Hari's Corner

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Bad marketing communication

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sun, Mar 11, 2007 at 20:30 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:37 IST)

We were recently shopping around for a digital camera for my brother. We went to a lot of shops, did a lot of research and finally ended up buying a Sony Cybershot DSC W35 from an authorized Sony dealer - Sony World. There was another shop we went to earlier. In that place, the salespeople sounded dubious, wouldn't share any product information (even prices!) and wanted to know what we wanted before committing themselves to a price. These people didn't even offer us genuine company guarantee and instead wanted us to accept their "shop" guarantee, which I suspect is not even worth the paper it's written on. We simply left the shop after that. He had even tried to get us to fill up an order form before that! His over-anxiety to sell coupled with his reluctance to share product information was a definite turn-off and left a bad taste. This might have been an extreme case but the fact was, even authorized camera dealers elsewhere were either reluctant to share product information or ignorant about the finer details we wanted to know on model differences. In contrast, the people at Sony World seemed to know exactly how to treat customers. They weren't keen on selling, but rather were forthcoming with all the details about the product. They even allowed us to handle the demo pieces and take snaps to help us make the decision. They clearly told us what the differences were between two very similar looking models and told us that it was better to buy the lower priced one because it also came with a free 512 MB memory card while the other did not and the only other difference was the size of the LCD panel at the back.. Sony might be slightly more expensive and may not give any discounts - but the fact is, they made a sale because the people at Sony World knew their job. And that professional attitude definitely shifted us in their favour. Even this decision wouldn't have been easy except that we were left with no other choice as other camera dealers simply couldn't tell us enough to decide.

The point is, why did we have to go through so much hassle to buy a digital camera? Granting that half the problem was the immense array of choices available in this particular market, we were genuinely surprised at this lack of transparency from sources we should be able to trust. Without the internet, we couldn't have got half the information we did and even there, most of it was collected from independent reviewers and not from the product manufacturers themselves. Now how many people can afford to turn to the internet in such cases and even if they could, how many would actually be patient and meticulous enough to sift through so many reviews for valid, pertinent information before arriving at a conclusion? Why wasn't even half this information available from even authorized dealers? I'm not talking about mere subjective opinions, but the technical details; for instance - "does this camera have an optical viewfinder?", "how many manual controls does this camera have?" and "how clear is the picture at maximum resolution?", "what is the average battery life?" and so on. If some dealers cannot answer the simple price question, how can they expect customers to trust them on the more intricate details? I can only conclude that:
  1. The majority of their customers are really very poorly informed and,
  2. The majority of their customers trust them completely to take the decision for them.
That's disturbing because it implies that there really are people who spend money without really thinking about what they're getting for it. And people who buy digital cameras aren't exactly illiterate either.

This might be an isolated incident, but it made me think about the broader issue - why are marketers generally so reluctant to share product information which might help customers make more informed purchase decisions? How can they expect people to shell out hard cash for products with sketchy and often inaccurate information? A lot of shopkeepers tend to carry the attitude that customers don't know anything and so will accept their advice and recommendations. Increasingly that's becoming a myth and marketers can no longer expect to continue selling products - especially technology products - without educating both the customer and their own sales force. Time and again, I've experienced extreme frustration when shopping because retail salespeople are either too stupid, too ignorant or too disinterested to help out effectively. And this attitude seems to flow from the top. It's astonishing that they're effectively turning people away by exhibiting such attitudes.

I think there's a strong case for the marketer to be aware that impulsive or uninformed buying is not exactly a healthy trend from a seller's perspective as well. Because rash purchase decisions will more often than not lead to regret and create a base of dissatisfied customers. Take the example of holiday packages. It's not easy selling holiday packages in a country like India because most middle-class people (at whom these packages are targetted) simply cannot afford them and generally the holiday culture just hasn't caught on in this segment. Even people who have a bit of money to spare will generally invest in traditional and safer ways where there is an assured return on investment. Yet, in many cases, these holiday packages get sold because people are temporarily under the influence of glossy full-colour brochures and the picturesque description of exotic foreign resorts and take a decision to buy based on that immediate attraction. Without having a sound idea of where and when to take a holiday and considering the feasibility of taking on a long-term monetary commitment, many people invest in such schemes only to be disappointed later when they find that their work schedule and circumstances simply don't permit them to enjoy the product. The end result is that they will tend to discourage their friends and relatives from investing in such schemes based on their own experience.

I'm not saying that marketers should not be creative while selling their products. The issue is, when it comes to any non-trivial purchase, customers need to be better informed and it's up to the marketers to make that effort in their own interests as well as the interests of the customer. Very often it's the product which sells itself to people who have a genuine need and just simple, direct and accurate communication will do the job. Marketers over-complicate their own jobs by seeking out customers where there are none and by failing to understand their real requirements. Their energies should be focussed on build a strong and technically competent sales force that will build a network of trust and reliability. Credibility is such an important factor - even for the big brands. Customers always feel safer when a company sales executive can talk about the product in dispassionately technical terms. At the very least authorized dealers should have to learn their stuff before being allowed to sell the stuff. Otherwise they're letting down customers and letting down their principal as well.

How much brand equity can you build when you sell products in such a haphazard manner? And how much customer loyalty can they really expect in the long run from people who don't know what your product is really about? It's so easy to turn off genuine customers by being excessively eager to sell without showing complete transparency.

The idea should be to create satisfaction and not merely make a sale.

6 comment(s)

  1. I find it's easier by far to know what you want and then to go and get it. Also, in the UK, if you can find the kit cheaper, shops will usually match that price - I know Sony do because my DVD player was exceptionally cheap bease of this at one of their shops!I am surprised that shops were reluctant to sell to you - isn't that what they are there for?

    Comment by ray (visitor) on Mon, Mar 12, 2007 @ 16:35 IST #
  2. Yeah, but "knowing" what I want is exactly the problem because the information we need to make decisions is not easily available through the normal channels. We had to do every research on the web and even then the information was a bit dated, so the models and brands we selected were no longer available in the market... there was very little to go by because models keep changing month after month. Only the Sony authorized dealer at Sony World displayed the prices on the models because they are confident about the brand and prices generally don't vary too much with Sony products and they don't give anything by way of "discounts". Generally their attitude was far more professional than any other dealer.I don't know about how professional the dealers are in other countries, so I cannot comment about that. But here, people who sell electronic goods are generally extremely reluctant to disclose prices before they know you're definitely going to buy from them because prices keep fluctuating all the time and stuff keeps getting cheaper every day.But generally it would be great if the marketers show more transparency in disclosing relevant technical information through the normal channels - particularly in the technology industry where products keep changing by the minute.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Mon, Mar 12, 2007 @ 19:54 IST #
  3. Couple of observations:As far as I know Sony gives official 3 % discount on its product MRP.There're couple of reasons behind their attitude (of not telling price etc)1.Very few percent of people who enquire end up buying-Their enthusiasm to explain in detail dies soon after few people walk out without buying2. Some people sell smuggled goods besides genuine ones. So they are negotiable on price hence wont quote a fixed price3. Salesmen at shops like Sony are trained to create an impression about the brand in the minds of customer. So even if you dont buy anything, they dont mind explaining all their products in detail all day long. At other shops, sales force is not trained to understand that there's a difference between customer who comes to buy one kg sugar and the one who comes to buy a digicam. You may find my below post, which speaks about the differences in buying a product from a local shop vs branded showroom interesting:http://enidhispeaks.blogspot.com/2006/09/branded-or-local.htmlwww.jjmehtha.com is a useful website for camerasRegards,nidhi

    Comment by Shrinidhi (visitor) on Mon, Mar 12, 2007 @ 21:59 IST #
  4. Shrinidhi, thanks for your post.Yes, when I said Sony doesn't offer discounts, I meant nothing worth speaking about :lol:I'll check your post too.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Tue, Mar 13, 2007 @ 09:00 IST #
  5. That was insightful... indeed professional courtesy can go a long way in increasing the market. But the point you raise is also thought-provoking: it seems as though having a digital camera is a fad in itself and nobody is really bothered about the actual product they get. I believe the shopkeepers would also be now waking up to the new generation of informed customers :)

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Tue, Mar 13, 2007 @ 09:43 IST #
  6. Thanks Sudipta. Many customers are ill-informed, but that's no excuse for marketers to continue keeping them that way.The point is, apart from the unprofessional shopkeepers themselves, why do the marketers reveal so little technical information on most digital electronic stuff?

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Tue, Mar 13, 2007 @ 09:58 IST #

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