One of the greatest needs of managers of business is to understand and develop marketing programs for their products and services. Business success is based on the ability to build a growing body of satisfied customers. Modern marketing programs are built around the "marketing concept," which directs managers to focus their efforts on identifying and satisfying customer needs - at a profit.
Marketing continues to be a mystery . . . to those who create it and to those who sponsor it. Often, the ad that generates record-breaking volume for a retail store one month is repeated the following month and bombs. A campaign designed by the best ad agency may elicit a mediocre response. The same item sells like hotcakes after a 30-word classified ad, with abominable grammar, appears on page 35 of an all-advertising shopper tossed on the front stoops of homes during a rainstorm! The mystery eludes solution but demands attention.
Your marketing results can be improved through a better understanding of your customers. This approach usually is referred to as the marketing concept.
Putting the customer first is probably the most popular phrase used by firms ranging from giant conglomerates to the corner barber shop, but the sloganizing is often just lip service. The business continues to operate under the classic approach - "Come buy this great product we have created or this fantastic service we are offering." The giveaway, of course, is the word we. In other words, most business activities, including advertising, are dedicated to solving the firm's problems. Success, however, is more likely if you dedicate your activities exclusively to solving your customer's problems.
Any marketing program has a better chance of being productive if it is timed, designed and written to solve a problem for potential customers and is carried out in a way that the customer understands and trusts. The pages that follow will present the marketing concept of putting the customer first. Marketing is a very complex subject; it deals with all the steps between determining customer needs and supplying them at a profit.
The Marketing Concept
The marketing concept rests on the importance of customers to a firm and states that:
All company policies and activities should be aimed at satisfying customer needs, and
Profitable sales volume is a better company goal than maximum sales volume.
To use the marketing concept, businesses should:
Determine the needs of their customers (Market Research);
Analyze their competitive advantages (Market Strategy);
Select specific markets to serve (Target Marketing), and;
Determine how to satisfy those needs (Market Mix).
In order to manage the marketing function successfully, good information about the market is necessary. Frequently, a small market research program, based on a questionnaire given to present customers and/or prospective customers, can disclose problems and areas of dissatisfaction that can be easily remedied, or new products or services that could be offered successfully.
Marketing strategy encompasses identifying customer groups (Target Markets), which a small business can serve better than its larger competitors, and tailoring its product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts and services towards that particular market segment (Managing the Market Mix). A good strategy implies that a business cannot be all things to all people and must analyze its markets and its own capabilities so as to focus on a target market it can serve best.
Owners of small businesses have limited resources to spend on marketing activities. Concentrating their marketing efforts on one or a few key market segments is the basis of target marketing. The major ways to segment a market are:
Geographical segmentation - developing a loyal group of consumers in the home geographical territory before expanding into new territories.
Product segmentation - extensively promoting existing best-selling products and services before introducing a lot of new products.
Customer segmentation - identifying and promoting to those groups of people most likely to buy the product. In other words, selling to heavy users before trying to develop new users.
Managing the Market Mix
There are four key marketing decision areas in a marketing program. They are:
Products and Services,
The marketing mix is used to describe how owner-managers combine these four areas into an overall marketing program.
Products and Services
Effective product strategies for a business may include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product containing an unusual amount of service.
This marketing decision area includes advertising, salesmanship and other promotional activities. In general, high quality salesmanship is a must for small businesses due to their limited ability to advertise heavily. Good yellow-page advertising is a must for small retailers. Direct mail is an effective, low-cost medium of advertising available to small businesses.
Determining price levels and/or pricing policies (including credit policy) is the major factor affecting total revenue. Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa, however, small businesses can often command higher prices due to the personalized service they can offer.
The manufacturer and wholesaler must decide how to distribute their products. Working through established distributors or manufacturers' agents generally is most feasible for small manufacturers. retailers should consider cost and traffic flow as two major factors in location site selection, especially since advertising and rent can be reciprocal. In other words, low-cost, low-traffic location means you must spend more on advertising to build traffic.
After marketing program decisions are made, owner-managers need to evaluate how well decisions have turned out. Standards of performance need to be set up so results can be evaluated against them. Sound data on industry norms and past performance provide the basis for comparing against present performance.
Owner-managers should audit their company's performance at least quarterly. The key questions to ask are:
Is the company doing all it can to be customer-orientated?
Do the employees make sure the customer's needs are truly satisfied and leave them with the feeling that they would enjoy coming back?
Is it easy for the customer to find what he or she wants and at a competitive price?