Communication Is Key To Happy Customers

Dec. 8, 2005
Be aware of preferences and desires.

Manufacturers are all marketers. In the world of marketing and media, we've seen mass marketing graduate to a world of targeted, measurable dialogue with customers -- individual customers. We've also seen customers become empowered as never before, where they expect immediate, relevant communication in real time.

Thus, whether communicating with consumers or to other businesses, our corporate programs that support communication need to do so in ways that reflect these 21st Century realities.

This has created a profound impact on advertising. In the world of Harte-Hanks -- direct marketing and shopper publications -- "real-time" relevance manifests itself in a variety of ways. For example, customers today are "multichannel" -- in other words, they are using a variety of media to communicate with their favorite brands. Their loyalties to any one medium have given way to preferences among a variety of media. Thus, all channels must work together, and that has created interesting demands on marketers. Digital media have changed the playing field in that consumers can research products and services on the Internet. Thus, marketers need to ensure a Web presence that adequately communicates key messages about the goods and services they offer, from a customer point of view. All marketplace advertising -- direct mail, e-mail, telemarketing, search, direct-response print and broadcast -- needs both to drive Web site traffic for further consideration and to prompt and fulfill inquiries and orders from those ready to buy.

Richard Hochhauser, president and CEO, Harte-Hanks Inc.Another manifestation is that would-be buyers expect that the companies with which they do business know their full customer history. Thus, companies need to understand and track transaction and service histories. That requires huge demands for quality data, and for enterprise-wide systems to maintain data accuracy and timeliness. In short, everywhere a customer is "touched" by a company, there needs to be an integration of that channel to enable a "full customer view" and dialogue.

Strategically, today's environment is raising formidable challenges for business. Answer these questions: In our communication, is there targeting on a geographic level? What about on a vertical level -- targeting business customers depending on whether they are in a certain industry such as automotive, retail or high-tech? And is there ability to target an individual, one-to-one? Are all messages harmonious, or does there remain conflict? Are systems in place to manage and measure marketing return on investment?

Harte-Hanks Inc.
At A Glance
Recently, Harte-Hanks underwrote a study on "Target Marketing Priorities Analysis." (The study is available by writing to us at [email protected]). Data-driven marketing may be 40 years old (or more), but businesses still grapple with prospect and customer data management. In fact those challenges are tougher with every channel that is added to the communications mix.

Interestingly, businesses do a much better job of calculating product profitability than they do customer profitability. Yet for long-term growth, more businesses understand that the end-game is a customer relationship over a lifetime -- some customers are more equal than others -- and that resources need to create more "best customers." To all our peers on the IW 50 Best Manufacturing Companies, here's to growing "more best customers."

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