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The Lessons I Learnt From The Marketing Class

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Being a designer, I don’t like the textbook approach of teaching. I learn better when the professor makes the classes more practical, fun and hence, easy to understand and retain. The lessons I have learnt in this class are unforgettable. Though these are marketing basics that every future marketer should know, the reason I have retained them so well is because of the manner in which they were taught by Prof. John O’Malley.

The first important lesson that I learnt in class is to not get entangled in the marketing myopia approach. It is an approach that focuses on fulfilling the goals of the company/brand, rather than focusing on the person who is at the receiving end of the product / service, the customer. Marketing means to create value for customers through a brand’s product or services. This value can be created only by a thorough understanding of the customer’s wants, needs and desires. There is no shorter route to this. Also, the best way to find out what the customer wants is by realising that the market is YOU. Asking the right questions goes a long way in determining how to sell a product. I learnt that its very easy to assume what the customer wants or needs and then provide him/her with the same, but that approach is wrong. This was proven when Tata marketed the Nano as the ‘world’s cheapest car’ and thought of it as an alternative to families riding with 5 members on a motorcycle. However, the car ended up being bought more by upper middle class families, who thought of it as a fun, trendy second car for running errands. I realised that the popular mantra ‘Customer is King’ has a very different meaning in today’s marketplace. It not only means that you provide your customers with the best possible goods and services, but also that the audience knows exactly what it wants, so its better if you let them call the shots.

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A marketer’s biggest mistake is assuming that he/she knows this without doing background research. As a marketer, my job is to recognize the audience’s needs and wants by doing thorough research and analysis. Every customer wants to save money, time and energy. Hence, it is doubly important for a brand to always be accessible to its target market. Knowing the target market isn’t enough if the marketer doesn’t have a defined value proposition – the values or benefits that the product promises to deliver and thus satisfy customer needs. What exactly is the product giving to the customer? E.g. What does wearing a shoe give to the owner? The second important lesson that I learned was that lowering a product’s price devalues the product. As a student of marketing, one of the first things that comes to mind when trying to sell a new product is low prices, sales & discounts, coupons, referral bonuses and other such price reduction tactics. But I have learnt in the last 5 weeks that the real challenge in marketing is to sell a product at full price. As marketers, our job is to create demand to get full price. Rather, we need to focus on customer touchpoints – the points of interaction between a product / brand / service and the customers. This was succesfully proven through a class exercise where a student was asked what she would look for in a New Mexican restaurant near her house. The things that were most important to her were cleanliness, efficient staff, décor, food quality and fresh food. The price of the food was never mentioned. The customer touchpoints are different for every product and brand, and as marketers, it is our job to think outside the box. A great customer touchpoint for a small mexican restaurant would be to have a fixed and limited menu. The reason for this being that eliminating too many options to choose from would eliminate anxiety in the customer and leave him more satisfied with whatever he chooses to eat. This is exactly what Barry Schwartz’s book ‘The Paradox of Choice’ aims to make us understand and brands like Walmart actually implement. I also learnt that understanding a brand’s customer touchpoints is extremely important to convert a customer (buys one time) to a client (buys multiple times). This precisely, is customer retention management. A customer will return to a brand only if he/she is satisfied with the product he spent time, money and energy on. Trust is the biggest factor in a customer being loyal to a brand. Good customer service is a touchpoint that every brand should pay close attention to. If a customer feels devalued, he/she is moving on to a competitor brand.

The third lesson I learnt is to determine what value your product provides to the customer. In the value delivery process, the first step is to choose the value, second is to provide the value and then to communicate the value. For e.g. If Coca-Cola plans to invest in the cannabis infused drinks business, they could possibly choose the values of wellness, calm, mindfulness and provide it through their product. Coca-cola would also need to re-evaluate what business they’re in currently vs. what business they will be in with the introduction of cannabis-infused drinks. According to that, the target audience, pricing, communication will change too. Among everything I learned in this class, the most valuable one was how we were taught that it is difficult for a person loyal to a particular brand, to change to a new / existing brand. The professor simply asked us why we sat in the same seat for every class, we all had our reasons. He then asked us to leave the class, come back and sit in a different place. All of us were visibly uncomfortable in our new seats. And that was exactly the aim of the exercise, to make us realise how difficult it is to suddenly start buying a different brand of detergent, or even a new soda flavor. The insight gained from this was that as a marketer, my product / brand needs to offer something that a competitor isn’t offering, an untapped customer touchpoint. Simply reducing the price could make the customer think that it’s not worth the original price, hence the discount.

Another takeaway from the course was how I have started using the marketing language, and thinking of marketing strategies in terms of the country I am now living in. This was perfectly orchestrated through a brief lecture on American sports, the major leagues, and how brand advertising is strategised in the leagues. In addition to that, the weekly case studies are exposing me to a number of cultures, lifestyles, and outlooks. They’re helping me understand what questions to ask, how brands develop and implement strategies, hindrances faced. I have started analysing what went wrong / right, how those products could be marketed better. I have also started doing some research of my own on the subject of the case studies. The SWOT analysis approach has compelled me to think harder about the opportunities that a brand has but does not realise. A key takeaway from this class was understanding how essential customer journey and customer adoption is. E.g. Dollar Shave Club identified that name-brand razors cost too much, and decided to offer affordable (not cheap) solution with quality alternatives. The customer journey starts right from the brand name, which makes the user feel like he is part of an exclusive club, welcome email, etc. The customer is investing in the happiness of receiving a beautiful package every month, with notes on upgrades, free samples, etc. DSC invested highly in social media, with free gifts for customers who share photos of their boxes. The brand also relies on referrals and word-of-mouth. With a customer journey like that, they have nothing to worry about!

Lastly, this class has taught me that not all marketing is meant to increase sales. There are times when anti-selling campaigns using reverse psychology are going to get your brand the awareness it needs. It is about attracting people’s attention, rather than promoting the product. Some major examples of this would be Dove (Real beauty campaign), and Newcastle Brown Ale. The Dove Real Beauty campaign focused on changing and improving the conversation on real beauty. This campaign was about being relevant first, then profitable. The unique campaign boosted sales and is one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever executed. Did it make me switch to Dove permanently? No, but it definitely moved up the ladder and became my second option for soaps.

To sum it up, I learn something amazing in every class, but what I like most in this one is the way I learn it. The professor has done exactly what he preaches marketers should do, pay attention to the customer journey. He has made us, his students, fall in love with the journey of Integrated Marketing, and for that I am forever grateful.

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