Marketing with Imagination
Why, despite commodity products and services, are some companies able to charge higher prices?
DuPont, along with its competitors, supplied material to medical supply manufacturers. This material was a commodity and, consequently pricing spiraled downward to a basement-like equilibrium. That is, except for DuPont. They were able to charge above average prices. It begs the question: why? DuPont conducted an internal investigation to understand this very question.
The investigators concluded that customers believed DuPont’s product was, although chemically identical to the other products, purer. They also believed that DuPont was more likely to innovate.
What caused this customer belief?
The DuPont story is told in Theodore Levitt’s book The Marketing Imagination, published in 1983. Levitt’s book is a collection of essays written between 1960 and 1983 and today’s article is based on the essay titled “The Marketing Imagination.”
While Levitt’s career as a marketing professor and editor of Harvard Business Review might not be familiar with readers, many will remember the main theme from his famous essay “Marketing Myopia” (also in the book):
The reason that the railroad business failed is because they failed to define what industry they were in. They were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented and they were product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.
Ironically, Levitt also contributed to Contracting Business back in the 1980’s. Theodore Levitt wasn’t just an editor and professor; he was a mainstream marketing legend! Today, that would be like reading a series of Seth Godin essays in one of our trade journals.
So why did DuPont’s customers believe its product was superior to competitors?
Levitt said, “Nothing drives progress like the imagination. The idea precedes the deed.” Levitt went on to say, “Imagination means to construct mental pictures of what is or is not actually present, what has never been actually experienced.”
DuPont’s customers constructed mental pictures of purer material because DuPont took the time and effort to communicate the quality assurance checks that were part of their process. They ran trade journal advertisements and trade show demonstrations showcasing electron spectroscopy, a technology that tested purity at different stages of the manufacturing process. The idea precedes the deed.
How does Levitt’s lesson in imagination translate to the modern HVAC or Plumbing contractor?
What are your quality assurance checks?
You go to arduous extents to put a professional company on the street. Do your customers know what goes into the design, building, nurturing, and care of a real company?
Take the time to write, shoot video, or record podcasts meticulously detailing what goes into putting your product and service on the street.
“Our company is NATE certified.” But what does that mean? Use explanative language. “Our company is the leading….etc. Define the criteria used to make this statement.
The HVAC and Plumbing industry’s modern equivalent to electron spectroscopy is commissioning.
Green Building Advisor and Martin Holladay:
“Commissioning is the process of testing and adjusting installed equipment to be sure that it performs in accordance with the manufacturer’s specs and the designer’s intent. Commissioning also requires someone to verify that all of the building’s equipment and components interact well, so that one piece of equipment doesn’t cause unintended consequences.”
According to a HVACR NEWS’ article, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses three phases of commissioning in its "Guidelines for Residential Commissioning" report.
- Audit - Evaluating the current conditions and performance of the house.
- Tuning - Making minor adjustments and repairs to systems and materials to improve efficiency and performance.
- Opportunity identification - Providing information to the client about additional energy-efficiency measures, such as improved insulation, which could be installed and implemented.
The idea precedes the deed
The contractor reading this today has the wherewithal to weave true commissioning into its installation process. The marketing aspect, the idea, requires an all-out full court press. The idea needs to inundate all forms of communication and marketing.
The reason that DuPont’s customers believed their material was more pure than its competitors was solely marketing. The irony is that it wasn’t intentional marketing per say. If it were intentional, they would not have had to perform the internal investigation. The electron spectroscopy was simply what they chose to do. And the need for such quality assurance was part of who they were as a company.
Think about Julie, a contractor who is so passionate about quality; she integrates commissioning into her installation process. She doesn’t offer it as an option; it’s built into her price. It becomes part of her company. Now, imagine applying the all-out full court press of intentional marketing. This isn’t slap-an-ad-in-the-newspaper and fall to slow marketing. This is communicating about the business in both media and coworker interaction.
Julie’s customers will no more be able to define commissioning than quantum physics. They’ll just know that her company is better than the other contractors in town.
The secret to Marketing with Imagination: The idea precedes the deed.
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