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Intelligence Briefings: Marketing Beyond 2000

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The idea behind transparent marketing
Let the customer look inside

The central idea of transparent marketing is that suppliers make themselves -- their products, services and information -- available to customers through various media. Customers can "look inside" the company -- hence the use of the word "transparent" -- and change how the company relates to them. Customers are free to single out relevant products and services, gather information about them, order them and take delivery. They can do this when and where they want, and in the combinations of options that they require.

Suppliers accept that many customers have various relationships with them and that availability of relevant information is a key aspect of the relationship. Naturally, suppliers would like to have closer relationships with their customers, but "transparent" relationships are largely controlled by customers who want to work with suppliers in ways that suit them. In a transparent relationship, the supplier’s role is:

  • To create a strong brand which "invites" customer confidence.
  • To provide various modes of access to the supplier, including information and processes for ordering and obtaining its products and services.
  • To influence customers to consider the features, advantages and benefits of different types of relationship.
  • To ensure that customers can get information about these relationships and their benefits easily.

Technology is beginning to allow suppliers and customers to achieve this kind of flexible relationship. In transparent marketing, suppliers stay close to their customers because customers can obtain easy access and command the suppliers to do their bidding.

So much for the theory. Is this a practical proposition? The truth is: we don't know. Our research shows that in the most advanced marketing companies, senior marketing management are beginning to consider that this is a real possibility. Often, they are encouraged by their early experiments with newer technologies, such as:

  • EDI for electronic trading with business customers.
  • The World Wide Web for customer access by computer.
  • Advanced call centres, allowing customers to steer their way around the supplier using keypad entries.
  • "Best practice" (people, systems, software, processes, and so on) for handling unsolicited communications (including complaints and requests for information) and integrating inbound customer communication with core business processes.
  • Extranet linkages with more sophisticated partners and suppliers.

These experiments have produced encouraging results. For example, we have discovered that most customers who steer their way around companies experimenting with transparent marketing are:

  • Frequent, possibly even loyal, customers, so that they quickly learn how to use the new approach. When they have learnt, they use it often to get information and to buy.
  • Adaptive: they are happy to learn new ways of extracting results from large companies.
  • Technologically aware and capable: they are not frightened to try and fail, but persist.
  • Well-off: they have the necessary technology in the home and/or workplace.

Put simply, they are ideal customers for many marketers. This may also be a warning, because they may be the kind of customers most likely to try new ideas and companies –- potential switchers.

For example, in mail order the supplier traditionally drove the buy-sell cycle -- the supplier identified products and market opportunities and persuaded the mail order company to sell them. By introducing a more responsive set of customer help-desk processes, which allow mail order companies to learn what customers want, the product management process can be driven by genuine customer demand.

However, it is also becoming clear that some groups -- a new "marketing underclass" -- of customers are at the trailing edge of this approach because they:

  • Are not reached by new technology they cannot afford.
  • Don’t understand and/or like the new technology.
  • Have a strong preference for personal contact.
  • Like to see, touch and feel the products, or experience the service on a trial basis, and believe that they cannot do it through the new media.
  • Are apathetic and do not wish to put effort into trying new ways.
  • Have had bad experiences in the early stages which have deterred them from persisting.
  • Have concerns relating to the security of transactions.

We have coined the term "electronic fortress" to describe the world of those privileged to use the new access media. The challenge for suppliers -- especially computer and telecommunications suppliers -- but also those in traditional media, is to retain their volumes by destroying the fortress wall. But this will require a big drop in the costs of set-up and use –- possibly even complete transfer of costs to suppliers -- and radically simplified approaches to entry and subsequent use.

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