Adapting the Message to Purchase Context

Value-based communications must not only be adjusted for product characteristics such as cost of search and benefit type, but also for the customer's purchase context. Consider the challenge facing Lenovo, a leading maker of netbook computers. Netbooks are small computers with limited computing power designed to provide inexpensive access to the Internet and basic home office functions such as word processing. The value drivers for Lenovo's netbooks are well understood. Their light weight and small size make them highly portable for travelers or students. They are exceedingly reliable because of their simple design and the fact that they run only mature operating systems such as Microsoft's Windows XP.

Given the relatively clear linkage between product attributes and customer value drivers, crafting a value message would seem to be a straightforward exercise. But consider how the message would have to be adjusted depending on the specifics of the purchase context. Suppose the target customer was a long-time laptop buyer who was thinking about replacing his five-year-old Dell computer. Since this customer has not been in the market for a new computer since before netbooks were introduced, he might not even know what a netbook is, much less that Lenovo is a leading manufacturer. At this stage of his search, the communication objective is not to demonstrate the superior value of Lenovo's products, it is simply to make him aware of the benefits of netbooks that could make them a preferable option. This might be accomplished by purchasing numerous search terms on Google such as “new laptops,” “laptop comparisons,” or “laptop performance” — so that text ads for Lenovo netbooks appear next to search results for those terms — and then providing a link to a site describing the latest innovations in personal computing such as the advent of netbooks.

Having learned of netbook computers as a potential option for replacing his Dell laptop, the customer is ready to gather basic information about various alternatives so that he can narrow his options to a manageable set. The goal at this stage of the buying process is to create some assurances that Lenovo's product is differentiated and worthy of further investigation. This might be accomplished with messages describing the numerous awards the product has won or the high ratings it receives from third-party sites such as CNET.

It is not until the customer has progressed from awareness and through consideration of the product that he is ready to receive and process detailed product-related value messages. So, once again, the Lenovo marketing managers must be ready to adapt market communications to detail the superior performance of their computer versus other netbooks as well as versus full-sized laptops. This might be accomplished through product comparison tools on the Lenovo website or by working with channel partners to promote differentiated features of the product. Finally, after progressing through a number of steps in his buying process, the customer may be ready to think about price-value tradeoffs and to make a purchase.

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