Marketing is part business, part science and part art. And like business, science, and art, marketing is always evolving. And that is partly why it is both exciting and useful. Today the world of marketing is focused on the customer like never before. Customers are in control of so many aspects of the buying process that marketers simply must sit up and take notice. Customers choose where they want to buy (showroom, store, online, auction, in person, etc.) and also when, where and how they want to receive communications. In many consumer packaged-goods companies, customers are even becoming part of the design and development process. Smart companies know that if they give customers not only what they asked for, but what they had a hand in developing, that will generate loyalty, repeat purchases, and referrals.
To keep pace with change, marketing is developing new models to replace or supplement the tried and true paradigms. For example the 4 C’s. The 4 C’s (Customer, Cost, Convenience, and Communication) are a way of reframing the older concept of the 4 P’s (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) in a way that’s extremely applicable to both digital and traditional marketing. The important thing is, rather than focus on the product itself, the focus is on customers and what they want. What are they telling you, either directly or in online conversations? Where do they shop? Where do they get information? How do they feel when they buy your product or service? Let’s have a closer look.
- Customer – This has replaced “Product” as the first in the series. No longer do we develop a product and then figure out who to sell it to. Instead, we understand who our customers and what they need and then offer them products that they perceive as valuable. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “I build wood furniture (or I offer retirement planning, or I own a pizza restaurant)…that’s what I do. I can’t modify my product to suit customer needs.” Don’t worry – that is not at all what I’m suggesting. You don’t have to change anything about your area of expertise – but you should shift your perspective for the marketing part of the business. In fact, the more you stick to being exactly who you are, the better you will do. Authenticity has a lot of weight in today’s marketplace and having a niche is better than trying to be all things to all people. All I’m suggesting here is that you put the customer front and center, not the product.
- Cost – Cost is more than simply a dollar figure. Again, thinking from the customer’s perspective, what is the cost to your customer in terms of their expenditure of time or effort? What are they giving up (besides money) to buy your product or come to your place of business? This has replaced “Price” of the 4 P’s. It may sound the same, but “Cost” considers some elements, like those mentioned above, that “Price” does not. Price is not the only thing customers consider, and I for one am willing to pay more if there are other benefits to a purchase.
- Convenience – Are your products easily available? Can people find your website, the info they need, a rate sheet for your services, your contact info? The internet has made us all expect instant information. You know as well as anyone that if you can’t find what you’re seeking or figure out what a website is about in less than thirty seconds, you’re probably heading for the virtual door. Convenience replaces the “Place” of the 4 P’s. Find out who you customers are and then offer your products wherever they are, virtually or physically.
- Communication – Next to the Customer, perhaps the most important of the C’s is Communication, which takes the place of Promotion. Rather than just blasting out mass market promotions that scream “Buy my product!” the new model dictates that you engage in two-way conversations with your customer base. Let them talk to you – and you must listen to what they’re saying. They will tell you what they want, how they want it, and how much they’re willing to pay.
At first, this kind of thinking was very frightening to traditional marketers, and it still is to some. But think about it for a moment. Thanks to technology, you can actually have these conversations, and it is easier than ever to get real information on customer needs and preferences. This priceless information used to cost marketers many thousands of dollars in fees for consultants, focus groups, surveys and the like. Now it’s yours for the asking.
Another reason why this could be frightening is that marketers can hear bad news very directly and practically in real time. It used to be somewhat comforting to think that you could just broadcast your ads to the masses, and a certain percentage would eventually buy your product. But with the vast amount of choices available, that is no longer the best option. If we accept that we cannot be everyone’s favorite, and we find out who truly does like what we do, we can cultivate those relationships and really create value (which means money, as well as added benefits) for both the seller and the buyer.
So reframe your offering in terms of the 4C’s. You will find that it helps you see your offering through the eyes of the customer, and that is always a good way to see things.