Marketing 101

by Ed Newman
Marketing & Advertising Manager, AMSOIL INC.

I loved Albuquerque, host city for this year's AOCA Convention and Trade Show. Historic Route 66, Old Town and La Posada all conspired to make a good impression and create fond memories of this mile high town in the Southwest.

The show, too, gave me things to take away. As usual, there were many excellent speakers and workshops. I especially want to say thank you to whoever it was at Chevron who brought us Jim Cathcart to talk about the Grandma Factor, developing lifetime customer loyalty through excellent service.

Two weeks before the show my wife, Susie, had the unfortunate experience of needing an emergency surgery. What started as a typical trip to the walk-in clinic (typical meaning long hours of waiting) ended in the wee hours of the morning with an incision in the lower abdomen and the removal of personal anatomy. The hours seemed endless, and the hospital anything but hospitable.

In the end, Susie wanted me to see the movie Patch Adams, a Robin Williams film she had recently seen about an unconventional doctor who treated his patients like people rather than a caseload. I heartily recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

Unlike the dismissive rating newspaper movie critics gave it, I give Patch Adams high marks as a movie. Not only is the story instructive about medical care, it provides some good lessons in customer service.

What are customers' biggest complaints about businesses today? How about your business or mine? Patch Adams saw that doctors frequently did not understand their "customers", and often did not even listen to them. He was especially frustrated by the professional distance that doctors put between themselves and their patients, instead of making an effort to "connect" as one human to another.

That he was unconventional is an understatement. That he was effective was apparent to nearly all of his peers. He did not quite put it in these terms, but his goal was excellent customer service.

When we arrived at Albuquerque we rented a car "to get out of the airport." It turned out to be a Ford Taurus. I liked the car. It was comfortable and it was stylish. And it is also another great marketing story.

At some point in time, Ford market research showed that more passenger car purchasing decisions were made by women than by men. In an effort to make a car that was more suited to female interactivity, the interior of the car was designed and tested by engineers wearing one inch fingernails. Ford mandated that the car's operation must be such that a woman will not break a nail.

By design, the Ford Taurus became the number one selling American made passenger car in America from 1991 to 1995. What Ford had done was to put its fingers on the pulse of consumers. Through extensive market research they identified key variables and designed a product suited to consumer demand. They took the results of their market research seriously.

One of the hot issues of recent years has been the debate surrounding extended drain intervals. In her presentation on the Future of Extended Drains, Valvoline's Dr. Fran Lockwood noted that like it or not, yes, they are coming, though the transition will more than likely be a gradual adaptation rather than a sudden revolution.

She also presented a graph based on Ford market research showing that this was something a majority of consumers want. Ford found that 71% of female respondents and 59% of male respondents were very likely or somewhat likely to use a longer lasting engine oil. Another Ford statistic indicated the primary benefit consumers are seeking is convenience.

Ford's research study was developed for two reasons: first, to determine current customer practices, and second, but equally important, to identify customers' desires.

I mention all this because in recent months the biggest criticism I have heard regarding extended drain intervals is that it is being driven by marketing. Excuse me, but isn't marketing the central pillar of a successful business? Marketing is not a dirty word.

One of the best definitions of marketing I've run across defines marketing as "all functions of the business which are involved with getting the correct product/service to the correct customer(s) at the correct price and correct place/time employing the proper methods of promotion." You'll readily note the usual alliteration: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.

Having attended some of these seminars and having read extensively on the subject for many years, I would propose a simpler definition of marketing. Distilled to its essence, my definition is all of three words: PROFITABLE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION.

We are in the business of learning what customers want and meeting their needs in exchange for capital. If we do not make a profit, we are out of business. If the customer is not satisfied with the results of the transaction, we'll soon be losing his or her loyalty.

I like Patch Adams as a model not because he is unconventional, but because he was more concerned with results than style. He was criticized as a med student for having "excessive fun." But I liked his creative and original approach to connecting with his customers, that is, patients.

Ford Motor Company spent a lot of money to identify what consumers today are looking for. Instead of criticizing customers for wanting the convenience of extended drains, let's find creative ways to profitably satisfy this desire or perceived need.

This article originally appeared in National Oil and Lube News, May 1999

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