Marketing Planet

Should the Customer be King?

Customers: are they eternal Kings or eternal children?

In the modern point of view the customer is supposed to be the King (or Queen) and to be treat like this. However, we ought to remember that Mr Ford started the sales of his cars by proposing one type and one single colour: black for everyone. At that stage, it was rather Mr Ford who was to be seen as the King and not his customer.
Things have clearly changed and if we continue like this, we may arrive a day with comparing the customer as a god. But, when putting our customers on a pedestal like this, are we doing a good job?

Selling dreams or selling education

In fact, if we have a closer look we can detect two main and opposite customer approaches:

  • Threat the customers the best possible way, they are the King, the sky is their limit. Companies tend to sell the impossible, they sell the dreams that customers are looking for, even if they are not possible. This approach may reach the limit of «lies» and can cause the company damage if they push too far.
  • Build a relation with the customer in which a company explains the product and its «pure» benefits to the customer. This type of approach is more oriented towards education and does not focus on selling anything else but the product and its «good action». Due to the level of education, this approach is rather delicate since it can perceive the customer as being inferior and lacking knowledge. This relation can be defined rather as a parent – child relation. Besides, the interests of the customer may appear less taken into account.

The product indicates the approach to take

A first glance supposes that depending on the type of product the best approach will differ:

In environmental and likewise products the customer is not always aware of the dangers that not using the product may bring or that a current existing product will cause him. He may not have a need or interest in the product or is not aware of the existence of the product. Often in this type of products the «educational approach» is used to enter the market or even create a market. Emotions are not linked to this approach, it is more rational.
Exemples can be found in the ecological products and rather complicated products.

In beauty products, it is rather a habit to sell dreams and show the customer the way to become the most desirable person. The approach will show in the publicity people that are often far from representative to the type of customer. The customer identifies himself with this person, wants to become the same or want to enter the same type of atmosphere. Rationality is far and the approach is based on emotions and desire. See also the article about Robert Cialdini and influence and on this website

Not as black and white after all

Nevertheless in this same market for beauty products we can also notice the opposite approach. The size of beauty products is that big that it is difficult for a new product to have its place, let alone be visible. Therefor some companies have their strategy focused on the reality of these products. In a way they ally the dream and the education. For example: explaining the benefits and the natural substances of the ginseng and add the result in ways of beauty it can bring. Hardly anyone would want to purchase a ginseng product hadn’t the educational part played its role. This approach also applies one of the rules for marketing: differentiate from competition, according to the laws of marketing

The high-tech market is alike. Customers are no longer at ease with all the different evolutions that arrive to the market, the trend-setters will have to move quick and more and more education is needed to have the customers follow. However, the difference here is that it is not so much about informing on dangers and risks but rather informing the customer on all that is possible[The B2B market is still different since rationality and emotion is mixed in the world of shareholders and ROI against "influencable" humans and relations].

Different type of Kings

We thus notice that the 2 opposite approaches have a large grey part between them. It is not that easy to state what type of approach is the best. It shows clearly though that treating the customer as a king will not always be the right approach. There are limits, even before reaching the sky. What would happen if only the demands from the customers were used for product development. There would not be the range of products as we have it today, customers are not necessarily aware of the possibilities.

IT developments are pushed rather by the researchers then by the customer who are having a hard time following the latest trends. In these situations it is not the customer that is the King but the researcher. Researchers can be declined in different types according to the market. Researchers are influenced by Market Research and agencies «detecting future trends» but also by scientific possibilities. All have their role of King to play.

To my opinion with this chain of Kings in the Kingdom of Market, it is important to change between the different possible Kings without listening only to one. Listening to only one can deform or even destroy a market, it can stop certain evolutions or can move to fast for reality. A King is to have its ministers who advice and control, in the world of Market this rule should to apply the same to maintain a balance.