Marketing is not all about Customer Satisfaction 

There have been broad and dynamic marketing and industry shifts that have continuously defined or redesigned business landscapes.  It is incumbent upon all marketers to keep adding new lenses, in my case, growing from sales and marketing, to blue ocean strategy and innovation, to entrepreneurship and business model.  Being open to constant change and being aware of obsolescence if one becomes too comfortable, has always challenged me to keep thinking and seeing things differently, so as to do things differently.

This requires much critical thinking and my default is to keep asking questions to understand limitations and gaps of what is being proposed or practiced, instead of merely accepting a concept.  Anticipating possible scenarios including wrong actions or decisions, and worst case outcomes need not come only from experience in the past but from constantly challenging ideas within a context that is psychologically safe for all.

In this article, we discuss the common myth that the basic function of marketing is to satisfy customers.  While customer satisfaction has many benefits, it must be seen as a minimum requirement that creates and strengthens an emotional connection resulting in more consistent business with profitable clients.  As such, marketing not just being about customer satisfaction has to be taken in context, such as the ten scenarios as follows. 

First, focusing on the customers or existing category users typically leads to costly brand switching tactics among competitors.  This red ocean strategy approach focuses on price and sales promotions since competition has the same mindset of satisfying the same set of customers. Just look at the vitamins industry, the numbers 10+3, 8+2, 4+1 promotions in drugstores is simple evidence of such common and  abundant brand switching tactics.

Second, noncustomers may in fact, be a bigger target market than customers. For instance, the number of hypertensive patients is over 100x times the total number of doctors.  Omron played in a totally different category and launched the electronic blood pressure monitor, focusing on the hypertensive patients who need to watch their systolic and diastolic numbers, instead of catering to the existing manual blood pressure-stethoscope market of doctors.

Third, competition is less threatened with the entry of a player focusing on noncustomers, or the unserved and underserved markets.   Existing players may ignore the new indirect competitor without realizing that under the related concept of expanding from core to adjacencies, it is a question of time when the indirect competitor matches or overtakes the market leader, with its Market-Driving Strategy approach.

Fourth, satisfaction is a function of customers’ expectations. A lower expectation from customers can increase customer satisfaction, unmindful of the company’s overall quality.

Fifth, customers are not always right, some may even be abusive, so satisfying customers has a limit before a company decides to resign as supplier.

Sixth, to earn 100% customer satisfaction may not even be profitable for the firm to continue operating. There is a point of marginal return after attaining the optimum satisfaction level, typically in the mid 80’s range.

Seventh, when customers are used to being satisfied at what used to be a higher level especially versus competition, the benefits sought or gained may cease to be a motivator, and may become a dissatisfier if not met. It becomes harder to satisfy the same set of customers who now expect this standard as the new minimum requirement.  What was once a want (motivating) has become a need (basic), for example, television sets in the 60s and early 70s were in black and white and with rotary/push button channels.  Back then, colored TV with remote controls were aspirational or motivating.

Eighth, price-driven brands may not be as affected as service-driven brands when it comes to customer satisfaction, especially if customers don’t have much alternative lower priced choices and they buy based on price not service. Service may need to design a process driven strategy to bring down cost to support the low price strategy, though in some cases, a corresponding increase in service quality is perceived as a better option than lowering price.  This is true if customers are service sticklers versus price sensitive. 

Ninth, satisfying needs and wants is the function of a product and/or service, marketing goes way beyond that.

Finally, marketing is the interface of a company and its market, therefore, satisfying customers without satisfying the company’s needs, and vice versa, is never good marketing. 


Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Visit for schedule of events and a list of over 70 courses in marketing, sales and innovation. 

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Josiah Go features the movers and shakers of the business world and writes about marketing, strategy, innovation, execution and entrepreneurship


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