Monday, September 29, 2008

Let your customers be involved

Businesses should do more than talk about incorporating customers into marketing efforts

Although businesses might not be able to go to the same level, the newly released movie Fireproof offers a lesson in customer involvement. The movie, which came in 4th place and earned $6.5 million for its debut weekend, asked for and got a level of participation from its constituencies during product development (shooting the movie) unimaginable to most businesspeople. For example, volunteers built the sets and it is reported that most of the people that made the movie also volunteered.

Why do it?
Allowing customer involvement is one way to increase customer loyalty. Such participation improves customer "buy in". They have a voice. They have a stake in the effort. They want you to succeed.

Easy to dismiss
Businesspeople should not dismiss this lesson too quickly due to an "our customers will not participate with us!" attitude. Granted, Fireproof is an example of extreme customer participation. However, too many businesses do not try hard enough to allow their customers to become involved with them.

Customer participation comes in many forms. A few examples of customer involvement across various industries include:
  • Airlines providing programs to let participants in their frequent flier programs donate airline miles to charities such as the American Red Cross.

  • T-shirt makers allowing customers to vote on which images (which were designed by volunteers) on shirts to sell.

  • Businesses aggressively soliciting and acting upon customer feedback regarding their products and services.

  • Providing online communities that allow customers to interact with each other and the firm.

  • A soda maker featuring pictures taken by customers on the labels on pop bottles.

The questions to ask include...
.....1. How could we be helped by customer involvement?
.....2. How can customer involvement be facilitated?
.....3. How soon can we get it going?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Quick response -- effective marketing

Moving in a timely manner can be the difference between success and failure.

Economic news was very bad this past week.
  • The stock market dropped several hundred points one day mid-week.
  • Top management of the U.S. "Big Three" automakers were on Capital Hill to stump for Federal funds to assist their firms (GM, Ford and Chrysler).
  • Experts and newscasters tell how losses from sub-prime home loans and foreclosures in the residential house markets threaten the U.S. and world economies.
  • The Federal Government is working on a taxpayer funded $700 billion (at a minimum) bailout of various financial entities in an attempt to shore up the U.S. economy.

Obviously, this news is causing much uncertainty and angst among consumers.

Such times call for timely marketing responses
The newspaper advertisement (above right) is an example of a thoughtful marketing response that addresses issues on customers' minds. However, a significant portion of this advertisement's effectiveness is due to when it was in the newspaper -- in the weekend editions of the week described at the beginning of this entry.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Displaying benefits in promotions -- part II

A May 2008 post on this blog discussed the benefits of directly tying a business's promotional theme to variables impacting customer lives and telling how your product, service and/or store can assist consumers in dealing with that issue.

Currently economic concerns -- ranging from high fuel prices to falling values for their homes -- are now on the minds of many U.S. consumers. Several examples of advertising that clearly address such concerns are currently on television. Each commercial's appeal is easy for customers to understand... you are in tight financial times and our product can save you money.

Here is one such television advertisement:

Ask yourself

  1. What issues are your customers dealing with?
  2. What concerns do they have?
  3. Do I know even the answers to questions 1 & 2? If not, that's an item for future blog posting.
  4. How can my marketing efforts be tailored to address those issues and concerns?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Business is about today and tomorrow

Sole focus on the "here and now" can hurt in the future.

Premise #1
Businesses need products and services that are attractive to consumers in the "now". If a firm cannot sell enough in the "near-term", the "long-term" may not arrive for that organization.

Premise #2
Businesses cannot be so focused on their current product offerings that changing trends and consumer preferences are not recognized and acted upon.

Premise #3
Successfully balancing both premise #1 and #2 is difficult.

The example of the parking lot
While sitting outside a Starbucks in Burbank, CA (see 8-29-08 entry), the issue of balancing the near-term with long-term business perspective was parked right in front of me. Literally parked.

There were 24 vehicles in the parking lot on this Saturday morning at 7AM.
- the largest 11 vehicles were all from US automakers
..(12 SUVs/vans/pickups and 1 very large car)
- the remaining 13 smaller vehicles (all cars of various sizes)
..were from non-USA automakers

With gasoline around $4 per gallon, Toyota and Honda reported vehicle sales at very high levels during the summer of 2008. During the same period, American automakers' sales were poor. What caused US automakers to be in the position of not offering more fuel efficient vehicles when US consumers were craving them?

The lure of the high profit margins from larger vehicles (per unit profitability of pickups and SUVs have been - until recently - very high) was too tempting and became the prize of American automakers. Such a limited focus blinded executives from American automakers from possible opportunities and threats -- including the prospect of high fuel prices and the increasing green attitude of American auto buyers.

The impact of higher prices of fuel is not unprecedented. One only has to recall the high priced gas (with accompanying long lines at service stations) of the 1970s. Since such uncontrollable variables impacted the auto industry before, why were they missed by American automakers just 30 years later? The answer: too much focus on the "here and now" to the detriment of watching for (and reacting to) events and issues that would shape future consumer behavior, wants and needs.