HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE SKEPTICAL CONSUMER
Three trends have changed the face of marketing forever. The first is market overcrowding; the steady stream of new products, new stores, and new services simply overwhelms consumers. Today there are several brands of beer, 500 types of cars, and 70 brands of detergents. There is just no way any consumer can keep up.
The second trend is the growing number of cable TV outlets, speciality magazines, and other information sources. This trend makes it difficult for any marketer to reach more than a small percentage of consumers.
The final trend is that experienced consumers are taking control of the buying process. People are in the direction of buying what they want, without any help from marketing or salespeople.
Skeptical consumers like to receive information that is non-threatening, convenient, and honest. Some tactics on how to communicate with the skeptical consumer are:
Create nonthreatening communication
Create a cluster communication format
Catch a look that sells
Talk to your customers through your distribution channel
People are extremely wary anytime they see a TV ad, talk to a pushy salesperson, or read a sales brochure. They are wary because they don’t want to buy something they don’t need. Three principles of non-threatening communication are:
The sales message needs to be friendly
The customer needs to make a choice
A connection needs to be made with the customer
The sales message
People don’t like being told what to do. You need to tell your message, but you must tell it in a way that leaves the consumer in charge. You do that by having messages that are friendly and informative, and by making sure that your ad isn’t preaching.
Compare these ad messages:
“Ask John his opinion of his anti-stroke drug”
“This part keeps our copiers running even during power outages”
Both messages communicate what the product is. The second message also communicates one of the product’s advantages, fewer breakdowns. But the first ad sounds informational, whereas the second ad sounds like hard to sell. Asking John seems like a more interesting thing to do.
Compare these two messages from companies selling financial services:
“Perhaps the one thing worse than dying is outliving your money”
“You have your own view of what is important”
The first message is preachy, whereas the second is friendly and puts the reader in charge.
Giving customers a choice means making it clear where your product fits in and how it compares with other products. For an industrial product, this means explaining what a product does, what applications it is for, and why it is better.
Allow customers to choose the product they want to buy.
Connecting with customers
Salespersons should relate with customers and they should feel you are communicating with them on common ground. Testimonials are one way to connect.
Clustering Your Communication
Most marketers have a competitive product chart that lists all the products in a market segment, and each product’s strengths, weaknesses, features, and price. This is the information format that customers want- all the pertinent facts, all together in one piece.
Shopping malls are one of the earliest forms of cluster communication, but the trend has taken hold. Look at some of the evidence.
The number of speciality trade shows is rapidly expanding. These shows are ideal places for customers to look at and compare all or most of the available products in a particular field.
The most popular trade magazine issues are those that feature informational charts about a product category. Customers don’t want to be forced to do their own research; they prefer to have the information in a one-easy-to-find location.
Highly successful consumer reports magazines publish articles in a cluster-community format.
This trend has two implications. One is that your sales brochures and product information sheets must explain how and why your products are different. You must explain why one product has more features, what applications each product is for, and what type of customer should buy each model.
The second implication is that your product line must make sense. You can’t just cram every product into a category and still communicate in a cluster format.
Catching The Look
Every customer is going to react as if your company had a personality. They may feel that your business is bland, that it is cold and impersonal, that it is fun and exciting, that it is on the cutting edge of technology, or that it is a trendsetter.
The important point is that people are not going to think or decide rationally what their feelings are. They are just going to react to their exposure to you. This exposure could include ads, brochures, the look of your store or equipment, your employees, and the tone and style of your radio and TV ads.
People want to buy from people and businesses they like. You should decide how you want people to react to you. If you want to be considered technically advanced, every aspect of your business must reflect that. This means the way the phone is answered, the way products are packaged, the way a store is laid out, and every other detail.
Talking Through Distribution
Every marketer realizes that customers are becoming increasingly difficult to reach. The result has been a complete reversal of control in the distribution channel, with control switching from manufacturers to the channel. This has been bad for everyone. Manufacturers have responded to distributor demands by giving their products to anyone who wants it. And value-added retailers and distributors are having trouble competing with discounters that carry the same product.
Businesses are much better off returning to a partnership agreement with the distribution channel The most important reason to do this is that distribution outlets are the spot where customers want to find information. When you want a piece of production equipment, you probably contact a distributor or manufacturer’s representative In your home town. When you want a TV, you go to a stall that sells TVs.
Retailers, distributors, and manufacturers need to align themselves with either their suppliers or their distribution customers. If companies work together, sales will be higher for everyone.
Nobody’s interests are served if a product just sits in a catalogue or in a retailer’s shelves. Manufacturers need to provide some degree of exclusivity to the distribution channel, and distributors have to support manufacturers that give them an edge.