faculty speak

Myth 3: A good quality product sells by itself. You don’t need to market it

 “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in.
It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for.”
– Peter Drucker

There is this brand of automobile well known throughout the world for its quality- Rolls Royce. It is said that every automobile produced by Rolls Royce is ‘hand-crafted’. So much extra care is taken to provide a high quality product to the customer. And the customer has been responding to their efforts by respecting the brand. It has been the ‘object of desire’ world-wide for almost a century. Does not this example prove that a quality product sells by itself?

Well! RR is a product which is for the topmost echelon of the society and not for the common souls. It’s more of a ‘status symbol’ than an automobile. But how did it become the ‘status symbol’ in the first place? The company made conscious efforts right from the beginning to get the ‘royals’ to buy it. And once the royals across the world were being seen with the RR, it acquired its cult status. That means all through their existence, they have been promoting (read marketing) their product perfectly to the carefully chosen segment of customers. Even today their marketing efforts continue, albeit subtly, among their target customers.

It’s certainly the quality. And more …

We are living in an era where any product with poor quality does not stand any chance of survival. Gone are the days when ‘quality’ could be leveraged as a ‘differentiating’ factor as against the competition. Today, quality of the product is a foregone conclusion, a hygiene factor without which the customer will not even consider it.

The word “Quality” is a very widely used term these days in many contexts. Hence, it’s important to understand its real meaning in the context of ‘manufactured products’ or ‘services’.

Does it necessarily mean ‘the best-in-class’? It certainly does not. How else do you explain the fact that many market leaders be it Maruti Suzuki or LG do not have ‘the best-in-class’ products to offer?

Does it mean ‘a flawless performance all the time’? It may not. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that worldwide many automobile manufacturers (including Mercedes Benz and Toyota) have been recalling their products to fix the flaws without affecting their brand image or quality perceptions in the minds of customers?

Then what does quality really mean?

In my view it simply means making a promise to the customer (about the product features and more importantly performance) and fulfilling it near-completely. This is where companies like Maruti Suzuki or LG score very high. They do not make tall claims about the quality of their products. But whatever they claim, they fulfill to the maximum. This has been consistently helping them to build a ‘brand reputation’ and hence consistent sales resulting into commanding market share.

There may still be an argument by the proponents of quality that ‘a quality product stands better chances of not only survival but also success’.

Let me explain this by refreshing your memory: I am sure you remember Motorola Pagers and Sony Walkman? What happened to them? Have they gone into oblivion because they were of poor quality? On the contrary, both these products were ‘the best in their respective classes’. But still they met their end. There are many more examples like this.

This clearly goes on to prove that quality – though a necessary ingredient of success – is not the end in itself. You still need to keep a tab on the changes in consumer preferences; track the competitors’ activities; keep an eye on changes in the allied technologies that go with usage of the product; and closely follow the inventions that may make the very use of your product redundant and eventually, replace it.

All these can be done effectively if you are a customer focused organization with marketing at the focal center of your business. Between the two examples mentioned above, Sony Walkman survived through (albeit for a short time) the fatal changes in technology around its product offering by offering another product under the same brand name. This was possible because they not only understood the customer well but also respected her for her preferences and tastes. Through their customer focus, they turned the ‘product offering’- ‘portable cassette players’ into a ‘value offering’- ‘music on the go’ and remained contemporary with the changing times, till the smart phone revolution killed the category itself.

There are some companies quite obsessive about the quality of their products and expect that the customer should understand their products and prefer them over the competitors. I would like to cite example of an Indian company which makes probably the best quality washing machines. However, when it comes to market share they are far behind the competition. Many customers aren’t even aware of them, leave alone their quality. And all this because, they insist that since their products are of high quality, the customer should and would naturally prefer them.

There is a popular saying in Hindi- Jungle me mor nacha kisne dekha? For the organizations which are obsessively focused on quality and expect the consumer to automatically buy their products, the situation is something like this.

Before we get down to ‘define’ quality, let’s reflect upon what Mr Theodore Levitt – a legend of Marketing who wrote timeless masterpieces like ‘Marketing Myopia’ in the 60s – once said: “Customers don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” This would certainly give us strong clues in terms of what to keep in mind while defining our quality. After all, customer acquires a product to make her life better. A product high on quality but poor on fulfilling customer’s needs may soon head to a museum.       

No matter how good your product is, on quality front, you must connect with your target customer to understand what (in terms of product features and performance) is important to her and what are her expectations from the product? Once you ‘fix’ your product on these lines, create awareness about your product among your target customers; communicate the ‘points-of-difference’ vis-à-vis the competition; make it available at places convenient to her; and provide good customer service.

A good product marketed well is a sure winner. Whereas, an excellent product not marketed properly is a ‘waste of opportunity’.

Prof Rajeev Kamble
Associate Professor
Marketing