Take the classic and famous Four Ps of marketing—price, product, place, and promotion. The Four Ps have been a staple of marketing instruction for years, ever since E. Jerome McCarthy, a Michigan State business professor, coined them in 1960. I learned the Four Ps were the bee’s knees when it comes to commercialization, and it was all true when I joined my first large company in 1986. Very powerful people make big decisions for and about their customers. They decided on everything—and that’s precisely the problem.
The Four Ps are completely company-driven. Every decision comes from a conference room. You decide on the price. You build the product. You determine where to distribute it, and you make every call on how to promote it. You base that on tons of market research and the advice of highly paid consultants, of course, but interaction with the customer is all but unheard of. The Four Ps can’t comprehend a customer with power of his or her own.
The Pre-Commerce world demands a new interpretation of the Four Ps, one that understands how social media changes the way customers make purchasing decisions and gives those same customers a far-reaching influence over brand image. We’ve developed a new model that follows these Four As – awareness, assessment, action, and ambassadors. It is driven by customers, not corporations.
The customers will decide when they listen, what they’ll discuss on the Internet, where they’ll research their purchases, and where they’ll make them. Brand loyalty won’t come from the cave-wall paintings, it will come from persistent, positive interaction between a company, its brand, and its customers.
Awareness—A company must understand when and how to penetrate the market’s noise to reach customers and create awareness for its brand. This only can happen effectively with active listening to what customers say online. You want to raise awareness with the right influencers in the right sites using the right content.
Assessment—The customers are not on board yet, but they are committed to learning more. A company must supply content that customers can download, view, read, and act upon, and it needs to provide that content where customers will access it.
Action—Simply put, this is the point at which the customer is making a decision that shows they are on board, ranging from the most obvious, a purchasing decision, to a surrogate, such as clicking on a coupon to print out.
Assessment—No social media interaction is perfect. A company has to review and re-assess its approach to identify potential improvements and understand your share of conversation that is pro, con, and neutral. Measuring positive share of conversation is easy. Negative share of conversation is diluting your message. And neutral or flat experiences can actually be the death of a brand. You need to understand the dynamics for all three.
Ambassadors—Every business has customers who are uncommonly loyal to its brand. A company has to know and build relationships with these loyalists, keep them informed, and give them every opportunity to help spread the word. These are folks who write a few thousand forum posts a year, write a hundred blog posts, or do fifty videos. They live for your brand.
I realize I have listed five As here, but I do so only to stress the importance of assessment. The interaction and learning should never stop in the Pre-Commerce world, because the environment is constantly and rapidly changing. In fact, we have to look at the entire list of the Four As as a cycle. Awareness will help a company identify its ambassadors. Assessment will produce more fruitful action. And ambassadors can help a company find the right places to break through the clutter and into the next awareness phase.
Ultimately, the Four As represent a sea-change in the way companies approach and interact with their customers. As such, they raise some significant questions for forward-thinking executives. Companies will have to generate a whole new level of insight about their customer base, the type of knowledge that can come only from relationships with customers themselves.
Bob Pearson is chief technology and media officer at WCG and author of the new book Pre-Commerce.