“Visibility, Quality, Fashion, and Price”
I’m not sure why I’m calling this the four horsemen of marketing. Apart from the fact it lent itself to making a silly picture. Which is not really a good reason.
You see, this article is not about horsemen at all, but rather the four critical ingredients to any companies marketing efforts. And those horsemen you see above (Apple, Coke, Honda, and Wal-mart) were chosen not only for the relative roundness of their logos, but because each of them has focused on a different ingredient.
That’s not to say any of them ignored the other three!
When it comes time to make a purchasing decision, customers will always pick the solution that provides the greatest personal value they can afford. In determining this value, all four elements will come into play, each weighing varying amounts based on the specific product and the specific customer. Of course, each of the critical ingredients is just that… critical. If any one of the four is below a mystical level in your customer’s head, your total value has just dropped to ZILCH, and there will be NO SALE.
All four must receive at least passing grades for your company to survive… but in your customers minds you will only ever be associated with one. So let’s break em down:
Visibility: To the layman, (Required legal disclaimer: I have no training in marketing!) the goal of marketing IS visibility, period. Actually, marketing is a lot more than that.. marketing is everything your company does to make your product or service something a customer would actually decide to buy. Visibility is of course critical to this. It doesn’t matter how shiny your surf wax is, if nobody knows it exists, nobody can decide to buy it.
If your company decides to focus on visibility above all else, you’re going the Coca-cola route. You’ll spend a lot of money on advertising, FOREVER, and your brand will be eminently recognizable. What that brand actually represents in people’s minds may not be clear, but hey, at least it’s in their mindsl! And that’s a huge part of the equation.
Quality: It’s not just an engineering problem. If your product does not meet some minimum standard of quality (reliability, ease-of-use, functionality, etc..) for whatever it is your customers expect it to do, no amount of the other three horsemen can save it. You may flounder around for years, keeping your head above water as your Public Relations team hates their lives, until you inevitably beg God herself for the sweet release of bankruptcy.
Now, if your brand is synonymous with quality, you’re most likely a niche player. Because honestly, really high quality is generally not worth the price to the mass market. But don’t worry, you don’t need perfect quality to survive.. you just need enough quality. (See Microsoft.) Honda is an example of a company that is all about quality, and they’ve done well because they’re in a market where customers believe quality is important (or else they die)!
Fashion: Really, fashion shouldn’t be a “critical” ingredient in that spicy Italian meatball that is marketing. And if your customers are robots or Vulcans, it isn’t.
If not, it is. It doesn’t matter how cheap, great, and well-known your product is.. if nobody would be caught dead using it, you’re better off selling matches in a volcano. To the devil. During a heat wave. In Nevada. In August.
Fashion is intriguing though. In some markets, it is the least important aspect (though still necessary!), but in others, it is the very sword you will live or die by! If your company is known above all else as fashionable, you will be able to command a higher price than others of a similar quality and visibility. Which leads to great profits… because fashion, as elusive as it is to attain, once attained, is a relatively inexpensive quality to maintain!
Apple has done a great job in the last few years of making their consumer electronics products not only of a passable quality and price, but also of intense fashion appeal, which has done wonders for their stock! The scary thing about relying on fashion is it’s so ephemeral.
Today’s iPod is tomorrows Member’s Only jackets and baggy pants.
Price: No big tricks here.. if your stuff is too expensive, nobody will buy it. Of course, price is not value! $30,000 for a Ferrari is a better value than $25,000 for a Fiat. You see, by working on the other three ingredients, you can raise the level where the price for your product passes that invisible “no longer worth it” boundary for your market.
If your company decides to compete on price above all else, the conventional wisdom is, you’re screwed! Pick something else! No companies ever make it big competing on price! Nobody like say McDonalds, Wal-Mart, or Southwest Airlines.
Oh, I’m sorry, was that too much IRONY?
It’s true, competing on price is probably the hardest ingredient to compete on. As companies get bigger, it’s easier to offer cheaper and cheaper prices.. and the odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re not a very big company. However, the rewards are also the greatest. You see, most people are poor (Or at least cheap bastards.)
And as I said before, people decide on the GREATEST PERSONAL VALUE THEY CAN AFFORD. So even if you’re not offering that great a value, if your price is low, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole puck-load of people who just can’t afford anything better.
And if your overall value isn’t actually that great, it probably means you’re able to make a pretty healthy profit out of each sale. And since there are soooo many cheap customers in the world, you’ll probably make a lot of sales. You might be universally reviled for your junky products and cut-throat business practices, but you’re universally reviled all the way to the bank.
An exercise for the reader!
So really, every brand out there has some combination of Visibility, Quality, Fashion, and Price that makes them tick. Here are how various brands strike me personally… feel free to discuss and add your own in the comments area (especially your thoughts on DreamHost!
Coke: Visibility, then Fashion, then Price, then Quality.
Honda: Quality, Price, Fashion, Promotion.
Apple: Fashion, Quality, Visibility, Price.
Wal-Mart: Price, Quality, Visibility, Fashion.
DreamHost: Visibility, Quality, Price, Fashion..?
And that’s the way we like it!