Expert's Panel

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    Customer perceptions dictate most marketing decisions. How can you change those perceptions favorably toward your company and products?

  1. It is based upon your understanding of the customer's needs and what the competitors are offering, and then promoting an honest understanding of your products. That is a difficult process and there isn't any universal cookbook. It involves a lot of hard work, good information sources, and the establishment of "value propositions" that ring properly in the customer's ears.
  2. If you are already positive in the customer's perceptions you need to continually reinforce that image. If the perceptions are negative, you have the big challenge. Look at Kmart. They spent a lot of money in the last 10 years trying to change the customer's perception. They brought in Martha Stewart and had a lot of great ads. But, when you walked in to a Kmart store, it was still a pile of -----, and the company still went under. The message there is there is only one way to change perception. If you don't actually change the bad part of what people think about you, no matter how hard you try with your PR, you are going to lose. Customers are not stupid. The answer is you inundate them with honest. Our industry is an esoteric group and a small number of customers. Most of us only have 50 to 100 decision makers about buying our product—so approach one person at a time with positive action and a lot of honesty about it. You can spend a lot of money on advertising, trade show displays, etc. In the short-term you may turn people's thinking around. But, without actual improvement, it won't last.
  3. I would draw another illustration about a client that was a small company with a good product. However, they kept bumping into the perception that they wouldn't be there tomorrow to service the product because they were small and new. They solved the problem by making an alliance with a large, well known and well-respected company. Nothing changed really, but they went under that umbrella and the market saw them differently.
  4. If you have the situation where you really did mess up with one or more customers, it is good to open the door and be honest about your dirty laundry. I had a real situation where the customer service problem was the result of a senior executive. Several months later, his deficiencies were recognized and he was moved to a different organization. I went to the offended customer and told him that it took us some time to recognize the problem, but we did and it has been take care of. I did this without downing the moved executive and indicated he had been transferred to an organization where his special talents could really be put to use. The relationship with that customer became even better than it was before the problem.