There’s no disputing it. Competing in today’s commercial environment is demanding an entirely new approach to marketing.
Standard practices like mass media advertising, sales promotion and sales force calls still remain the hallmarks of marketing. At the same time however, several companies have recognised the need to improve their marketing performance and have embraced an entirely new set of beliefs and practices.
Determining the needs and wants of target markets and delivering the desired satisfaction more effectively and efficiently than competitors are sculpting today’s marketing concepts. It starts with a well-defined market, focuses on customer needs, coordinates all the activities that will affect customers and produces profits by satisfying customers. The new concept addresses the individual needs of specific customers and aims to build customer loyalty and lifetime value.
Just how is this being achieved?
It all begins with the recognition that marketing is far too important to leave to the marketing department. Every employee has an impact on the customer and must be made to see the customer as the source of the company’s prosperity. In addition, employees are constantly being reminded that it costs considerably more to attract a new customer than it does to retain existing ones. More companies are therefore placing the emphasis on customer retention, ensuring that they spend more time satisfying the needs of existing customers. Of course, the quest to find new customers will continue, but customer satisfaction is taking priority. Some firms have even gone as far as implementing systems to measure and track customer satisfaction as well as the factors that shape it.
With respect to promotion, not only is the core of the message changing, but also the mode of delivery.
Traditionally advertisements have frequently exaggerated the performance and quality of products or services to get the sale. With the recognition that customer satisfaction is a function of the match between customer expectations and actual performance however, businesses have moved to make their messages and promises more accurate. Some have even opted to under-promise and over-deliver as a means of creating customer delight.
While there is no doubt that heavy advertising to build brand awareness and loyalty has worked well in the past, more companies are recognising a new set of tools in the form of sponsorships, event management public relations and charitable gifts that can build brand loyalty.
Considerably more emphasis is also being placed on one-to-one marketing through customer relationship marketing initiatives, as compared to mass marketing. Customer relationship marketing enables companies to provide excellent real-time customer service by developing a relationship with each valued customer through the effective use of individual account information. Based on what they know about each customer, companies can customise market offerings, services, programmes, messages and media.
Companies are today being encouraged to:
- identify prospects and customers and not go after everyone;
- differentiate customers in terms of their needs and value to the company;
- interact with individual customers to improve their learning about their individual needs and to build stronger relationships; and
- customise products, services and messages to each customer.
The argument for embracing these new marketing concepts is simple - customers are attracted by competitively superior offerings and retained through satisfaction with those offerings. The firm’s priority should therefore be to attract and retain customers. Remember that a company has little value without the existence of customers.
Anticipating your customers' needs and pursuing a strategy for meeting them and having this as your primary objective is one sure way of maximizing on customer satisfaction.
To ensure that marketing efforts result in maximum customer satisfaction, here are a few points you should consider:
- Ensure that your staff has as much knowledge as possible about your service or product.
- Treat your customers with respect, friendliness and courtesy at all times (no matter how trying the situation may be.
- Listen attentively to your customers' complaints, concerns and comments about your product or service. Be willing to make changes if feedback indicates that these changes can improve your offering.
- Always be on the look-out for new and innovative products or services to enhance your current offering to your customers.
- Keep your customers well informed of new product offerings.
- Make each customer feel that he or she is your special customer.
- REMEMBER that your most effective promotional tool is that of "Word-of-mouth". A happy customer is always ready to send others to your door.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF COMPETITION
Even if you are the first to reach the market with a new product or service, chances are you will not be alone for very long. Listed below are some important points to consider when faced with competition from other businesses:
- Your primary objective must be to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage.
- Market situations are constantly changing. Keep abreast of what is happening in the economic environment and industry as a whole. Try to anticipate your competitors' reactions to any changes.
- Where possible, differentiate your product by either quality, price, packaging, reliability or some other means.
- Small businesses should never attempt to compete "head on" with large companies.
- Competition is about having choices. Your customer chooses to do business with you. You, the supplier, choose the type of customers you want to attract.
- Estimate the size of the market. You must be able to determine and maintain a share which permits your business to be both feasible and profitable, then determine how you can expand on this existing market share.
REMEMBER that competition is a necessary part of doing business. To pretend that it doesn't exist is one way of entertaining failure instead of success.