Saturday, May 24, 2008

Marketing in Ukraine: liars and bridges

Futurelab's Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog recently had a thought-provoking post about the connection between customer experience and marketing. It resonated with me for a few reasons. One, it challenges marketing professionals to choose who they want to be:

"... liars spinning fabrications around inferior products and services who depend on traditional marketing to make themselves appear more appealing. Or, we can be honest, and figure how to actually make the product, service, and brand better - so marketing initiatives will become a natural extension of the experience a customer has with that brand."

I think most marketers who want to choose Door #2, they find themselves at odds with bosses, companies or clients who have either chosen Door #1 or apologetically say "that's all we have to work with right now". In Ukraine it is even more difficult because marketing is still mostly equated with advertising, PR or sales, all of which are very much seen as ways to gloss over product shortcomings. Thinking of marketing as a bridge between the product/service and driving customer satisfaction/experience is still years away for most companies in Ukraine. Generations of Ukraine's citizens have been lied to by their politicians, employers, and each other. Not just little white lies, big lies. So skepticism and mistrust is built into the society's psyche. Despite this, Ukrainians generally have high expectations for whatever they buy and are disappointed easily. Therefore, Ukrainian consumers do not give their trust to a brand easily. It is easily broken once it is broken it is extremely difficult to get it back.

To date, the only protection for brands that lie and disappoint customers has been Ukrainians' low incomes and lack of alternative. Both of these problems are improving quickly. Those companies who now truly understand their customers and are looking to meet their needs in novel and innovative ways will see their market shares grow tremendously. These are the companies who leverage the power of marketing and its strategic role in product development and communication to Ukrainian consumers. They regularly track customer satisfaction as their primary benchmark for success and use it as a driver for product and service innovation.

I'll leave you with an example from a few years ago which demonstrates the lack of marketing sophistication in this part of the world. The example is from Moscow, but the situation isn't much better in Ukraine. The photo to the left is for a company selling apartments. And based on outrageous Moscow real estate prices, they probably cost at least several hundred thousand dollars. The offer reads "Super Promotion! Buy an apartment and get a free baseball cap!" Need I say more?