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How consumer trends may shift marketing out of control

Powered by áGoogle and unlimited choice, consumers have taken control of the marketing process. They decide to visit your Web site, your store or call your phone center. They initiate more than 70 percent of site visits. Consumers generate an estimated 5 billion Web site visits, 2 billion searches, and almost a billion inbound calls per day.

Consumers are better informed and can select from a wide variety of channels through which to contact you. Their peers are their most trusted source of information. The marketer no longer controls what consumers know or hear about their product, their category or their company.

The underlying trends that led to this dramatic shift have been in process for some time. Product proliferation has led to product parity in most major vertical markets. The explosion of media channels has contributed to the complexity facing consumers and marketers alike. This diversity has been a major contributor to the fragmentation of the consumer market by providing consumers unlimited choices through multiple channels. And, finally, the unlimited choices created by these trends have left consumers in a decision crisis with more decisions to make from more choices than they can possibly manage.

There are four ways you can change in order to thrive in this era of consumer control.

Multichannel reactive

Today, more than 80 percent of most marketing budgets go to proactive campaigns through the major media channels. Proactive campaigns are usually one-time events delivered to a broad audience at the discretion of the marketer. Reactive campaigns are delivered individually in response to a customer initiative such as browsing a Web site, abandoning a cart, calling customer service, visiting a store, running out of toner, and not purchasing in an expected time frame. They are usually automated with a single dynamic template and can be run for months with minimal updating. Responding to customer initiatives builds a dialog and encourages customer collaboration.

Merchandising for the individual

Much has been written and said about one-to-one marketing and customer-centricity. However, the outcome of this discussion has resulted in few companies actually achieving the development of individual relationships with their customers.

Awareness campaigns are usually targeted to the broadest audience with a potential interest. Campaigns designed to engage the consumer are often more targeted to specific segments. However, few campaigns have been targeted to the individual. The development of reactive campaigns requires marketers to respond to individual initiatives.

For example, BMW’s new marketing approach to capturing customers at the end of their leases began with the idea of creating an eye-catching, informative, personalized Web site for each lessee. Starting at 180 days before the end of a lease, each lessee periodically receives an e-mail message customized by the BMW staff alerting them to the approaching lease-end date and giving them a link to their personalized Web page

Mass customization

Companies can begin to overcome the effects of product proliferation with mass customization. Rather than meeting the needs of each of individual customer by carrying multiple items, adding flexibility to the production process may achieve the same result for less. Companies can take advantage of the increased initiative of customers to have them specify their requirements.

Many Web sites have added fabricators to allow customers to define their own products. In addition to the actual product flexibility, companies can look to customize selection, services and delivery. Netflix didn’t change the product, but the way it is sold and delivered.

The same is true for Peapod in the grocery industry. PhillyCarShare didn’t change the car, but they way consumers use cars. In addition, user involvement in the decision process can lead to recommendations for new features and functionality.

Simple solution

A product-centric approach by most companies has produced the proliferation forcing consumers to make too many choices. A real shift to customer-centric thinking can begin to remove the confusion and simplify the process for the consumer.

Companies must simplify their marketing and delivery process and clarify their incentive or reward program.

To simplify the process for consumers, companies must get involved in their dialog by reacting to all customer initiatives. This will assure the customer that they have been heard and will define for them the possible next steps.

Correctly implemented, these campaigns can reduce the number of steps in the decision process and improve the experience for customers and marketers alike.

Converting incentives from product-based to customer-based allows companies to target their incentives to specific customer behaviors with a known value to the company. Loyalty programs employ customer-based promotions and are among the most effective marketing programs within many companies.

Food retailer Sheetz uses Radiant’s self-service kiosks as the centerpiece of its award-winning Made-to-Order food program, which offers fresh customized subs, sandwiches, burgers, and salads. All 50 million meals served each year at 296 Sheetz stores are ordered through the kiosks.

Stan Sheetz, president and CEO of Sheetz, says, “Our new concepts are designed to introduce our brand in a new market, build awareness and earn loyal customers. The technology helps attract customers, and helps us serve them well through easy and accurate ordering.”

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