Company, soon winning a concession at their first department store.
Lauder targeted the most prestigious store, Saks, and a year later was able to finally persuade the buyer after giving a talk at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and then giving away samples at the end. This created a demand that Saks could not ignore, and marked her second key lesson in marketing.
Lauder’s first fragrance was Youth Dew, a bath oil, created in 1953. It was a rapid success, and Lauder continued to demonstrate her olfactory acumen (as a ‘nose’ is how the industry terms it) by overseeing the creation of five more brands of fragrance before she retired in 1995.
Lauder’s Approach to Marketing
Many of Lauder’s marketing strategies and tactics will strike a modern reader as very… modern. They remain very much what is still recommended; because it still works. So, as a primer on marketing, we can do little better than take inventory of seven of her best approaches.
Give away samples
The try before you buy approach is so successful, it is used on a multi-million dollar scale. Just look at how many millions of versions of U2’s latest record were given away by Apple (500 million actually) at the launch of their new iOS8 and iPhone 6. Was this successful? You bet. Most of U2’s earlier albums re-entered the iTunes charts within a week, generating millions of dollars (undisclosed) of sales for both U2 and Apple.
Early on, Lauder used Sak’s mailing list to send samples and gifts to their customers, encouraging them to visit the Estée Lauder concession in store. Direct mailing may have fallen out of fashion to a degree, but many marketers still argue that, in the days of so much direct email, a well thought-out direct mail campaign can be successful. Whether you agree or not, the use of direct email is a powerful and omnipresent force in our lives – the same strategy; just new technology.
When the US Food and Drug Administration came down hard on the scientific claims of Lauder’s rivals’ products, Lauder took an altogether more savvy route. Her advertising refrained from making scientific claims, but her naming implied the attributes she was unable to claim: Re-Nutriv is meaningless as a word, but caries a vast weight of associations.
‘You get what you pay for’ my dad used to say. If lots of her customers believed that, then her premium pricing strategy was clever. Without doubt, two things are true: she did insist on top-quality ingredients, but her pricing included a substantial mark-up, creating exclusivity and emphasising the quality through the most important real-estate in the store: the price label.
Gift with a purchase
That idea may well been hers – she certainly exploited it well, long before BOGOF and three-for-two offers made shopping bags twice as heavy.
Hands on Consultative Selling
Going one step beyond her ‘try-before-you-buy’ strategy, Lauder did pioneer in-store beauty consultations as a way of selling. She believed that in order to make a sale, you must touch the customer, and spent a great deal of her time advising customers and teaching Beauty Advisors.
Lauder believed that every woman had a right to feel beautiful and therefore ensure that her advertising portrayed beauty that was both aspirational and approachable. From 1962, Estée Lauder selected one model to be the “face” of the brand. These have included supermodels and actresses. Whether they are really ‘approachable’ is debatable, but at any one time, the face of the brand become a distinctive image for the company.
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Marketing is not about selling. That may sound obvious, but too many people act as if the purpose of marketing is to sell: it is not. The purpose of marketing is to raise awareness of your product or services, so that people will be motivated to investigate further, or they will be aware of what you offer, if they need it in the future.
The challenges for marketing are:
Knowing who your potential customers are
Knowing what channels of information they most actively engage with
Knowing what messages will resonate most strongly with them
Using the answers to these, you can design a marketing campaign that answers the three questions that a prospective customer will have:
Question 1: What are you offering me?
If I am a customer of yours, then your product or service must meet a need or satisfy a desire in me. A strong marketing message sets up that need or desire, to prequalify readers, viewers or listeners and get the attention of those who are suitable targets. It then stimulates their interest by making a promise that the product or service can meet their needs. Finally, it amplifies desire, by showing the customer what they will get (beyond the product or service itself) by buying. This bit is about benefits and you must link them to strong positive emotional states. The favourite of many advertisers is, of course, the promise of love, romance or the three-letter alternative. Now they want it, you need to answer the next question…
Question 2: Is it good value?
They want it, but how much are they prepared to pay for it. Focus on value not cost. Done well, some customers won’t even care about cost (think of the people who queue to buy the latest hi-tech, hi-cost products that simply replace things they already have – desire; not need). But if they do care about cost, you must show how the benefits you are offering outweigh this – and the ratio is a measure of the customer’s perception of value. If you can satisfy them on this too, they don’t only want it, they want to go out and get it. So now answer…
Question 3: How can I get it?
Choose a delivery strategy that is consistent with the image you want to convey for your product or service and then (in most cases) make it easy for the customer to buy. Why ‘in most cases’? Because for certain products or services at the premium end of their market, you can add to the perceived cachet of the product by making it hard for the customer to buy. This increases its sense of exclusivity and therefore of its perceived value.
Getting your message out
Promoting your product means providing prospective customers with plentiful relevant information. It needs to answer their questions about your product or service, but also about you, and why they should buy from you. There are a near infinite number of media that you can use, in combination. Here is a selection.
Steve Jobs famously eschewed focus groups and market research in designing new Apple products. He did not want to supply what customers wanted. He wanted customers to want what he created.
Whether Apple will be able to sustain that level of creativity is a question only time will answer. But Jobs’ attitude did not mean that Apple was deaf to its customers – quite the opposite. Having created the kind of loyalty that just about any other corporation can only dream of, everything Apple does has been tailored to retaining that crazy loyalty.
Marketing departments typically spend their time and resources looking for ever better ways to ensure that potential customers hear their message. Customer service departments focus on fixing customer problems. Who in your business is dedicated to listening to the customers you have, to build loyalty? It’s cheaper and easier than acquiring new customers, and it’s cheaper and easier than fixing relationships with disappointed customers.
The big question is ‘How?’
How can you really listen to the voice of your customer?
Surveys are great – especially low cost, easy-to-implement online surveys using tools like Zoomerang or Survey Monkey. These have the benefit that they take little effort from your customer (and why should they make a big effort?) and can be supported by an appropriate incentive like a small reward or a competition entry.
The gold standard for good feedback on what you do (and don’t do) is follow-up calls or meetings from someone separate from the team that serves your customer. To make it work for both you and your customer, you must welcome absolutely frank assessments and ask good questions to secure details that make appropriate actions easy to target accurately.
But what if your customers won’t talk to you? You can always employ a ‘professional customer’ – mystery shoppers. They are great for thorough, detailed and accurate assessment of what you do. Unlike real customers, however, they cannot give you information about what else they want, from your product or service lines.
Customer focus groups or ‘customer panels’ can do that. They are a lot of work to plan and organise and expensive too – often requiring specialist consultants, room hire, and inducements to participate. This is a form of market research and the Marketing Pocketbook offers eight more variants on what we have above.
The forgotten question is Why?
In case ‘why would you listen to your customer?’ seems like a pointless question with an obvious answer: ‘of course you must’ – stop for a moment.
Of course you must, but unless you know why you are going to do it, you rune the risk of asking the wrong questions, choosing the wrong format, and mis-using the answers. It is all too easy to feel like you are doing something useful by sending people out to listen to your customers, but before you do so, make sure you have a purpose and design the process accordingly.
Arguably, Apple has neither, with high prices for products that are being successfully emulated by their main rivals. So how are they succeeding? I believe by a third source of competitive advantage: brand loyalty.
As a prevailing business strategy, this is new force in big business, but one we can all exploit, by building an organisation that excites and values its customers so much that we win the kind of fanatical following that Apple has.
If you can do that – with or without one of Porter’s two other sources of competitive advantage – you have the basis for a long-term business.