In the classic business book, “In Search of Excellence” authors Peters and Waterman urge us to focus on the customer and also to focus on what we know as a company (stick to the knitting). They assert these as two of the eight principles that guide excellent organizations. While much has been made of the later successes or failures of some of the organizations they chose to profile, these two principles have a special meaning to me as a business to business marketer.
It seems that every day, if not every hour, we are assaulted by emails and other business communications that urge us to emerge from the dark media age of the last century and leverage the superiority of Web 2.0 or perhaps 3G mobile technology to get closer to our customers. We’re told that traditional advertising has a low return on investment. We’re told that people are abandoning print, television and radio for the Web. What we are not told is that, in most cases, the most creative, inspired Web sites are no more capable of delivering bottom line results than old school methods unless our targeted customer first knows who we are and what we stand for. That is the customer-knitting connection. Focus first on educating the customer as to what we believe and how we translate those beliefs into actions. If these are at once desirable and valuable the rest of the communications task can then be accomplished with greater emphasis on what we have to offer.
Let’s break this down a bit. First, who are our customers? For most of us this is not only the end user of our product or service but also intermediaries in the sales/distribution chain, both internal and external. While this increases our audience, it makes it more compelling to focus on a core message to the lot because we want them all to be able to understand and re-communicate the same thing.
Then, what is it specifically that they need to know. The belief(s) mentioned before, are most often found in our corporate vision; it is what we stand for. Our intended actions are usually part of the mission statement. They describe what we intend to deliver or perhaps how we intend to deliver on our vision. If the organization has no recognizable vision and mission statements perhaps some more basic knitting instructions are in order (e.g. Kotler, Cincotta…?).
Put into real terms we can look at an example from the B to C sector, IKEA. Their mission is clearly stated on web sites and in their stores as, “to create a better everyday life for the many people.” And, they intend to accomplish this “by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.” Both are wrapped up in what they call the IKEA concept.
Think of the wonderful, warm marketing bliss that comes with the potential of every employee throughout the world and every good customer (yes, there are bad customers) being able to clearly communicate this information. Envision a cocktail party where someone has asked a friend why they shop at IKEA and the answer comes naturally. “Because they sell well-designed home furnishings that are really functional but don’t cost a lot.” Ahhhhhhhhh.
Sometimes the message gets a bit twisted regarding the mission vs. the vision in the B to B world but the concept is the same. Milwaukee Electric Tool puts it this way. “Milwaukee has focused on a single vision: to produce the best heavy-duty electric power tools and accessories available to the professional user. Today, the Milwaukee name stands for the highest quality, durable and reliable professional tools money can buy.” The key concepts of heavy-duty, professional users, quality, durability and reliability are all clearly communicated. It would be folly to leave that strong message on the table.
Finally, can this work for non-profit movements, ideals or images? Two centuries ago the free spirits of the Bohemian movement communicated four key principles of their lifestyle, and with a little help from the movie Moulin Rouge, we still recognize them as: Truth, Beauty, Freedom and (most of all) Love. Do a quick Google search and see how successful they were; without the assistance of Flash or Java I might add.
So that’s a quick summary of why I believe that modern technologies and old school values like customer contact and sticking to the knitting are dependent on each other for marketing success. State your beliefs, your principles and how you put them into action, and then you can talk about the product or service that embodies those ideals.
Terry Hoffmann is Director, Building Automation Systems Marketing, Johnson Controls, Member, BMA