Every day, Americans are inundated with product and service choices. Just walk down any aisle in your supermarket, and you'll find that almost every product category is saturated. Yet we continue to crave--even thrive on--our freedom to choose, and smart marketers incorporate this component into the very essence of their campaigns.
Affluent customers often expect multiple choices. At BMWUSA.com, you can "build your own BMW" from the menu of enticing online options in exterior colors, seductive leather interiors, and accessories such as satellite radio. But wealthy consumers aren't the only ones captivated by the idea of choice. This marketing strategy has virtually universal appeal and is built into product offerings on every level. Wendy's, the third-largest quick-service hamburger chain in the world, has constructed its products and marketing messages to focus on giving fast-food customers a higher level of choice. Late last year, Wendy's took this concept to the max by giving consumers 40 different ways to create a "combo meal" according to their individual preferences.
Here are three steps you can take to build a successful campaign that gives your own customers the freedom of choice.
Step 1: Find out what customers want. Start by investigating the hot buttons or issues that affect product or service choices. Discover what your best prospects are buying now and how you can give them that--and more. To learn what choices your customers want:
- Solicit online feedback through your website or e-newsletter.
- Use customer surveys and informal focus groups or roundtables.
- Draw conclusions from sampling your prospect group with mall intercept studies and online surveys, and by examining competing offers.
- Institute regular meetings with your front-line customer-service and sales staffs.
Next, armed with a clear understanding of the choices that would motivate your prospects, modify your product or service offering. If you need help stepping outside the box, bring in a third-party expert to meet with your in-house team for an idea-generation session.
Step 2: Build out your strategy. To carry the new strategy through into your new product offering:
- Create special pricing. For example, CAL Performances at the University of California, Berkeley, markets ticket subscriptions by allowing buyers to choose any six or more events and offering "three ways to save 10 percent on single-ticket prices."
Test-market your product or service choices and new marketing message with a small target group.
- Make your offer real by allowing customers to take advantage of it through all your sales and marketing channels. The Wendy's website, for instance, shows how to create your own combo meal out of the many choices available.
Step 3: Build buzz before you advertise. You can create demand early on by marketing to:
Influentials: Media and individuals who are known to be on the cutting edge and can be reached through media relations. These may include bloggers, media writers and reviewers in vertical categories.
- Aficionados: People who are really "into" the kind of product or service you sell. Let those who savor having or knowing something new be the first to buy or receive samples, and they'll spread the word. Suppose you owned a day spa and decided to expand your offering by adding hot-rock massages at a premium price. You could send special invitations to your best clients, plus offer gift certificates so they could spread this new, "in" choice to their circle of friends.
Once you have integrated your new strategy into your company's psyche--from product development through media relations--you can expand your reach with a full-blown marketing rollout and give your entire prospect and customer base the freedom to choose.