Lane J. Anderson
The internet has developed very rapidly as a major force in the marketing equation for many consumer products. Not only has it become an important marketing tool, it has also dramatically changed the marketing equation. Understanding those changes is fundamental to harnessing the power of the internet to capture the loyalty of your customers and build your business. Following are some major ways it is changing the face of marketing and how the equation is evolving.
- Educating the Consumer
The internet began largely as an information and research vehicle. Although it has rapidly shifted from being an educational tool to an engine of commerce, it is still an important information source. Consumers can now sit down in the convenience of their own home and learn about your product. In fact, chances are good they will look to the internet to do preliminary research about a new product area regardless of how they buy the product. Brick and mortar stores are learning that many of their consumers will do research on the internet before buying at the store. As a business owner, it is important to be open and make information easily available to customers. With the information age, customers are often more hungry for information about a product and anxious to make more informed decisions. Easily available information is no longer something nice to have — it is expected. While we used to live in a world of information-barren 30-second commercials, consumers now demand more, and they will find the information they need.
- Customer Initiated Interaction
In the past, the company initiated contact with the customer through research and eventually through their advertising. The internet has empowered consumers with an enhanced ability to easily initiate contact with the company to learn about their products or purchase them without leaving their home. They may approach the company any time during the day rather than strictly during “store hours”. Customers are coming to expect access to the company at their own convenience. This has given birth to internet search engines and directories that facilitate the consumers’ desires to find the information and products they are interested in.
Today companies need to ensure they are visible on the web through these search engines and have a website that is easy to navigate and available at the customers’ convenience.
- Information Overload
While consumers expect access to information, they are also overloaded by the abundance of it. They generally resent having information pushed on them. Hence, spam laws and anti-spam software are gaining popularity. The implications for the marketer are two-fold. First, it is important to provide meaningful and useful information in all the communication with customers. Honor a commitment to customers who opt in for e-mail communication to not abuse their trust. Space the e-mails to avoid becoming an annoyance. Make the communication useful to them. Second, keep communication on the website and in e-mails concise and easy to read. This is not a medium that tolerates long-winded treatises. Package information in easy to digest packets.
- Serve the Customer Well
It has always been important to provide an excellent product and back it with excellent service. The internet has made that even more essential. Chat rooms and other internet channels have accelerated the feedback loop on products and the service that backs them up. Consumers can instantly find out a company’s record at the Better Business Bureau or any of a number of product rating services right from their own home. No longer must a consumer sit down and write a detailed letter to the company to complain. It is easy to log into a chat room or file a complaint, and it is instantly available to millions of consumers to see. Quality products and effective customer service are essential to those companies that wish to survive.
- Increased Consumer Participation in the Product Offering
Not too many years ago, the marketing department initiated research with consumers and then determined what new products to develop, what features should be included, how to price them, and how well they liked the offering. Today, the consumer is increasingly dictating the terms of the offering. Consider major online merchants that allow customers to determine the price by auctioning products, transportation, or services. The major trend in mass customization has been facilitated by the internet allowing customers to dictate the features their product will have. Customers are growing to expect more say in what the product will be and how much it will cost. Personalized service will continue to play an ever increasing role in consumer products.
- Cross-Channel Consciousness
With increasing information available to consumers and their ability to communicate with each other more easily, companies must be ever more conscious of different channel offerings. For example, while it may have been easy to provide a different offer at a retail store versus a catalog in earlier years, consumers now rapidly capture that information and communicate it to each other quickly and easily. Internet comparison sites and consumer chat rooms make information much more readily available. Marketers must be aware that different pricing in different channels may not be as easy to execute as in the past without rapid migration of purchases, consumer confusion or dissatisfaction. The successful marketer will now establish a deliberate channel strategy rather than leaving it to chance. Consumers will want and expect greater consistency.