Companies in Afghanistan or anywhere else need four things to achieve marketing success, Thunderbird Professor Anne Stringfellow, Ph.D., told women entrepreneurs from the war-torn country Oct. 19, 2010, during a Project Artemis presentation.
Stringfellow said a successful marketing plan must include the right product, price, place and publicity.
“They all have to be correct for you to have any customers,” Stringfellow told the group of 19 businesswomen from Afghanistan. “If one of these pieces is missing, you will not have results.”The Right Product
Stringfellow said a marketing plan is doomed from the start if a company produces a product or service that customers don’t want. “You need to give customers what they want,” she said. “Not what they think they want.”
The key is to listen to customers and to make it easy for them to complain to you when they are dissatisfied. “Your worst customers are the ones who are dissatisfied but who don’t complain to you,” she said.
Stringfellow said companies that listen to their customers often discover the need to produce different products or variations of the same product.
Maryam, a Project Artemis fellow from Jawazjan, listened to the customers at her women’s only Internet café and discovered an opportunity to sell snacks and beverages.
The Right Price
Even if a business offers the right product, customers won’t buy it if the price is too high. At the other extreme, companies that set their prices too low will go out of business.
Stringfellow said companies that differentiate themselves on price struggle to sustain success because new competitors can appear with even lower prices. “You never want to compete just on price,” she said.
A better strategy is to compete on value, which involves setting reasonable prices for valued products or service that others don’t provide. In emerging markets and elsewhere, companies also can sell products in small quantities at lower prices.
Finding the right price has been a challenge for Najiba, a Project Artemis fellow from Herat who owns a wool processing business that produces material for carpets and fabric. Some of her competitors gain a price advantage by importing wool from Iran in large quantities.
Stringfellow said companies that compete on value instead of price respond to this type of competition by finding their own niche where they can be the best.
“You need to be No. 1 in something,” Stringfellow said. “People want the best. If you are No. 2, nobody will choose you. You might as well be No. 500.”The Right Place
Companies that have the right product and the right price still must find ways to get it to their customers. This requires the right place, or the right distribution channels.
Some merchants take their products directly to their customers through the Internet or even walking door to door. Others use retail outlets or employ sales and distribution partners.
Stringfellow said both strategies have advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is to make sure potential customers have access to your product when they want to buy it.
“How do you get the product into the hands of your customers?” she said. “Will you sell it yourself, or will you get someone else to sell it for you?”
Mariam, a Project Artemis fellow who works as a freelance photographer and English interpreter in Kabul, takes her services directly to her customers. She also has a Web site that makes her services more accessible.The Right Publicity
The final ingredient in any marketing plan is the right publicity. Customers can’t buy a product if they don’t know it exists — no matter how good it is or how low the price.
Stringfellow said the right publicity starts with the right message. “Keep it simple,” she said. “Have one selling proposition that focuses on why you are No. 1.”
The next step is to deliver the right message through the right medium. Paid advertising works for some companies, but Stringfellow recommends word-of-mouth marketing and other forms of free publicity.
At least one Project Artemis in the classroom already has gained free publicity by telling her story in the media.
Masooma Habibi, who owns an electrical engineering company in Kabul, has attended international events such as the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. She has met world leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and appeared in various publications and Web sites.
Not all businesses attract this type of publicity, but Stringfellow said a company needs to be flexible and to keep trying. “Marketing is not an exact science,” she said. “Be prepared to try different things, and track your results.”
[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management https://thunderbird.asu.edu/knowledge-network/]