Few doubt that the secret of success in any relationship is communication. This is especially true in a marketing relationship, where the attitude of both parties is frequently skeptical, the nature of the contact is hardly intimate, and the message delivery system tends to be impersonal and imprecise. It is because of these factors that communication plays such an important role in a marketing organization.
Marketers know that consumers are constantly picking up cues put out by the organization, or about the organization, that they use to form attitudes and beliefs about the organization. Many of these message-laden cues are controlled by the organization, including factors such as product design, product quality, price, packaging, outlet selection, advertising, and the availability of coupons. In this case, marketers follow basic communication principles that are discussed throughout this book. Most notably, there is a constant attempt to make sure that all of these elements deliver a consistent message, and that this message is understood and interpreted in the same way by the various consumers.
On the other hand, there are many message-laden cues that are not under the control of the marketer, yet may be more powerful in the minds of consumers, and that must be anticipated and dealt with by the marketers. A recent report that United Airlines had the worst customer satisfaction scores created a downturn in both United's stock and customer reservations. Although there are many sources delivering such information, the three most prominent are employees, competitors, and the media.
Employees, from the president on down, are all considered representatives of the organization for which they work. Consumers often assume that the behavior, language, or dress of an employee is an accurate reflection of the entire organization. Making employees—and possibly even former employees—positive ambassadors of the organization has become so important that a new term has emerged—internal marketing.
Competitors say a great deal about one another, some truths, some boldface lies. A marketing organization must be cognizant of this possibility and be prepared to respond. The automobile industry has used comparison messaging for over thirty years. Coke and Pepsi have been attacking and counter-attacking for about the same length of time. Negative political messages appear to be very effective, even though few politicians admit to the strategy.
Finally, the media (editors and reporters working for newspapers, TV and radio stations, and magazines) looms as one of the greatest communication hurdles faced by marketers. In a large marketing organization, the responsibility of communicating with the media is assigned to a public relations staff. Public relations people write press release stories about their organization that they hope the media will use. If the press releases are not used, the marketer attempts to ensure that whatever the media says about the organization is accurate and as complementary as possible. For smaller companies, dealing with the media becomes everyone's responsibility. Many businesses now face a new media, the Internet: chat rooms, websites, and propaganda campaigns intended to destroy a business have become commonplace. Companies that are willing to focus on communication as a means of doing business engage in relationship marketing—a type of marketing that builds long-standing positive relationships with customers and other important stakeholder groups. Relationship marketing identifies "high value" customers and prospects and bonds them to the brand through personal attention.