According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably (www.cim.co.uk). It follows therefore that the success and profit margin of any company depends to a very large extent on how much importance it attaches to marketing its products and services. In the present day world where a wide and constantly increasing spectrum of goods, products and services continue to battle for consumers’ attention and preference, marketing is even more relevant than ever before. Marketing may be further defined as the process through which a firm creates value for its chosen customers (Alvin Silk (2006). Such value is created by meeting customer or consumer’s needs (A. Silk, supra). It begins to emerge therefore that marketing is a means to an end which involves a company’s goods, products or/and services on one hand and the customers or consumers at the other; the satisfaction of ones wants and the others needs being the ultimate objective. It is aimed directly at consumers and the main purpose of marketing is, simply put, to affect consumer behaviour in such a way that preference is given to the company’s products in lieu of the competition. Owing to the continuously growing manufacturing and economic market, the days when merely advertising ones products through the media or on billboards secured automatic patronage from the consumers such advertisements were aimed at are drawing alarmingly to an end. This form of marketing is no longer sufficient on its own as there are numerous other competitors whose similar products are being advertised at the same time. In fact, in the words of Peter Drucker, the renowned marketing guru, selling and marketing are not in the least synonymous (Cohen, 2007). Companies and marketers are therefore perpetually working on ways to ensure that their customers are guaranteed continued satisfaction and are rewarded for their loyalty. This recent trend in marketing strategies is obviously aimed at keeping customers happy on one hand and ensuring their continued patronage on the other. One may therefore summarise the essence of modern day marketing as an attempt to create and maintain a relationship between a company and its customers in order to promote further allegiance to the former’s products or services. In fact, one may go as far as the traditional marketplace in expatiating on Baker’s definition of marketing above. Goods and services are exchanged between buyers and sellers in the conventional marketplace for the mutual benefit of both parties. Marketing can and indeed has been likened to the marketplace (Blythe J., (2008). According to Blythe, the aim of marketing as a discipline is so as to ensure that customers will continue to conduct exchanges with the marketer’s organisation, rather than with the competition, or as aptly put by Blythe, ‘stallholders’ (Blythe, supra). Marketing, to a lay man, may be seen as a company’s attempt to make people spend their money on things which they are not really in need of, or merely dressing up ordinary products as something special (Cheverton P., 2004). Be that as it may however, the fact remains that customer satisfaction remains a crucial part of marketing strategies even when it is concurrently responsible for raking in profit for the company. It would constitute nothing but an exercise in futility for instance, if a company which produces inferior goods engages in vigorous marketing strategies notwithstanding and introduces a loyalty scheme to its customers. It is only a matter of time before customers cease to patronise such a company. It follows therefore that although marketing admittedly advertises a company’s products, promotes and sells the same, customer satisfaction remains vital. It is safe to conclude therefore that effectiveness of exchanges between customers and the marketer’s products and services rests on the latter’s ability to provide such customers with what they want to buy and at prices which represent good value for money (Blythe J., supra).
One may safely surmise at this juncture that marketing in all its forms determines the survival of any company in today’s competitive market. This explains why company management and by association, marketers, are vested with the increasingly demanding task of developing and maintaining strategic ways to ensure that their company’s products are more popular than those of the competition. To this end, various methods and marketing strategies continue to be introduced into the consumer market. This, perhaps, accounts for the description of marketing as creative and flexible; such creativity and flexibility which must be harnessed and controlled in order to ensure, as far as possible, that the right things are being done at the right time for the right reasons (Brassington F. and Pettitt S., 2006). Not forgetting the centrality and absolute importance of consumers in the whole concept of marketing, the American Marketing Association defined marketing as the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchange and satisfy individual and organised objectives (McDaniel and Gates (1997). The target of marketing therefore remains the marketer’s existing customers as well as newly recruited or potential customers for the purpose of exchanging mutual benefits. It is this exchange process which forms the basis of Kotler’s perception and definition of marketing. According to Philip Kotler, marketing is the human activity directed at satisfying needs and wants through an exchange process (Kotler, 1980). In other words, while a company parts with its products in order to satisfy its customers’ needs and wants, the customers also part with money for the products and services they enjoy, hence the exchange process. Nearly two decades later and still on the exchange conduct, Kotler defines marketing as a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others (Kotler, 1999). The connection between consumer’s value for money and marketer’s profitability in the exchange process thus appears to remain intact. The ‘exchange process’ to which Kotler and others continue to refer can be traced back to the concept of trade by barter which in itself is nearly as old as man. Trade by barter existed in the early days of commerce and was a system under which an individual who had, for instance, salt in excess but lacked potato could strike a bargain with a neighbour who in turn lacked salt but had potato, for the two to exchange their commodities. In the same vein, marketing, by comparison, entails an exchange between the producer/manufacturer and the consumer. Whereas marketing tools up until the latter part of the 20th century remained conventional, if continuously modified, this is no longer the case. The principles and tools adopted by marketers in today’s modern marketing discipline have changed dramatically. Technological advancement, World Wide Web, market enlargement, increasing volume of products and manufacturers; all targeting the same goal; patronage by consumers, can be cited as the reasons behind the dramatic alteration of marketing mechanisms. Digital marketing or marketing in the digital age has raised the platform; which means that marketers must modify as well as rethink their marketing strategies to survive in the economic trading floor (Kotler, Armstrong, 2008). The present day business world is said to move at an unprecedented pace and as such, the principles of marketing must keep up the pace and adapt to the constant movement in order to remain relevant and effective (Kurtz David, 2008). Such is the importance of marketing that it has been argued that it does indeed profoundly affect consumers’ day to day life (Kotler, Kelley et al, 2009). Kotler et al argue further that the effects of marketing are visible in everything we (as consumers) do; from the very clothes we choose to wear, the food we eat and the restaurants we choose to visit, the websites clicked on, advertisement seen, services received and the price paid for goods, amongst others (Kotler et al, supra). Be all that as it may, the fact remains that the relationship between consumers/customers and manufacturers/service providers is not unlike any other form of conventional relationship. It is one which, having been established, requires constant maintenance. This maintenance task continues to rest resolutely on marketers. This explains why marketers study needs and wants, select target markets they can serve best, and design products, services and programs to serve these markets (Kotler, Armstrong et al 2008). According to Kotler et al, the most successful businesses today are arguably those companies that recognise the importance as well as relevance of their consumers. Referring to airlines such as Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Emirates Airline, Kotler et al opine that they owe their success to what they share in common; strong customer focus as well as heavy commitment to marketing and change (supra). At this juncture, it becomes imperative to address these important changes in marketing strategies which are said to be necessary, indeed crucial, in keeping with the constantly moving market.
The principles of marketing, in today’s world, have gone far beyond production, advertisement and selling. In a process akin to what is known as follow-up, marketers now strive to maintain a cordial relationship with their customers. This is owing to the fact that marketing, more than any other business function, deals with customers (Kotler etal, 2008). As such, the satisfaction of customers’ needs has become the core focus of effective marketing strategies. Kotler and others are quick to point out however that focusing on customer satisfaction does not in any way detract from the importance of advertisement and selling, instead, they remain essential parts of the bag of tools necessary for effective marketing. Perhaps a better way of understanding modern day marketing is to perceive it as an on-going process before and all through the life time of a product. If a marketer’s job is well executed, selling becomes unnecessary as the customers are already won over by the fact that the product manufacturer or service provider has taken time to study the market so much so that the products and services on offer are tailor made to their needs and wants (Peter Drucker, quoted by Cohen, 2007). In pursuit of this level of efficiency in their marketing strategies, marketers of products and services provided by many successful companies today are constantly working on ways to keep their customers satisfied and loyal. One of the most popular marketing strategies is the reward system or loyalty programmes. There are very few, if any, major companies in present day market that do not operate loyalty programmes. In England, these loyalty, reward or priority programmes cut across all manners of companies such as Shell, Tesco, Boots, Sainsbury, Virgin Airline, British Airways, Intercontinental Hotels, Starbucks Coffee, Ebay and cosmetic surgery hospitals to mention a few. Having achieved customer satisfaction, which remains the primary aim of marketing, these programmes seek to ensure that despite competitive rates and offers from similar service providers, customers remain loyal. Air Miles schemes perfectly capture this argument. For instance, although British Airways and Virgin Atlantic ply various destinations in common and at competitive rates, the fact that customers are rewarded with air miles means that more customers are bound to remain loyal to the airline of their choice. The more tickets bought from either airline, the more air miles accumulated, hence the title priority, membership or loyalty cards. The same marketing principle is operated by the South African Airline under the SAA Voyager frequent flyer programme. In what is best described as a recent development, airlines such as BA, Virgin and SAA, amongst others, now offer credit card services. Every transaction on the credit card counts towards more air miles accumulation. As the title suggests, a loyalty card is an incentive which promises to reward such loyalty from customers. They are sometimes also referred to as reward or club cards. For example, Exclusive Books Fanatic Club, a South African company, has what it calls a reward card for its members. The club operates marketing strategies in the form of a reward scheme which promises to reward every book purchase with Fanatics points. By presenting the card at the till during purchase, Fanatic points are automatically earned and accumulated (www.fanatics.co.za). Statements are sent out to customers quarterly. A R20 Fanatics Reward Voucher is given in exchange for 400 points. This is similar to Tesco’s Club Card Points. Perhaps the most strategic aspect of this form of marketing strategies are that the customer is given vouchers and not cash. The point being that the vouchers can only be used towards even more purchase from the store; loyalty and continued patronage.
Even more relevant, particularly in these days of environmental awareness and corporate responsibility, is that aspect of marketing which promotes social responsibility. Just as many companies with operations and economic activities in less developed countries are quick to confirm that they are operating under Fair Trade regulations, being seen as contributing in any way to the community has become an effective marketing strategies. Offering customers vouchers for the schools of their choice for instance, is one of the marketing strategies of Woolworths in South Africa under the country’s ‘My School’ programme. Apart from the chance to win R10,000 every month by shopping at Woolworths, Woolworths ‘My School’ is one of the rewards promised under the Woolworths World of Difference Card (www.woolworths.co.za). As evidence of the company’s commitment to social responsibility, the scheme promises to make a donation to any school of the customer’s choice with every purchase from a Woolworths store. The company claims to have donated, through this scheme, over R10 million to schools in South Africa. This acts as an incentive on one hand for customers to continue to patronise the store and on the other, the company’s commitment to social responsibility can be seen as a marketing strategies to secure new potential customers.
It becomes evident from the foregoing that marketing strategies, tools, principles and techniques continue to evolve and adapt to the ever changing market. Reverting to the words of Kotler and Armstrong, one vital marketing factor however remains constant; focus on customer relationship. Indeed, by whatever name, title or alias it is christened; loyalty card, frequent flyer programme, priority club, reward card, club card, drivers club or advantage card, the purpose of these loyalty and retention programmes is clear. The purpose, to borrow the words of Kotler et al, is to build customer relationships based on customer value and satisfaction (supra). Marketing in this context, is therefore, in conclusion, indeed a social and managerial process by which consumers and marketers alike obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with one another (Kotler, 1999).
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www.cim.co.uk, last visited on 21st September 2009
www.fanatics.co.za. Last visited on 22nd September 2009
www.woolworths.co.za. Last visited on 22nd September 2009