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Expectations and Authenticity

The all-powerful “wiki” says the term ‘Authenticity’ refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion and intentions.

Marketers often have no control over the actual product. Products are developed by engineers, chemists, software developers, etc;. Often times this is done in conjunction with a budget manager or accountant to ensure the product is profitable and not too costly. Typically a marketer gets the product last. “Ok, here it is. Go sell it!”

This can lead to problems within the organization:

CEO: “Why isn’t the product selling?”

Developer: “The advertising isn’t good.”

Marketer: “The product doesn’t do what is claims to do. Consumer feedback isn’t positive.”

Developer: “Just change the jingle. It isn’t catchy enough.”

Marketer: “It’s not the jingle. Consumers say the product isn’t as effective as we say it is.”

CEO: “I think it works great. Have we tried another jingle?”

As Christians within organizations, we can often struggle with what our products are and are not. We can place unreasonable or lofty expectations onto a product, good or service because it’s something we hold dear. Likewise, we may choose to downplay or disregard a product because we know the authenticity is suspect. Perhaps it’s your CEO’s pet project or he/she pushed for a specific product name.

As Christian marketers, our best service to our organization/company is to set and manage expectations of a product. This can be difficult, but not impossible if we can focus the conversation on whether or not the company (and resulting product) is truly authentic to your mission and vision.

Here are some basic questions to consider and ask of others:

  • How does the product relate to your company’s mission?
  • Have we developed the product strictly for financial reasons?
  • How do customers benefit from this product?

If you find the product doesn’t relate to your organizations mission, was made for only money’s sake and/or doesn’t truly benefit customers, then we can’t be surprised something doesn’t sell well. The product’s not authentic. No amount of marketing can fix something that’s already broken.

Product Ethics: What’s in a name?

Everyone likes fast food. Chipotle? Mmm…good stuff. One of the many shows on our DVR is “America’s Next Great Restaurant” on NBC. The premise of the show is that contestants propose their fast food restaurants to investors Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone, Steve Ells (the founder of Chipotle) and Lorena Garcia.

It’s kind of like Business 101: You think of a menu, catch phrase, logo, etc;. Of course, one of the biggest parts to your restaurant is its name.

Enter “Saucy Balls.”

It would be a meat ball shop. Were you thinking of something else?

And there’s the rub. Yes, it’s catchy and makes you chuckle. But as several would-be female customers said, “I’m not going to say I like….” You can complete the sentence.

So here’s are marketing challenge: Do you change the name? If you’re a Christian businessperson or marketer, do your beliefs impact your decision? Can you object to the name without being labeled with a stick-up-your-___? Can you approve of the name and still look at your self in the mirror?

We’ll be the first to say its actually a great name. It is truly authentic to the product: sauce covered meat balls in variety of applications: over pasta, sandwiches, etc;. For good or bad, you remember it. It makes a great t-shirt, hat or poster. The food is good. The restaurant appears to be otherwise nice — it’s not like Hooters. The double-meaning only is part of the name.

It’s worth noting that the investors have not asked the contestant to change the name (at least not this week.) These are very successful people who have made lots of money and employed lots of people.

Sounds like we’re saying the name shouldn’t be changed, right?

Well, right. It’s good. It’s too good, actually.

Unfortunately, the name plays to all of our dirty joke thoughts we don’t want to admit. Without being able to illustrate it exactly, we know it’s just not “right.” Not “right-wing,” but just in poor taste to most reasonable people. Yes, the name makes for a great t-shirt, but it will also make for a huge barrier to entry; especially to possible female and family customers.

Product Ethics: Too Good for a Kia?

Note: If you haven’t picked it up already, we like to use cars for lots of examples. Because almost everyone has a car (or knows what one is) it’s more-or-less an easy way to communicate an idea.

Like most products, cars and car companies have a certain type of brand. The brand is basically what people think of the product. A brand can be carefully crafted by a marketer to help persuade people. Brands also are created by people’s experience with a product.

For years, when we thought of Kia, we thought of this:

Old Kia Optima

2005 Kia Optima

To be fair, it’s ugly. It’s also a “Kia,” which meant cheaply made, Korean cars. We’ve never driven a Kia. It could be a great, well made car. But we’ve never had anyone come into work and say, “Finally, I bought my dream car! A Kia!”

About a year ago, Kia started making cars that look like this:

A Kia Optima

2011 Kia Optima

Wow. Both are Kia’s. Both are actually the same model: an Optima.

Pride is a complex emotion. It can be used for good and bad. “I’m proud to have served with you, Sir.” vs. “I have too much pride to drive a Kia!”

Swallowing our pride is difficult. It’s an emotion that marketers cannot easily overcome. It’s starts with having a real, authentic product followed by trustworthy salesmen and honest service. As followers of Christ, communicating the true value of a product is important is vital–especially if people have already formed their opinions.

Obviously this post isn’t really about cars. Remove cars from the example, and we’re left with “I have too much pride to _______.” To say we’re sorry? To trust in others? To buy something that we think we’re too good for? To help others?

Is it possible for a business or product to overcome such a perception? Should Kia’s tagline be, “Swallow your pride?” Can followers of Christ do the same or do we buy into being too good?

Product Ethics: Avoiding FUD

Right now, the the most in demand product is arguably the iPad 2. In it’s first weekend, Apple is estimated to have sold 1 million units. Retailers who had supply sold out in five minutes. Online orders have now slipped to 4-5 weeks.

Now that is what we call demand–especially for a product starting at $499.

There’s lot’s of conspiracy theories floating around, notably did Apple choose to constrain supply to create this monumental demand? Is there an artificially created perception of an in demand product?

“Over 1 million sold in 3 days!”

“Order yours now before they’re all gone!”

“Your neighbor has one!”

While they sound trite, these messages do work. That’s why we continue to see them on everything from Snuggies to Subarus.

For a follower of Christ, these can be hard messages to ignore. We even get them from churches. Ever drive by a church sign that read, “Over 1 billion saved!”

A question for followers of Christ is whether we use demand to unnecessarily spread FUD; otherwise known as fear, uncertainty and doubt:

“I need to get there before all the chairs are taken!”

“I don’t know if I want to be like all those ‘Christians’”

“I have too many questions that need answering.”

For marketers (and human beings) FUD is our enemy. Creating a real, authentic relationship with a consumer, a friend or our God cannot start with being made afraid of an outcome. Whether it’s not getting an iPad or going to H E double-hockey sticks, the outcome shouldn’t be why we make a decision. Rather, we should promote and make our decisions based on the benefits and blessings we’ve received. We can buy an iPad because we’ve been financially blessed. We can worship and thank Christ because he died for our sins.

Pricing Ethics: Convenience Traps

Each summer, many of us make our annual pilgrimage to a theme park. It’s more-or-less a rite of passage to stand in line sweating for upwards of two hours in the hot, baking sun waiting for 15 seconds of near-death excitement.

About half way through your wait you see a miracle:

A vending machine.

A strategically placed vending machine offering the miracle of cool, crisp water. As if blessed from God himself, the water provides a heavenly oasis of peace and tranquility.

It’s all yours for $5 a bottle.

You’re literally trapped into the price. Worst of all, you know you’re paying for the convenience. You know you could buy a barrel of water for $5 at the grocery store.

This is convenience pricing. You are paying for two things:

  1. The product
  2. The service

The water isn’t the problem. It’s the service.

The service is getting the product when you absolutely need it; through a vending machine while you’re dying of heat. For that, you will pay a premium. We’re frustrated with the apparent greed by the service provider (the theme park).

So what does this have to do with following Christ and marketing?

As Christians in business — or in any part of our lives — do we trap people into “paying” more for something once we know we have them? The payment isn’t always through money. It could be through work. It could be through loyalty and guilt.

When we provide what we think is an amazing service to someone in the name of Christ, what are the strings attached? When we repaint a house for an elderly person, do we then expect to see them at church the next Sunday? “Why, the grateful old ____. Why can’t they see they’ve been blessed with our hard work!”

Which brings us back to the theme park. Paying for the water is not the problem. Paying for the privilege of drinking the water is.

So what is a fair price to pay for convenience? Is the theme park “evil” for charging more? What about demands we place on people for our service to them?

Pricing Ethics: Maximizing Revenue and Profit

As part of discussing pricing, we have to discuss revenue and profit.

Revenue is basically how much total money you bring in through sales. For example, if you sell four tires priced at $25 dollars each, your total revenue is $100. If each tire cost you $15 (your total costs include all your expenses in creating that tire, marketing it, paying your staff, etc;) your total profit is $40. ($100 in sales minus $60 in total costs equal $40 in profit.)

If all this sounds like accounting and not marketing, you’re wrong. Marketing plays a vital role in setting a price that both appeals to a customer and also satisfies the need for a business to prosper.

As followers of Christ, we have to answer this question: How much do I want to prosper vs. how much do I need to prosper.

Wanting to prosper is not necessarily wrong. It’s very human. However, when that want tells you to take advantage of a customer through trying to maximize your profits in unscrupulous ways, you have a problem.

Continuing the example, a customer rolls in on their car’s rims to your tire business. It’s raining and they’ve punctured two of the tires. The customer knows absolutely nothing about cars. They’re already running late for for their first day of work. The customer is desperate for help and tells you it doesn’t matter how much it cost, just fix it now!

Do you:

A. Sell them tires at normal price.
B. Sell them tires at a higher price. You believe the higher price is justified for the excellent “express” service you’re providing them.
C. Sell them tires at a lower price because you feel bad for them.

    If you want to maximize your profit, your answer is B. After all, they told you it doesn’t matter how much the tires cost.

    If you want to be consistent, your answer is A. “Everyone has a bad day,” you tell yourself. “I don’t want my other customers to know I’m taking advantage of someone or slashing prices. Everyone is treated the same is the message I always tell my employees.”

    If you want to sleep at night, your answer is C. You know you have to cover your costs, but you also know your customer is in a bad situation. If the customer has time, also change their car’s oil and vacuum the interior. And you do it for no extra charge; it’s free. You do it because you want to. Not because you think it’s good marketing for the customer to tell their friends, “You wouldn’t believe what this tire place did for me!”

    What would your employees think if you told them to do this? Do you think you’d stay in business long? Is the goodwill you’re extending to the customer based on your desire for serving Christ or your desire for others to recognize your business as honorable?

    Pricing Ethics: Pay What You Can

    One of the better ways to structure this blog will be through the reviewing the four P’s (or five P’s, or six P’s — whatever you prefer) of marketing. These are:

    • Product
    • Price
    • Placement
    • Promotion

    Typically, you have a product that you price and then determine where it should be sold (placement) and how to sell it (promotion).

    As you’ll read, we’ll skip around amongst the P’s.

    Let’s start with price. Next to love, money is one of the most popular topics in the Bible.

    Specifically, let’s look at a topic that goes against many of the traditional ideas we learn in business: Pay What You Can.

    Pay What You Can (PWYC) is exactly that. You pay or give an amount of money you can afford for a service or good. It is not pay what you think it’s worth or negotiating for a better deal.

    When we’re able to PWYC, we open ourselves to give more freely and honesty without guilt or buyer’s remorse. This is a powerful idea. Consider now that PWYC doesn’t even mean paying with money. It could be work in exchange for something. The person at the side of the road holding the sign, “Will work for food,” is using PWYC.

    Now, you must be thinking “Does this mean I can buy a Cadillac for $2? After all, that’s what I can afford.” No, but why not?

    PWYC assumes that those who can afford a Cadillac will pay a fair price for the product.  They are paying what they can for that product because they’ve been blessed with the financial resources to do so. That fair price will keep the dealership in business, it’s staff paid, it’s families supported, etc. Likewise, one can argue that the Cadillac dealer should work with the buyer on a fair price — not a price that takes advantage of the buyer’s desire for the product.

    PWYC also assumes you might pay more for the same product as someone else. For example, someone with less financial resources than the Cadillac buyer may receive some additional money to help them attend a school or buy a gallon of milk. This helps the PWYC buyer to more closely pay what they can based on their economic circumstances.

    So why mention PWYC in this blog?

    When we view money and our talents as something we haven’t earned, but been blessed it, PWYC becomes much clearer. When we leave a waiter a generous tip, we do because we can. When we contribute (either in money or talent) generously to a cause, we do because we can. We pay what we can because we want too, not because it’s demanded or obligated.

    What do you think of Pay What You Can? Can the concept really exist in a “real” business?