Some Thoughts on the 4Ps and Customer Centricity

A cracking debate on the relevance of the traditional Marketing 4Ps in contemporary digital marketing has broken out in several places on the Internet. The pro-4P lobby believe that in the rush to get online, many organisations are forgetting some standard rules and good practice, citing the 4Ps as an element of the marketer’s armoury that should be introduced and taken on board. Writers such as Dave Chaffey and Paul Smith have long (in Internet Time) promoted an evolved model with changes to the meaning and number of Ps in the equation.

The anti-4P lobby claim that the evolution of social media means that the 4P model (and its descendants) are increasingly irrelevant because they are centred around the marketer and the product and not around the customer and their world (I won’t use the word “needs” because that is a contentious point). This lobby believe that in a social media world, companies need spend less time selling their product and more time working out what customers would like them to do, and that focussing on how the business broadcasts, and decides what it’s offering is, is an outdated and irrelevant concept.

It’s essentially a worldview difference between “This is what we do” versus “What can I do for you?” The first view will tell you all about brand value and product attributes. The second view relies on customers deciding what those values and attributes should be.

With this in mind it’s interesting to look at the use of Twitter by two organisations competing in the same marketplace – Northern Rail (Northern) and Trans Pennine Express (TPE). Northern (often nicknamed #northernfail is plagued by ancient rolling stock which is slow and unglamorous. There are often problems. TPE has new, fast express trains, but it too suffers from delays, cancellations, overcrowding and so on.

Casual observation of the two Twitter streams shows a marked difference in the use of the medium. TPE clearly have the 4Ps in their sights and use their stream to communicate promotions. Dialogue is clearly between winners and entrants to competitions. Nothing wrong with that (textbook you might say), but I would argue that the vast majority of customers might prefer the Twitter stream to engage with them on their use and valuing of the product. But it is all about “The Sell”.

Northern clearly use the channel to engage with people who complain or who have problems with their train journey. Indeed they’re clearly monitoring the channel for key hashtags and phrases where their customer base congregates. Dialogue is (sadly) apologetic but it clearly engages with audience in the points where they want. TPE are much slower to respond (if at all) and I would argue they are not monitoring the channel in the same way as their rivals.

A perfect (if such a thing exists) take on this is the T-shirt company Last Exit to Nowhere (LETN). With occasional tweets about product, LETN spend a lot of time engaging with their audience in non-promotional ways. Tweets are often about film trivia (or extreme film nerdery). Facebook updates often follow the same structure. Very rarely is a promotional matter with regard to product dealt with, although it does happen – and this often around new product often based on engagement with the community on the product’s development.

What LETN shows is there is a small space for the 4Ps, but it certainly takes a back seat. Concentrating on customer centricity is what drives their traffic rather than a sales drive. Because LETN have a strong empathy with their customers (as opposed to the customers supposedly having any kind of strong affinity with the LETN brand), customers clearly engage because it’s about what they’re interested in, not what LETN are interested in selling.

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Email Marketing for Newbies

I’ve been teaching about digital marketing strategy and practice since 2002. It’s funny to think that I’ve been espousing various approaches to specific practice, but one area that I had been teaching in was something I’d never done in anger – creating copy for an email marketing campaign.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on creating my first email campaign this week with our Training Manager Gareth. We’ve spent some time evaluating different campaign management systems, but finally settled for using Constant Contact as it had the right features we require for running our campaigns.

So yes – I know the theory, I have got rafts of good examples and best practice, I can talk my way through creating the perfect template. But I hadn’t done one before. So – to live by the sword – I got out the good practice textbooks, downloaded (for the nth time) Econsultancy’s Best Practice guide and we sat down to work.

Based on emails I’ve received from others, writing copy for emails is obviously not something that comes naturally. But I like to think that we did our email by the numbers. So here’s a few things that I relearned whilst creating ours.

I had to make the email pass the “5S Test”. That is – the email has to sell (the whole point is that sales are going to come from this email). The email has to serve the reader – so what is it that adds value for the customer? The email has to speak to the customer – I’m using it to ask questions and to learn about them (it becomes a conversation and I can get closer to them if it works properly). The email has to save me something – costs in transactions, admin and so on. And finally it has to sizzle (something I learned from former colleague and ex old school ad man Roger Delves) – it has to extend our Brand in the online world and reinforce the Brand values that we want people to believe about us.

I had to make sure we used a distinctive subject line (this took ages to come up with) so that we could hook the reader immediately. We also had to make sure we wrote in chunks of text rather than a massive narrative (Constant Contact’s template creator actually helps you do this). We had to make sure there was a call-to-action (CTA) at the start and the end of the mail and that we used  a variety of CTAs throughout the mail. We made effective use of bullet points at appropriate intervals rather than constant verbage. Using our psychology heads, we wrote the mail as a two column item which aids on-screen reading and increases the speed which information is consumed. And we wrote the copy in a conversational “You-We” idiom to engage the reader – this was probably the hardest bit because University writers can’t write like that naturally.

Finally – we did the 2-2 test: we looked at the email for 2 seconds and tried to remember what we saw. We look at it from 2 metres away to see what stood out.

All this kept us rewriting and rebuilding the copy and the design until it was finally ready. Yesterday we cleansed our contact lists and identified the 500 or so Human Resource Directors the University has had dealings with. Our mail went out at 11:45 this morning hoping to capture the lunchtime readers.

So it ‘s been an interesting experience. Now hoping to see whether all the effort in crafting that mail actually generates some business and I’ll report on the analytics capability later. I won’t be so quick to trash emails now: I’m going to check them all to see if they’ve been built by the book.

Hastings Direct loses out to the Invisible Community

Should one write about personal experiences? Heck yes – especially as it describes how the power of the consumer dramatically overtakes that of the supplier.

Hastings Direct (bizarre name as they are an intermediary, or as we used to call them a “brokerso not ‘direct‘ after all) provide insurance which is underwritten by other companies. In fact they provide insurance from 5 other insurance businesses. You’ll have seen the advert along with the slightly irritating yet highly memorable “0800 double -oh 1066” tune. They are an MBO business as of this month, so this might be an interesting time for them to take stock.

I had been insured by/through Hastings Direct for 2 years, having been insured by Admiral (Parrot/Admiral advert) previously. They offered the best price at the time.

I’ve just moved house so I let Hastings know this – and I had moved from an area which would be regarded as substantially risky to one which is regarded as much less risky by insurers if you believe the tables they use (from an E which is pretty risky to a C which is about average) plus the car is to be housed on a drive instead of on the street this time.

The actuarial amongst you would assume this would make the remaining period of insurance cheaper – I should get a refund you might think.

But no – according the Hastings’ underwriters this was a riskier area to move to. And they wanted £53 for the remaining 2 months.

So no-risk-no-accidents-safe-car-no-speeding-fines-moves-to-nice-area-7-years-no-claims-40-something David gets told his annual fee for covering his car is now £500+

I tell them there’s a mistake. “Nothing I can do sir.”

“It’s got to be an error.”

“Computer says it’s not.”

I tell them I’ll have to have a think about it.

10 minute later and some nice times on confused.com gives me an annual quote of £225 which includes adding my beloved (and her previous claims) to the policy. I ring Hastings and let them know that I have to let them go (it’s like a relationship isn’t it?)

There’s even that special call centre button, “If you’re thinking of leaving us please press 2,” but the man at the end of it almost sounds resigned to the fact I’m off – even when I tell him how it’s half the price: he doesn’t event want to negotiate.

So – today’s lesson. The infomediary is dead. Long live the comparison infomediary. Informed customers are immensely powerful. Uninformed, non-learning organisations can survive this trip at all.

And I haven’t even mentioned anything about meerkats.

The Death of Marketing (Digital or Otherwise)

As an academic working in the field of digital marketing practice, it is my duty to inform you OF THE DEATH OF MARKETING.

Working for the man is now officially OVER.

So when did marketing die? Well it’s important to look at the causes to understand the actual moment of death. If you’re cynical (is cynical different to skeptical?), you’ll be convinced that the marketing of goods and services is purely for peddling of wares in pursuit of consumerism and conspicuous consumption. Goods are produced not because they are needed by people, but because goods need to be produced to make companies (and individuals within them) rich and fat. Marketing fulfills a role here by convincing people that they do need goods, often goods which they don’t need. In many cases, solutions are offered for problems which people do not even know they have. In some cases, people are provided with a solution to their lifestyle aspirations, and they can only know about this lifestyle if they are exposed to it through marketing.

I won’t bore you with the textbook explanations of marketing, or any of those that you might find in an inspirational book about marketing on the shelves of a bookshop in an airport – perhaps one that mentions a colour in its title or has been conceived by a “marketing guru” from the USA. You’ll aready be aware of these and may have taken many of the ideas on board in your practice.

Anyway – the death of marketing has come about because of fear. People are worried about their money. People who wash their cars and live on housing estates in the suburbs. People whose cars are quite new and being paid for. People who have very large mortgages. People with expensive plasma screen TVs. People who have to take the kids to pony club on Tuesday nights.

You can see these people in places where you might not have seen them before: Lidl, Aldi even Netto sometimes. You also see these people buying things they haven’t bought for a long time, stuff that hasn’t been marketed to them for ages. I’m thinking of food that might not be organic. Or ingredients for dinners that haven’t yet been woven into complete meals. It’s amazing how much time you can suddenly find on your hands when you’re feeling the pinch. Price sensitivity suddenly has a amazing effect. People are afraid that they are going to run out of money.

So marketing (digital or otherwise) is suddenly fighting for its life. People are no longer “browser-explorers” (“What’s out there? Tempt me?”), as this is the behaviour of people with disposable cash to spend. Search engine behaviour is going to demonstrate that people are much more like “researcher-hunters” (“I’m defining my requirements and assessing your ability to supply me as a marketplace”) and “finisher-trackers” (“I’m selecting a supplier with a view to purchase”). People are likely to reduce their level of opportunistic purchasing and focus on finding “what they need.”

So that fat days of marketing are over. The view that we should take now is that it’s time to look at how firms meet people’s needs. It falls to digital marketing to do this comprehensively. In the field of SEO, key-phrase identification will clearly have to move away from any notion of black-hattism – that will be a waste of time. More than ever will key-phrases have to be carefully honed so as to match the key-phrases used by researcher-hunters and finisher-trackers.

Interactive banner ads and Google ads will need to be injected into networks which speak to researcher-hunters and finisher-trackers. We’ll know they work if click-through rates increase. And what about social networks? Well that’ a tricky one. If a social network develops because of a need rather than some kind of whim, then it could become a winner for needs-based advertising.

Of course, this is great, but the whole thing will really go to pot if we get our heads around the whole “make do and mend” mentality. The days of FMCG marketing might really be dead then.

Netimperative Roadshow

I had the good fortune and privilege to chair the Netimperative Manchester Roadshow yesterday – a fun gig that was well attended by service providers and client firms alike. Plenty of good speakers (and some okay ones!). For particular mention, I enjoyed the work Adam Parker from webitpr provided, which was a nice and gentle introduction for many in the audience to the whole online PR maze.

Martin Cozens from Latitude provided one of the most comprehensible and thorough understandings of the inner workings of Google: after – how many years in this game? – I now understand 🙂 – a superb resume of SEO and PPC. A keynote from Martin Bowley was entertaining as we listened to how an old media lag has started to try and understand the new media marketing environment. And make money from it.

But I was particularly taken with the work Christopher Bennett is doing with Blyk, a free-to-use mobile phone service for the 16-24 market, the first really interesting and disruptive business model I have seen for ages where young adults agree to receive branded advertising messages in return for free calls and texts. I’m really excited about how that proposition works and look forward to seeing how it goes on in the future.

Netimperative could have had a rough ride coming and showing their country cousins all about digital, but to be honest, there was plenty of interesting new stuff and even a bit of controversy. There may be a recession coming, but I don’t think it’s going to reduce the work that’s going on there.

Marketing Spend: Cleanout?

News today from the IPA is that spend on advertising and marketing is starting to decline. This particular metric is one often seen as the vanguard to economic recession. Firms that are in some difficulty often slash marketing and advertising budgets first (along with training budgets), an historic trend that’s been observable for many decades.

For digital practitioners, things aren’t so difficult, because remaining budgets will need to be carefully used and the digital domain is one area that many regard as one that’s easy to measure in terms of accountability and performance. But it will still be a difficult environment to work in.

The ironic thing is that slashing these budgets is probably the last thing a firm should do. It’s probably a key activity to keep on. If buyer numbers and value are diminishing, then firms need to invest in 2 things – more marketing to entice buyers back (emphasizing the value of their products) and retraining to upskill workers for the next big thing they need to engage in. For marketing firms, this means investing in the reskilling of marketers to become accomplished integrated digital marketers. For other firms, it means investing in marketing and advertising initiatives designed to acquire and retain customers for the long-term.

The next 6 months are critical, because those firms that actually buck the trend will the ones who also buck the traditional response to recessive economic conditions.