Role of Information Systems in Supporting Sales and Marketing Processes

The use of information systems to support sales and marketing processes in order to increase brand awareness and drive sales is the focus of this analysis. Sales and marketing processes are being fundamentally redefined as a result of social networking (Bernoff, Li, 2008), predicated on the gains made in Web-based application performance, reliability and scalability as a result of Web 2.0 design precepts (O'Reilly, 2006). This analysis concentrates on how information systems are augmenting and strengthening those sales and marketing processes relied on for increasing brand awareness and driving sales. Over the last three years the many processes relied on to accomplish increased branding awareness and sales have gone through a fundamental reorienting towards accuracy, automation and speed over being manually-based and more error prone as a result. Case references of companies who are using information systems to gain greater effectiveness from their brand awareness and selling strategies are presented. Specific attention is paid to the most complex of these processes, multichannel management and selling, as consistency of branding in a distributed network of resellers is often daunting to keep consistent, as is evidenced from empirical research of globally-based franchised electronic stores including Radio Shack operating in Taiwan (Yang, Lin, Liu, Chao, Chen, 2008). Brand awareness is increasingly being associated the experience that a product delivers rather than just its functional attributes (Pine, Gilmore, 2000). With the brand becoming integral to the experience of purchasing and using a product the mass customization selling processes of Dell (Duray, 2004) and BMW, Toyota and Ranger Rover (Coffey, 2005) and their automation have merged as essential catalysts of both branding and sales effectiveness in the 21st century. The intersection of branding awareness and selling strategies with the rapidly changing areas of information technologies will be assessed from a case-based standpoint throughout this analysis. The paradigm of attracting, selling and serving customers will be used as the framework for this analysis.

Introduction

Branding awareness, selling and service processes are going through a fundamental reorientation today as technologies are enabling them to be more finely tuned, measured, and improved faster than ever before. The symbiotic role of technologies is making each of these processes more tailorable to specific marketing and sales objectives, and given their digitally-enabled execution, more measurable as well. As branding, selling and services processes become more attuned, effective through continual refinement base on real-time feedback, greater levels of accountability and performance management pervade direct selling and indirect selling strategies. As these processes become more measurable and there is greater accountability over results multichannel management through indirect channels that include dealers and distributors improve (Johnson, Batt, 2009). Studies of franchised electronics stores in Taiwan including Radio Shack (Yang, Lin, Liu, Chao, Chen, 2008), Taiwanese IT manufacturers including D-Link and Linksys (Lin, Chen, 2008), Dell and its reliance on build-to-order (Duray, 2004) and BMW, Toyota and Range Rovers reliance on mass customization as a branding strategy (Coffey, 2005) all illustrate how critical integrated branding, marketing and selling strategies need to be. Increasingly manufacturers are relying on their unique ability to deliver mass customized or build-to-order products as the foundation of their branding efforts (Duray, 2004). Dell's approach to branding is contrary to the low-price focus of its competitors Acer/Gateway and Lenovo, as Dell, in its mission statement, says it wants to be the world leader in the delivery of exceptional customer experiences. This mission statement is the cornerstone of the Dell brand and shows how those customer-based processes companies have are now the basis of their identity and their brand (Duray, 2004). Paradoxically the Dell brand is more promoted by successful execution of their build-to-order process and less about any amount of claims made. Throughout this analysis comparable branding strategies based on exceptional process execution and the resulting positive impact on sales will be assessed. When a company's set of processes become integral to its brand, as it is with Dell, information technologies are relied on to make the process as scalable, reliable and robust as possible.

Information Technologies' Contribution to Branding and Sales Processes

At its most strategic, the role of brand awareness processes are to make as many prospects and customers as informed as possible about the benefits of existing product and services and the value of future offerings. Branding awareness is often comprised of many processes, from advertising, analyst and investor relations, to media relations and increasingly social networking. The net effect of all these processes is to drive more prospects and customers to the communication channels of the company to learn more and potentially buy.

(Bughin, Shenkan, Singer, 2009).

Branding strategies used to drive up awareness with prospects and customers have gone in the direction of collaborative conversations, less in the direction of one-sided communication and blasting messages out to the market. The broader sociological implications of social networking (Bernoff, Li, 2008) are contributing to this. Lego's approach of asking customers what their ideas for new products are and acting on those suggestions shows that the company is successful in creating a brand known for its ability to listen to customers (Ferguson, 2008). Lego has also created entirely new branding processes that capitalize on their ability to listen and respond to customers as well. This is the type of branding strategy that generates exceptional levels of brand awareness and if practices consistently enough, brand loyalty (Ferguson, 2008). Lego initially found that the global recession, their sales began to plummet as their toys were not seen as essential, only a luxury. They also began to realize that their customers were beginning to purchase Asian-produced knock-offs as their children wanted Lego toys yet the perception of their prices as being high kept parents from spending. To raise brand awareness and also underscore how much they valued feedback from their existing customer base, Lego created Lego Club (Ferguson, 2008). This served the dual purpose of driving up brand awareness and also giving Lego-brand loyal customers the opportunity to participate in the design of the next generation of Lego product design. As the recession continued and Lego continued to experience lagging sales, the product development teams rushed new products to market that incorporated the ideas of from Lego Club (Ferguson, 2008). The result was that during the product introductions that occurring in 2008, Lego was able to generate more interest in its local grassroots club than ever before because it shown in brand advertising the evidence of listening to customers (Ferguson, 2008). While information technologies were not the catalyst of their ability to create much higher levels of awareness with customers through collaboration, they were certainly enablers. As can be seen from this example, the processes that underscore and support brand awareness are changing drastically from the traditional one-sided and often broadcast-mentality-based to those of engaging in conversations with customers and listening to them.

There is also the uncontrollable aspects of brand awareness being further complicated by the emerging dominance of social networks (Bernoff, Li, 2008) and their impact on brands in real-time. From blog posts to Facebook and Twitter conversations about brands that the majority of the time has customers complaining about the lack of support or inflated claims of performance, social networks are forcing the issue of customer conversations even in the brand awareness process areas. An example of the brand awareness process being redefined to be more collaborative, less unidirectional in approach is the introduction by Dell of their DellIdeastorm.com site (Ferguson, 2008). Like Lego, Dell was experiencing a significant drop in sales during the recession which began in 2007 and was concerned that its brand awareness strategies with prospects and new customers were faltering. Their customer satisfaction scores had been dropping as a result of Dell attempting to apply Six Sigma and lean process improvement methodologies to their call centers, giving incentives to call center representatives for speed of response, not closure of the problems (Jarvis, 2008). This was collectively having a very negative impact on the company's band awareness and in conjunction with faulty batteries the company had purchased for their laptops from Asian suppliers that were either failing or catching on fire, the company had major brand challenges in 2007. As a result of their brand taking a beating in the market, partially due to their own choices of call center efficiency strategies, and partially due to the poor selection of battery suppliers, Dell launched a brand offensive to regain their reputation. As part of this brand awareness strategy, Dell created DellIdeaStorm.com, a website that linked customers to each of the company's division and gave customers the opportunity to not only learn about what Dell was doing to overcome their recent problems with call center quality and battery safety, the website also sent a clear message Dell was more interested in listening and helping customers and less about telling them how great they were. The DellIdeaStorm.com site generates 200,000 posts in just under 90 days, a record for any Dell site before or since (Jarvis, 2008). More importantly…