As the world of business continues to change, the way m arketers think about customers also is changing.

Traditionally, marketing was about developing the 4P’s – product, pricing, promotion and place. The goal was to satisfy a customer by providing a successful transaction. Very little time was spent discussing the role of repeat customers, developing relationships or measuring the profitability of a customer. Today, manufacturers and nonprofit institutions are following the lead of service-based organizations and business-to-business firms in developing strategies and financial systems tomeasure the value of a customer, not the profit margin of a single transaction.

This change in emphasis has caused a shift in the way we as educators discuss marketing strategy, and it is  beginning to impact other disciplines such as accounting, operations and information systems. For instance, technological advances in bar coding and software development have allowed for increased flexibility in how transactions and customers are monitored and evaluated by an organization. The most effective way to gauge the impact of this change on consumers is to step out of the classroom and into the marketplace. What follows is a consumer’s perspective on the new world of marketing, especially as manifested in present- day marketing communications.

Savvy Consumers Demand Products and ServiceIn recent years, the U.S. economy in particular has become more service based, as consumers have increased their expectations of the organizations that influence their lives. We are no longer satisfied with just a good product. We now evaluate both the product and any services that come with it. I teach my students that there are now few, if any, products inwhich the marketing manager may ignore the services offered. And those services are now offered in myriad forms, whether through sales agents, retailers or even the internationally outsourced phone and e-mail supportmost of us experience on a regular basis.

Today’s service environment pushes retailers and other service providers to offer an element of “surprise” or “delight.” Internet sites from Tide.com to Disney.com all provide many types of information, games, contests, sweepstakes, etc., in order to provide the Web site visitor with a memorable experience. All of these activities require additional investment by the provider and can only lead to the desired win-win solutions when customers repay those providers with a willingness to pay a little more, not focus on price as the only thing that matters to them. They can be interested in long-term relationships.

The challenge providers face in developing long-term customer relationships makes it increasingly important for the “positioning strategy” or “image” of an organization to fit with the expectations of the customers it serves. Profit-making and not-for-profit organizations in our country must deal with what is, for the most part, a “mature” economy. They must use the image they create in the customers’ minds to differentiate themselves from all of the competitors that surround them.

The airline industry has largely been confined to using price as a competitive factor, leading with very few exceptions to low profitability across the entire industry. On the other hand, the retailing industry has been quite successful in achieving these different images or positioning strategies – think about Wal-Mart vs. Target, or Neiman Marcus vs. Macy’s. All four of these companies have very loyal customers, and yet they are easily described as offering very different products and services.

What Would Oprah Read?A very interesting trend in the introduction and promotion of new consumer products is the use of product placements and giveaways on daytime TV shows. Game shows such as the “Price is Right” have long promoted specific brands during their contests. Today, that placement has been expanded. Morning network TV shows often introduce products being shown at the most recent trade shows, or offer reports by consumer watchdog groups regarding what they see as important product categories. Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many others all routinely introduce newbooks, cosmetics, and household and entertainment products as part of their programming.

And, as has been well-documented in various media outlets, the use of product placement in prime time entertainment has been on a speedy ascent over the past decade. Part of this movement toward product and service placement is a result of the manufacturers’ and service providers’ concern that viewers are zipping, zapping and flipping around the traditional commercials. Others suggest that viewers are less skeptical of product placements and may develop more positive attitudes toward the products if actors or celebrities they favor are using the products in the program.

Other promotion-related trends to watch over the next few years include:

• Opt-in e-mails from an increasing number of the product and service providers you use• Continued attempts to know more about your interests (in order to provide those “surprise and delight” experiences)• Revitalization of comparative advertising to gain attention• An attempt to focus consumer thinking on product characteristics that help build that all-important imageOther common occurrences are cross-promotions and cross-productions, where complementary brands are either promoted together (frozen pie crusts and canned pumpkin during the fall) or are used to create new products (granola bars or ice creams with added chunks of name brand candies).

Marketing as Brand FilterMarketing as Brand FilterAll of these trends are related to our increasingly busy lives, the number of products and services we have to choose from, and the vast number of promotional activities in the media. Couple these with concerns among manufacturers and service providers that traditional marketing communications through TV commercials and print advertising are not reaching as many consumers; however, these same managers also understand the value of advertising and sales promotion in building customer familiarity and positive attitudes toward their products and services.

Having great products and services is criticial, but unless the potential customers know about them, know how they fill their needs and know how to make those win-win exchanges, the company will not be successful. So, all four of those P’s we learned about in our basic marketing course are still important to consider. The challene is that managers now must go even further in understanding all of the elements that go into the exchange in an effort to build profitable and long-term customer relationships.