The importance of communication
Marketing communications are clearly central to RM. Duncan and Moriarty (1998), for example, argue that trust and commitment are products of communication, concluding that ‘Relationships…are impossible without communication’. It is tempting to view marketing communications as a systems issue rather than one of shared values. It should become clear, however, that the key to successful RM communications is the integration of the various messages transmitted and received by the organization. It is the shared values that provide the basis for such integration, providing a set of guiding principles that temper the collective voice of the organization. Before looking at how this can be done, however, we will look at the range of elements that comprise marketing communications.
The traditional view of marketing communications is that separate mechanisms are used for communicating with internal and external customers respectively. The implication of RM is that the distinction between internal and external customers is virtually irrelevant. Communication systems should therefore encompass internal and external audiences. External audiences stretch far beyond the organization’s customers, including such groups as suppliers, intermediaries, shareholders, the press, the government, industry and professional bodies or trade associations, society as a whole and anyone who has a valid interest in what the organization says, does or makes. Such audiences are commonly referred to as stakeholders.
Medium and message diversity
Stakeholders glean messages about the organization from a number of sources. Marketing communications has traditionally focused on planned promotional activity such as advertising, public relations and direct marketing. Clearly, these channels are important, but research suggests that, in the early stages of a relationship at least, stakeholders put more trust in messages from personal or independent sources (Murray, 1991). Since RM focuses on customer retention, its communication strategies must also encompass the messages that customers gain from the consumption experience itself, since these will be decisive in determining repeat purchases. Gronroos (2000) identifies five types of message source:
• Planned messages are the traditional communication media, such as advertising, telesales, mail-shots and personal selling.
• Product messages are gained from the tangible aspects of the product, such as product design, durability, fitness for use and reliability.
• Unplanned messages refers to independent and personal sources, such as word of mouth, news stories and product reviews.
• Service messages are taken from the intangible elements of the product, such as interaction with sales staff, delivery or invoicing processes and complaints handling.
• Absence of communication sends important messages about the care (or lack of it) with which the organization treats its customers. Examples include failure to notify the customer of delivery delays or respond to a complaint.