by Alberto Aleo
At school I was taught that the marketing levers – the fields of application of market strategy – are four: product, price, place and promotion. These were later joined by others, such as service. As technology progressed, and depending on who was discussing the topic, the four categories of the marketing mix broadened, extending to include new interfaces and new markets, or adapting to respond to the emerging frontiers of the web. At the same time, the marketing plans that I was called on to draft with others, became increasingly complicated: they were split into sub categories, new acronyms proliferated, as did the fields of application.
Personally, I got to the point where I was confusing the initial 4 Ps with each other; this was true both for “me the consumer” and “me the marketing professional”. When I entered a store to make a purchase I found it harder to understand if what surrounded me was the product or the service; whether the offer that would respond to my need as a consumer was the place I was in, or the objects it had on display. Moreover, when I made a purchase on line, I caught myself wondering if the virtual space where I was surfing should belong to the “place” category or whether it was simply an interactive medium and thus belonged to the category “promotion”.
As an expert I found this bewildering and struggled to decode its meaning; yet as a consumer I felt rather spoilt, as though I were exploring something new, a fluid, interactive space that contained the right mix to enhance my desire for new experiences. As a consumer, it’s nice to be surprised and to be encouraged to rely on your instincts. Marketing managers, however, cannot afford doubts, if only because when they sit down at their desks to fill out yet another strategic plan they must be clear about the toolkit they have at their disposal. How can we fit a changing and evolving reality into the old categories of the marketing mix? Simple: don’t even try!
I think (but the debate is open to anyone who wishes to comment) that the infamous 4 Ps of marketing no longer have any reason to exist. When I draw up a marketing plan I reason on the basis of Touch Points. A touch point is an “event” or an encounter that takes shape every time a customer (or potential customer) enters into a relationship with our company. Our stores are touch points, as are our advertising communications, our offers and of course our products. But equally we can consider our website, our vendors and our after-sales service as touch points and – if I want to take this further – even the voice of a recorded message that informs callers of the closing hours of our offices.
Some touch points are positioned higher hierarchically than others, but this hierarchy has no fixed rules; rather it depends on the contingent reality of our organization. If I’m talking about Ferrari, probably the product will be the most important touch point, but if I take Amazon as an example, it will probably be the company’s website.
Regardless of the position it holds in the company’s competitive choices, each touch point contains strategic elements necessary to achieve the objectives set and, I should add, no company can be said to have a “single touch point” because though we may be unaware of it, the opportunities of encountering our customers are varied and evolving. Since – as Murphy’s Law reminds us – any system is only as strong as its weakest link, you will need to design and manage each touch point to the highest level, making sure it is consistent with all the others and with your market positioning.
The attention of the strategist thus passes from the old categories of the marketing mix to three new dimensions of inquiry, that are always present in every encounter between the customer and the company. We can also consider them as ingredients in a cocktail that need to be measured and mixed to get the just the right flavour if they are to please our customers and best describe our essence:
Each time your customers come into contact with you and your products, regardless of the time and the context in which this exchange takes place, you should take care to project the elements that define the values expressed by your Brand, namely the elements that make it memorable, unique and tailored to the Experience as well as useful to preserve the Relationship, prolonging it and extending it both qualitatively and quantitatively. Reasoning thus means, in practice, shifting from planning based around “objects” to one centred on “encounters”.
To move beyond the theory, I want to give an example with the classic category of the price: it is no longer enough just to plan an effective price list, we must imagine the encounter in which “we present the economic offer”, of which the price is only one part and which, together with others, will support the values of our brand, creating a customised and unique customer experience that will help create loyalty over time.
| partem claram semper aspice |