The art of accommodation marketing

Sep 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Merchants tend to view customer service as a purchase activity; one of receiving and shipping an order. But in this new era of marketing, how we “serve” the consumer requires a new line of thinking and, therefore, a new dimension of marketing.

How do you make service a part of your marketing? An accommodation marketing program — one with long tendrils that infiltrate your customer service offering as well as your acquisition and retention activities — can help.

You may be wary of another new multichannel marketing idea to complicate the process. But if executed well, your AMP should simplify many of these new tactics.

Why do you need an AMP? Because the consumer is in control. The current information revolution we’re in means we as individuals are in control of exponentially increasing amounts of information. We therefore no longer passively accept what marketers feed us.

Consumers choose what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, where they will verify the information and how they will act upon it. This has unfortunately completely confused traditional marketing tactics as we once knew them.

A 2009 McKinsey Co. research survey of 20,000 consumers found that a shift has occurred: Consumers now in control of information have changed the traditional decision path.

This doesn’t mean our traditional methods won’t work, but it does suggest that there should be two types of marketing activities within your organization: company-driven and consumer-driven. Company-driven marketing includes our traditional and proactive activities to multichannel selling, including mail, e-mail, mobile and broadcast, and our passive activities such as retail and Web.

Consumer-driven marketing en-compasses those activities in which consumers choose to seek out information or products. These include online search, customer reviews, blogs and social media sites, and even offline activities like talking to friends and family.

How does an accommodation marketing plan help? It defines how you will serve, or accommodate, customer or prospect activity. It promises that no matter how your target audience chooses to seek information or how they choose to do business with you, customers will be fulfilled and happy.

This concept should be a part of both your consumer-driven marketing tactics and your company-driven marketing activities. Before you can embark on an accommodation marketing plan, though, you must clearly define what your brand is and who your customers are.

Truly understand why your brand matters

How is it differentiated and what problem do you solve? What emotional take-away do customers receive when they do business with you?

While many companies might understand this internally, they don’t do an adequate job of demonstrating or delivering this message across all marketing efforts. Too many messages via too many tactics will confuse consumers and destroy brand equity.

For instance, if your brand offers “peace of mind,” but your company blog neglects to describe how you deliver this emotional benefit, your blog efforts are a waste of time.

Understand your customers and their purchase cycles

Who are they and how do they seek information? How do they choose to seek out an initial consideration set?

What are their criteria for choosing a brand, and what words do they use to describe what they are looking for? What offline and online activities do they participate in when engaged in your competitive set? Do they seek advice? Do they look for customer reviews? Do they want to talk to someone?

This should be understood for both your acquisition and customer activities. And then once a product is purchased, what are their expectations on the back end? What are their expectations if they are unhappy with your product? The answers require diligent research and should never be assumed!

Only when you have a grasp on why your brand matters, coupled with an understanding of the decision cycle, can you truly accommodate prospects, and customers, every need. Furthermore, you can begin to build a filter for what tactics you need to employ for both your customer-driven and company-driven activities.

For example, if your brand sells space-saving furniture, could you offer tips and ideas on how to design a room with space-saving techniques? Is this important to your target audience? If so, where would they go to find this information?

Would customers be interested in getting opinions from others? What search words would they use? Would they look to an expert in the field?

Too many brands jump into the newest social tactics without developing a filter. It’s imperative that you align your brand message with relevant consumer tasks. Otherwise, you will not be effective or efficient at accommodating customers or potential customers in which a seed may be planted.

Company-driven tactics

When it comes to company-driven marketing, how well do you accommodate customers? Have you anticipated every question they might have about your product line? Are you prepared to respond to these questions in an easy-to-find manner in the channel in which they seek answers?

Do you reiterate your brand message at every point of contact? How do you remind customers of the reason they do business with you? Do the printed materials that you use to invite people to engage in your social efforts provide relevant content?

Have you trained and prepared your customer service reps not only to accommodate the order process but to reiterate and follow through with the emotional reason customers do business with you?

For instance, if your brand is all about sun protection, why not say, “Good choice! You are going to love the way this hat protects your face. It provides 100% UV protection.”

Normal customer service is now simply a cost-of-entry activity. Promptly taking an order and delivering a product in a timely manner is expected. What activities can you add that will accommodate customers in a memorable fashion?

Always think of how you can accommodate your customers and prospects in a way that will set your company apart yet remain relevant to your brand and to your customer.

Lois Brayfield (loisb@jschmid.com) is president of J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.