Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Hi Jeneane, thanks for the re-invite, sorry for the long pause. Hi, team.

Having just read through most of the thread to this point, I've been struck by the Kotler ideas about consciousness levels. Although I have some reservations about the idea of "levels" as he uses them, I can only agree that some people do it better than others (no matter what "it" we're talking about).

I often work with telecommunications operators, who are somewhat (in)famous for saying things like, "well, we invested in 3 million lines worth of broadband internet access for residential customers but so far we've only got 37,000 lines." They often have a complaint attached to these statements about the incompetence of their marketing people. I don't work in marketing officially, but I've successfully marketed myself for 20 years now.

This sort of thing bothers me, and I think is relevant here, because it seems to me to be a huge marketing failure.

Firstly, it is a failure to LISTEN. If there aren't 3 million people out there waiting to snap up your product, at your price, with the characteristics that make it uniquely yours, then you haven't been listening!

You've probably been listening to analysts, pundits, commentators, and experts, but you haven't heard your (potential) customers. If you had, you'd have offered them something you already knew they wanted badly enough to pay you for it, wouldn't you?

Secondly, it is a failure to LISTEN. Hang on, I said that already, didn't I? Seemed worth repeating. Are you listening?

Thirdly, it must surely be a failure to understand. In spite of institutional deafness, there are people out there screaming for service, begging to be allowed to hand over their hard-earned in return for what you have. Not only are you not listening, but when the noise finally intrudes to the point where it cannot be ignored, you don't understand what is being said. As an example, when I use my broadband internet connection at home I am not buying SPEED, that is just what is required to give me what I really want, which is my TIME. What I am purchasing is my time.

If you don't understand WHAT your customers value and WHY, then you have two huge problems. Finding out the WHAT may help you temporarily, but unless you know WHY you will always be vulnerable to substitution, never understanding why your customers are leaving you for someone else. You will never be able to anticipate.

Fourthly, even assuming you may have actually listened a little and understood a bit, if you're still struggling in the market then your market probably hasn't heard from you the things that would tell us that you have listened, that you have learnt, and that as a result, you've concocted something that we actually want.

It is at this point that the concept of a VOICE becomes interesting. Many potential customers would have read the complaint, which in itself implied that it is the customers who are too stupid to realise what great guys you all are. What else would they have made of it? What else did they hear in your voice? You don't know, do you? You have no idea. Not only that, but it hasn't even occurred to you to wonder, has it? Let alone ask . . . . .

Here's a clue: When you talk about your business in terms of "lines" - then you've missed the boat. It isn't the lines that pay you, it isn't the lines that want ADSL, it isn't the lines that generate traffic, it isn't the lines that have these sorts of conversations - conversations that you might learn something from if you took the time to listen.

You have 37,000 customers - that's 37,000 PEOPLE - who somehow or other managed to fight their way through all the obstacles you put in their path to become your paying customers. You can have them be your unpaid (indeed, they pay you) but most valuable and highly productive marketing weapon, or you can piss them off.

Which one seems more likely?

Finally, it astounds me that an apparently educated and experienced business person would talk about take-up of a service without even mentioning the price and considering what the elasticity of demand might be. In isolation from these considerations, the current take-up is meaningless. Discussing it in such simplistic terms only implies that you're a simpleton.

On a bit of a tangent, I've often heard the pundits talk about how profitable or otherwise web-sites are. Anyone here ever had a website pay them money? Ever had a website buy anything from you? You get the point, I'm sure. Preaching to the converted, no doubt.

Brings me back to the air travel saga. I wonder what goes through the mind of someone who organises a marketing campaign like that, spending all the money that that implies, and then resources the mechanism for actually realising income from it, on the implicit assumption that the campaign will fail to generate any significant traffic!

It makes me think that Frank Zappa had the right of it, when he said, "People, we is not wrapped tight!"

Kotler might call it "consciousness level zero".

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