If It Touches The Customer, It’s A Marketing Issue

Base Your Marketing Strategy On Customers, Not Products

Many years ago I developed a personal marketing philosophy that I believe forms the core principle of marketing ─ if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

By focusing my thinking on what touches the customer, and how these impact and influence customers’ purchase decisions, I became highly adept at developing marketing and positioning strategies, first for my employers and then for my clients upon creating Howard Marketing Services in 1993.

Of course, everything your organization does touches your customers. This is why I advocate that long-term, sustainable success requires a customer-centric, marketing-led approach.

The key here is being customer focused, not just marketing led. Success will not automatically result from the traditional implementation of marketing techniques such as brand advertising, one-way communications with customers, lack of awareness of customer experiences, and reactive customer service strategies.

Rather, sustainable growth and success, as well as long-term customer loyalty, results from combining and modifying those traditional marketing approaches with TLC (think like customers), proactive customer engagements that lead to long-term customer satisfaction, two-way communications at all customer points of interaction, and a focus on understanding and learning from customer experiences with your products and services.

Prolonged success also results from adapting your current organizational processes and practices to better align yourself with the changing values of customers.

One of those changing customer values is choices and flexibility. Customers want both choices and flexibility, particularly when deciding what products and services will provide solutions to their needs, wants, and desires. Of course, when it comes to the actual purchase and use of a product or service, it is a bit different. As B. Joseph Pine points out in the book Mass Customization, “Customers don’t want choice. They just want exactly what they want.”

Only an organization that is fully focused on identifying the needs, wants, and desires of its customers will be able to provide exactly what they want. Then, if you give customers a little bit more than they expect, you are well on your way to developing long-term customer loyalty. As Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said, “If people get what they expect from a brand ─ and more ─ they’re going to stick with it.”

Product Marketing. Brand Managers. Product Managers. Organization structures based on product lines or product groups. This is where the traditional focus of marketing has been, and unfortunately still remains ─ on products.

But, as I have often stated: “A product is or a service is just your point of entry. A loyal customer is the true goal.”

Having loyal customers should be the goal of every organization. The purpose of business, as the legendary Peter Drucker wrote, is “to create a customer.” In my view, the ultimate role of marketing is to create and keep good customers, to the benefit of customers, the organization, and other stakeholders.

Business is not just about sales, contracts, cash flow, internal rates of return, ROI, and profitability. Even Henry Ford recognized this when he said, “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.”

Using traditional marketing techniques, being “customer oriented” has meant operating in order to meet the needs of the typical customer, or the average customer. Businesses today cannot afford to focus on the average customer. Your future growth, and future profitability, comes from satisfying the needs of your most valuable customers.

To treat your most valuable customers as your most valued customers requires that they be treated as individuals ─ with individual needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes.

To treat valuable customers as individuals requires the understanding that anything that touches these customers is a marketing concern. It also means understanding that everything you do as an organization ─ and sometimes the things that you do not do ─ touches your customers.

The bottom line is simply this:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue™.

This simple phrase births an entire marketing philosophy that you can use to develop sustainable growth and a loyal customer base for your own products and services.

It means doing things ─ particularly “marketing” ─ differently than you are doing them today. It means putting the needs of your customers first, before those of the organization. It means inculcating the skills of thinking from the customer’s perspective throughout the organization. And it means delivering your brand through customer experiences rather than paid advertising.

It will feel different, doing all these things, of that I can assure you. But I can also assure you so too will be the results.

 

KEY POINT:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

TAKING ACTION:  what is the main focus of your internal meetings? Products or customers? Sales results or customer needs? How can you spend more time discussing customers and their needs and less time discussing other matters?

How do you reward those in the organization that exhibit high levels of customer intensity? How do you publicize their efforts internally? What can be done to improve these areas and turn your customer-focused folks into internal heroes?

What is your marketing strategy based on ─ products or customers? Are your marketing plans based on product groupings and goals or customers and customer segments? Now is the time to change from product-driven strategies to customer-driven ones.

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

12 Marketing Principles

The Importance of Core Marketing Beliefs

Do you have a set of marketing principles or philosophies that you follow? I do.

I find having a written set of marketing principles gives me a great reference point when making recommendations to clients on their branding or marketing strategies. It also means my recommendations are based on a core set of beliefs, not current marketing trends and fashionable marketing ideas.

In no particular order of importance, these 12 marketing principles are:

  1. Segment customers based on customer needs, not the needs of your organization and not based around the structures of your existing organizational chart.
  2. In order for customers to see you as a unique brand or service provider, you need to treat them as unique individuals ─ with individually unique needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes.
  3. Remember that when dealing with customers (even in the B2B world) you are dealing with fellow human beings, not revenue streams. Thus, every customer matters and every customer interaction matters (especially to the customer).
  4. The era of mass production required mass communications. Today’s era of individual customers and smaller customer segments requires a more individualized approach to marketing communications.
  5. Your fellow employees communicate your brand’s true value to customers. Every employee interaction with a customer or prospect, therefore, either enhances or denigrates your brand reputation and the customer’s brand experience.
  6. With the increased importance of Corporate Social Responsibility, your corporate image is more important than ever. How your corporate image is managed is critical. After all, competitors can replicate your products and services, beat you up on price, outspend you in promotions, and outperform you in distribution. However, the one thing competitors cannot copy or duplicate is a well defined, well managed corporate image.
  7. The Four Ps of Customer Retention (People, Policies, Processes / Procedures, and Prevention) are more relevant for retaining customers captured through the time honored marketing mix than the original Four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place) created over 40 years ago by Professor Philip Kotler.
  8. It is not what you communicate, it is what your customers hear that is most important. Customers have learned how to filter out traditional marketing messages and now, with devices such as TiVo and email filters, have the tools to do so. Getting customers to hear your marketing messages requires greater creativity, increased innovation, and heightened integration.
  9. Profitability is not very useful or informative for understanding customer needs.
  10. Focus on your customers and their needs, wants, desires, likes, and dislikes. Remember, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.
  11. CRM works better when it means Customer Retention Marketing. Customer Retention is the art of keeping good customers™ and should be the cornerstone foundation for all long-term marketing strategies.
  12. If it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™ Marketing is the integrator across all business lines and all internal departments.

I hope you are able to put some, if not all, of the above marketing principles into practice.

 

KEY POINT:  if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

TAKING ACTION:  what are your own personal marketing principles? How do these impact the short-term and long-term decisions you make?

Circulate the list above to your staff or fellow colleagues. Discuss which ones instinctively feel right for your organization. Why?

How could these be disseminated widely throughout your department, business unit, or entire organization?

This article is a revised excerpt from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

Protecting Your Corporate Brand

Corporate Branding Is More Than Just Logos and PR

Ever since I wrote my first book in 1997, Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline for the 21st Century, I have advocated that “nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.”

Corporate image management, or what some writers and researchers refer today as corporate reputation management, remains one of the most important (and yet most overlooked) management and marketing disciples for businesses, organizations, associations, and government entities.

In today’s global market environment, customer trust in organizations, particularly corporations, is at an all-time low as a direct fallout from the never-ending series of widely reported scandals (i.e. WorldCom and CEO Bernie Ebbers, Enron, Martha Stewart, HIH Insurance, OneTel, Tyco, Citicorp’s recent activities in Japan and Europe, Boeing, and Parmalat in Italy).

Corporate image management has always been important, but perhaps never as important as today. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in his Commencement Address at Harvard University in 1999, “In today’s world, where ideas are increasingly displacing the physical in the production of economic value, competition for reputation becomes a significant driving force, propelling our economy forward.”

The corporate image is an extremely important corporate asset, one deserving the same attention and commitment by senior management as any other vital issue. The key to managing this asset is to fully understand that your stakeholders’ perceptions embody your corporate image.

Unfortunately for every organization, these stakeholder perceptions are no longer (and I doubt if they truly ever were) formed solely through experiences with your products and services.

For instance, a multiyear study by Cone Inc., a marketing and communications firm based in Boston, reveals that American customers are now increasingly taking into consideration the reputation and track record of social responsibility of the companies they will keep in their spending circle. Eighty percent reportedly said corporate support of a cause is a key factor in whether or not they trust a particular firm, an increase of 21 percent from the previous year.

According to Carol Cone, CEO of Cone, “This study, a series of research spanning over a decade, shows that in today’s climate, more than ever before, companies must get involved with social issues in order to protect and enhance their reputations.

Supporting a cause can improve a company’s status with customers. Companies that are caught or reported behaving unethically or illegally can also expect to receive some clearly defined customer responses. In such cases, according to the Cone research:

  • 90 percent said they would consider switching to another company’s product or service.
  • 81 percent said they would speak out against the company to family and friends.
  • 80 percent would consider selling any stock holdings in the company.
  • 80 percent would refuse to invest in the company.
  • 75 percent would refuse to work for that company.
  • 73 percent said they would boycott that company’s goods or services.
  • 67 percent said they would be less loyal in their job at that company.

On the other hand, positive corporate activity in social and community issues can have an immediate positive impact on corporate brand images. GMIPoll conducted a survey with 20,000 consumers in 20 countries one week after the South Asian Tsunami, measuring their opinions on American multinational brands, corporate tsunami relief efforts, and U.S. foreign policy. A remarkable 59% of these consumers reported that their impressions of corporate brands improved as a result of the tsunami relief efforts from U.S.-based multinational corporations.

For example, Coca-Cola provided bottled drinking water, basic foodstuffs, and medical supplies to tsunami victims; Starbucks made an initial contribution of $100,000 to international relief organizations CARE and Oxfam UK, plus donated $2 per pound of Sumatra coffee sold during January; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged an initial $3 million to nongovernmental organizations to aid tsunami relief efforts.

The GMIPoll results indicated that as a result of Coke’s contributions, 61% of consumers reported an improved image of Coca-Cola. Starbuck’s tsunami relief pledge resulted in 51% of respondents expressing an improved image of Starbucks. The Bill and Melinda Gates donation resulted in 50% of respondents reporting an improved image of Microsoft.

Furthermore, 46% of all consumers indicated that they will purchase more products from the companies that provided tsunami relief. For example, 39% indicated they would consider purchasing more Coca-Cola products in the future; 32% indicated they would buy more at Starbucks; and 37% indicated a greater willingness to buy Microsoft products.

Positive brand sentiment gained from tsunami relief efforts stands in stark contrast to images heavily influenced by U.S. foreign policy. The GMIPoll found that one in five international consumers consciously avoids purchasing American brands as a way of displaying their discontent over recent American foreign policies and military action (the three countries with the highest percentage of consumers who indicate an intention to boycott iconic American brands are South Korea 45%, Greece 40% and France 25%).

Softening the blow however, 56% of those who indicated that they consider boycotting American brands also reported that their judgment of those corporations that had donated to the tsunami relief effort had improved; similarly, 48% stated that they would consider purchasing products in the future from those brands that had provided tsunami aid. Clearly, there are powerful international cross currents influencing global consumers’ views of American iconic brands.

Corporate branding is more than just positive media coverage, good financial results, and increased market share. And it is certainly more than just donating money, products, or services when natural disasters strike.

Properly managed, your corporate brand should discourage unethical behavior throughout the organization, reduce staff turnover, reduce customer churn and attrition, and minimize negative media coverage. This will happen only when management sees the corporate image as a management discipline, and not just a marketing tool, a graphic design project, or a public relations exercise.

The essential role that corporate image now performs is also a result of major shifts in the field of marketing combined with more knowledgeable and interested customers. The corporate brand image is much more than a name or logo. Your corporate brand reflects your way of doing business, a key component of reputation and identity.

The strongest corporate brands tend to be the ones with the most consistent and clearest messages. These brands create expectations and anticipations in the minds of both consumers who buy, use, or recommend the brands and the employees who deliver upon these inherent promises.

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not.

When properly designed and managed, the corporate image will accurately reflect the organization’s commitment to quality, excellence, and its relationships with its various constituents: such as current and potential customers, employees and future staff, competitors, partners, governing bodies, and the general public.

Also, when properly managed and communicated, the corporate image will create an internal culture that is more likely to protect the brand and reputation of the organization.

In a sense, this is complete circle of corporate brand protection. A properly managed corporate image creates a culture that protects the brand and reputation, which therefore reinforces and strengthens the management of the corporate image.

This makes the management of your corporate image one of the most potent marketing and management tools available for your senior executives to use in ensuring the viable execution of your corporate vision, as well as ensuring the protection of this most vital corporate asset.

 

KEY POINT: nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.

TAKING ACTION: who is in charge of your corporate image? If the answer is not “everyone in the organization,” then take time to reflect on why not.

When was the last time your senior management team reviewed and discussed your corporate image? How soon can this subject be added to the next senior management meeting agenda?

Survey the top 20% of your customers on their perceptions of your corporate image. Survey 100% of your employees asking the same questions. Compare the results.

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Corporate Image Management

The corporate image is a dynamic and profound affirmation of the nature, culture and structure of an organization. This applies equally to corporations, businesses, government entities, and non-profit organizations.

Looked at from a marketing perspective, corporate brand management needs to be an on-going, synergistic management tool, not the one-time “corporate image exercise” as practiced by so many organizations and almost all corporate identity consultants.

The corporate brand provides a mechanism for the organization to:

  • Differentiate itself from competition.
  • Create recognized added-value to the products and services marketed or delivered by the organization.
  • Attract and maintain customer relationships in order to prosper in an increasingly competitive and constantly changing global marketplace.

The corporate image also represents the highest level of brand personality and characteristics that can be created and communicated to customers and marketing partners [and hence the linkage to relationship marketing].

In today’s world of deteriorating product brand power, rising perceptions of parity products, reducing employee loyalty, and increasing competition, the corporate brand image has taken on renewed importance.

Previously, a company’s visual identity system was sufficient to project and protect the image of the organization. Today, all aspects of the corporate brand image need to be managed, from the refinement of the mission statement to how well the troops on the front line understand, communicate, and portray this mission.

Corporate image management matches the expectations and understanding of both customers and employees about what the organization stands for, where it is heading, and what its core strengths, traditions, and principles are.

The underlining principle of this discipline is simply thisif it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

Nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image. This fundamental perception will be a major factor that determines whether the customer will decide to conduct business with you and, more important, enter into a long-term and mutually rewarding relationship with your organization.

There may be no greater marketing issue than management of the corporate image in today’s increasingly competitive markets.

Without a doubt, corporate image management will be a key marketing discipline well into the future.

The ultimate battleground for winning and maintaining customer relationships now takes place in the minds, hearts, emotions, and perceptions of your customers.

KEY POINT:  the corporate image represents the highest level of brand personality that can be created and communicated to customers and marketing partners.

TAKING ACTION:  where and how can you place greater resources in winning the battle for the minds, hearts, emotions, and perceptions of customers?

Is your corporate brand giving you sufficient differentiation in the market? Why or why not?

How can your corporate brand provide added value to the products and services marketed and delivered by your organization?

What does your organization stand for? Where is it headed? What are its most important core strengths, traditions, and principles? Are these found within your corporate image, as perceived by your key constituents?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

The Corporate Brand Image is a Powerful Marketing Tool

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not.

When properly conceptualized, designed and managed, the corporate image (and the resultant corporate brand) will accurately reflect the organization’s commitment to quality, excellence and its relationships with its various constituents: such as current and potential customers, employees and future staff, competitors, partners, governing bodies, and the general public.

As a result, the corporate image is a critical concern for every organization (big or small). As such, the corporate brand deserves the same attention and commitment by senior management as any other vital issue. Management of the corporate image and the corporate brand is a core competency of the leaders of the most successful organizations.

We live in a world of change. In fact, the rate of change today is faster, and affects a larger portion of the earth’s population, than at any other time in history.

Yet, despite all this change, there is still one constant. And that is that marketing excellence and a strong corporate image are firmly linked. You cannot have one without the other. At least not for very long.

Because, at the end of the day…..your competitors can mimic and better your product offer. They can create stronger distribution systems than yours. They can outspend you in advertising and promotions. And, of course, they can always beat you up on price.

But the one thing a competitor cannot mimic or copy is a well-defined corporate personality. As I always advise my clients….if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

And nothing, nothing touches your customers more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.

This makes the management of your corporate brand image one of the most potent marketing and management tools available for senior executives to use in ensuring the viable execution of your corporate vision.

Key Point: everything an organization does, and does not do, has an impact on its corporate image.

Taking Action: ask your senior managers to brainstorm and develop a list of the things your organization does that has a positive impact on your corporate image, and a list of the things you do that has (or could have) a negative impact on your corporate image. What can you do to leverage the positive things? What can you do to eliminate the negative ones?