Company Orientation and the Marketing Concept
In every transaction between a buyer and seller, there is an underlying dynamic that governs the parties’ perception of the exchange. Sometimes the exchange is very one-sided, with one party exercising most of the power and the other only in a position to react. In some cases, deception and lying permeate the exchange. Other exchanges are more equitable, with each party receiving about the same value as the other. The customer’s need is satisfied, and the business makes a reasonable profit.
With the emergence of the Internet and e-commerce, the nature of the exchange has changed dramatically for many businesses and customers. Today, people have access to far more and far better information than they did previously. They also have many more choices. To remain competitive, businesses must match or exceed the practices of competitors that are quick, smart, and open twenty-four hours a day.
A central aim of marketing is to help organizations understand and respond to customer needs and expectations, while keeping the customer informed about how the organization can address those needs. When you employ marketing correctly, you know that this process is easier if you keep in constant contact with the customer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you must write and call regularly (although it could), but that you must take steps to know a great deal about the characteristics, values, interests, and behaviors of its customers. It means that you monitor these factors and how they change over time. Although this process is not an exact science, there is evidence that marketers who do this well tend to succeed.
The Marketing Concept
An organization adopts the marketing concept when it takes steps to know as much about the consumer as possible, coupled with a decision to base marketing, product, and even strategy decisions on this information. These organizations start with the customers’ needs and work backward from there to create value, rather than starting with some other factor like production capacity or an innovative invention. They operate on the assumption that success depends on doing better than competitors at understanding, creating, delivering, and communicating value to their target customers.
The Product Concept
Both historically and currently, many businesses do not follow the marketing concept. For many years, companies such as Texas Instruments and Otis Elevator have followed a product orientation, in which the primary organizational focus is technology and innovation. All parts of these organizations invest heavily in building and showcasing impressive features and product advances, which are the areas in which these companies prefer to compete. This approach is also known as the product concept. Rather than focusing on a deep understanding of customer needs, these companies assume that a technically superior or less expensive product will sell itself. While this approach can be very profitable, there is a high risk of losing touch with what customers actually want. This leaves product-oriented companies vulnerable to more customer-oriented competitors.
The Sales Concept
Other companies follow a sales orientation. These businesses emphasize the sales process and try to make it as effective as possible. While companies in any industry may adopt the sales concept, multilevel-marketing companies such as Herbalife and Amway generally fall into this category. Many business-to-business companies with dedicated sales teams also fit this profile. These organizations assume that a good salesperson with the right tools and incentives is capable of selling almost anything. Sales and marketing techniques include aggressive sales methods, promotions, and other activities that support the sale. Often, this focus on the selling process may ignore the customer or view the customer as someone to be manipulated. These companies sell what they make, which isn’t necessarily what customers want.
The Production Concept
The production concept is followed by organizations that are striving for low-production costs, highly efficient processes, and mass distribution (which enables them to deliver low-cost goods at the best price). This approach came into popularity during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s, when businesses were beginning to exploit opportunities associated with automation and mass production. Production-oriented companies assume that customers care most about low-cost products being readily available and less about specific product features. Henry Ford’s success with the groundbreaking assembly-line–built Model T is a classic example of the production concept in action. Today this approach is still widely successful in developing countries seeking economic gains in the manufacturing sector.
Seeing the Whole Picture
Savvy businesses acknowledge the importance of product features, production, and sales, but they also realize that the broader focus of the three-step process described below will help them be most effective:
- Continuously collect information about customers’ needs and competitors’ capabilities;
- Share the information across departments; and
- Use the information to create a competitive advantage by increasing value for customers.
This is a true marketing orientation.