From product marketing to relational marketing

José Luis Ibáñez. Professor. IE Business School

18 September 2013

A highly satisfied client is the best marketing tool a company can have, given that in addition to customer loyalty, customers now extol the virtues of companies they like among members of their network.

I don’t have an Apple device, but I have always admired the level of attachment and loyalty to Apple its products inspire among users, to the extent that two of the main ratings firms (Moody’s y Standard & Poor's) say that this is one of the company’s key strengths. The reason for this success lies in the rewarding experience that so many people claim they have when they own or use Apple products. The look, the feel, the ease of use of the devices, or even the story behind the firm is what makes people “feel better” when they use Apple devices, more so than when they use any other brand. This, in my opinion, is one of the most salient examples of what has come to be called “the consumer experience”.

The concept of consumer experience, namely the sensations and emotions that a person feels when he or she uses a product or service, is becoming increasingly important in the corporate world. Companies’ approach to marketing is evolving from product marketing according to which priority is placed on the superiority of the model, to relational marketing, whereby the focus is on building stable relationships with clients, and where the consumer experience plays a fundamental role. This does not mean that product marketing is dead, but rather that it is necessary but no longer sufficient to express competitive differences. A rewarding experience when using a product or service not only ensures a high level of satisfaction and subsequent loyalty, but that it also generates recommendations, mouth to mouth or on social networks, which strengthen and increase brand positioning.

But how can a company manage something that is as subjective and intangible as the experience someone has of something? Customer Experience Management is in its early stages, round about the same stage as database management was at the beginning of the 90s. Nevertheless companies are making great progress mainly in two directions: how to measure it and the identification of key factors.

With regard to measurement, companies are starting to develop procedures in order to find out what “moves” social networks as a way to gauge the level of satisfaction of clients, not only by counting the number of times their product is mentioned, but also by quantifying the level of approval for the brand or company.  Nevertheless, identifying factors that can guarantee memorable client experiences is the most difficult part. Sometimes even the consumers themselves can’t pinpoint what they are.

The IE Business School Observatory on Premium Products, with the collaboration of  Condé Nast publishers, has just published a report headed “Discovering the key factors of a memorable experience” , sponsored by Mastercard and aimed at revealing said factors in four different sectors of the Spanish market – Luxury Product Stores, Banking, Healthcare, and Travel. The findings reveal that the main factors for ensuring a positive consumer experience are technology, product personalization, client-company interaction, and that the product meets the expectations created. The extent to which each one of these factors impacts the consumer experience depends on the sector in question. In banking, consumers require technology in the form of “easy access to online banking” and “being able to do any kind of transaction by internet”, while in the healthcare sector they want “access to the most advanced techniques.” In luxury product stores personalized service is seen as being particularly important, while where travel is concerned personalization is seen as less important than client-company interaction, which should preferably consist of “a friendly and efficient service.” Another of the main findings of the report is the high level of satisfaction among Spanish consumers with the service they receive in luxury stores, travel, restaurants and hotels, with 9 out of 10 people saying that they receive a level of service in line with or better than their expectations. In healthcare, this ratio drops to 7 out of 10 people, and in banking, it is a little below 6 out of ten people.

Optimum management of the keys to a positive consumer experience can provide the so-called wow factor, which is when a person’s expectations are well exceeded by a product or service. It is not easy for a company to plan actions that lead to wow moments, but when it does happen client product empathy is significantly increased, and the client becomes a devoted follower of the company in his or her social environment.

This analysis is based on the latest edition of the report on “Discovering the Key Factors of a Memorable Experience” drawn up by the IE Business School Observatory on the Premium Market, sponsored by MasterCard and with the collaboration of Condé Nast.


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