Customers don't care what time it is when they do business-companies make them care. If you want to win them for life, be there whenever and wherever they want you to be.
Robert Woodruff, the man who took brown, bubbly sugar water-Coca-Cola-and turned it into a global cash machine, had a famous saying: "I want Coke to be within arm's length of desire." With that simple statement, Woodruff set out to make Coca-Cola the first ubiquitous product in the world.
Today, Coca-Cola is the best example of what I call a three-dimensional marketer. The three dimensions are who, where and when. Coca-Cola does a pretty good job of knowing who buys Coke, and making it available wherever and whenever customers want it-mostly through vending machines and an extraordinary distribution network.
Until the Internet came along, this "anywhere" strategy seemed relevant to just a narrow range of marketing companies like Coca-Cola. Yet with cheap, ubiquitous technology available to any company today, there's no reason why everyone can't try to be a 3-D leader with an anywhere, anytime strategy based on clear customer knowledge and targeting.
We're already seeing market leaders such as AOL and Fidelity follow Coca-Cola's lead. You can currently get AOL via its own ISP, over the Web, through the television, and on cell phones and PDAs; the company has plans to put AOL in physical locations such as schools, ATMs and Kinko's. Fidelity was one of the first companies to make trading and financial information available to customers on all forms of wireless devices. Recently, it announced a joint effort with GM to offer access to Fidelity accounts in all GM cars.
Why are AOL and Fidelity heading this way? If all people will have the potential to be connected at all times in all settings through the Internet and wireless phones, then you always want your product or service available to them. Imagine the power of taking a category of valuable products, such as financial transactions, and making it available all the time, everywhere. Not only will products and services be accessible at the consumer's moment of greatest interest, but the potential exists to stimulate further demand and alter patterns of usage.
Product or service ubiquity is a race where being first means everything. The company that reaches far beyond its nearest competitor in terms of anywhere and anytime access will gain virtually unshakeable market share. Pepsi has been chasing Coca-Cola for 80 years and has not yet made a significant dent in Coke's market share. Likewise, those financial services companies that try to compete with Fidelity will lose if Fidelity makes its way to everywhere status.
With ubiquitous availability comes an understanding of your customer that is simply not possible in a place-and-time constrained context. Letting people do business with you whenever and wherever they want gives you understanding of their natural patterns of buying activity-their true desires. But you can't do that without making your products available 24/7. Banks have gained a glimpse of the far-reaching power of 24/7 availability: Online customers are 50 percent less likely to switch banks, and those who pay bills electronically are even less likely to leave. Today there are companies that excel on one or two of the who-where-when marketing dimensions, but not all three.
Direct marketing companies such as Lands' End know who reads its catalogs and a little bit about where. These companies analyze the who so that they can create new offers and achieve more yield from their existing customers. They know where someone lives, but they do not know where they usually shop, where they buy goods.
Where can also mean big business: The great retailing companies have the where down to a science. Ever since the days when Sam Walton piloted his small propeller plane across the heartland of America to survey potential new sites for a Wal-Mart, companies like his and McDonald's have turned the issue of where into high art.
These companies' locations have made them staggeringly rich. Famed for its ability to crack the code of site selection, McDonald's sees 45 million customers a day-Wal-Mart more than 90 million a week. Yet these two companies know virtually nothing about their individual customers. There is no individual profile of each customer, only aggregate statistics to predict what type of customer will visit and where. Because McDonald's does not know who that individual is and how to contact him cheaply and efficiently, it cannot influence his buying decision to come to McDonald's on a particular day instead of going to Burger King.
Not surprisingly, when is the most misunderstood and least pursued dimension of marketing. The legacy of traditional shopping and working hours has led most companies to ignore its potential. Yet there is nothing more important to revenues and market share than understanding when someone is in the mood to buy. Some mainstream companies have made blunt efforts to discover the when of their customers' desires. For example, 7-Eleven in Japan restocks 20 percent of its stores five times a day to meet the morning, lunch, after school, dinner and after-dinner demands of its customers. This builds trust in the minds of its customers because 7-Eleven will have what the customers need, when they need it. Other nascent instruments include timing car company ad banners to appear when someone is searching in the automobile category on Yahoo.
When you put a 3-D strategy in place, make sure you put concrete measures in place. You need to show that this increased clarity in marketing can attract more customers to more profitable products more efficiently.
Technology is key to this who-where-when initiative, and there are three steps you can take to integrate a 3-D strategy with your technology strategy.
First, recognize that each new interface you create is a new challenge-and opportunity. You must have a technology architecture that can help create unity for your customer, not new and different interfaces each time. Imagine if Coke came in different size bottles or in different colors every time you bought it; there would be no brand as we know it today. That is what you need to keep in mind as you take your customer through different menu trees, voice mails, e-mails and Web interfaces.
Second, make sure you link your interface architecture to your customer value management approach. Each interface point is a potential control point for cross-selling, quality and service.
Third, show your senior management that your information systems control or influence what your management systems can do. Always drive to create management systems that are at least as fast and flexible as the customer's buying cycle. Cisco can close its books every night. Its business cycle is that fast. Can you?
John Sviokla, vice chairman of Diamond Cluster International, a Chicago-based consultancy, operates in 3-D all the time. Reach him anytime, anywhere at firstname.lastname@example.org.