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A TCI Book Review

Predatory Marketing - What Everyone in Business Needs to Know to Win Today's Customer

C. Britt Beemer (with Robert L. Shook)
Broadway Books, New York, 1997

C. Britt Beemer is the founder and chairman of America's Research Group, a market research company headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. His book is essentially a primer on how to develop a marketing strategy in the retail sector (most of Beemer's clients are retail businesses so it is no surprise that this is his predominant focus). There are chapters on how to conduct market research; how to identify trends; the importance of having and communicating a vision; how to develop a marketing strategy; how to assess the competition; and how to develop a sustained long term vision. Most of this is pretty standard stuff, not too different from the substance of most books on strategic marketing.

Where Beemer is different is in his insistence that marketing strategies must be predatory in nature: that is, they must be oriented towards increasing market share by taking business away from competitors. This approach further implies that competitors of a business are acting also in a predatory manner, which is why market strategies should never be complacent or stand still:

"The theme that every marketing strategy ultimately fails recurs throughout this book. An explanation of why mediocre marketing strategies fail is, I believe, unnecessary. But why is even the best marketing strategy doomed to fail? Because, if it is good, competitors won't stand idly by: they will copy the strategy and, in time, improve it, rendering the original version obsolete. For this reason, a market leader must be continually tweaking his winning strategy - ideally at the peak of the trend when profit margins are high." (p.xiv)

At the end of each chapter of the book, Beemer presents what he calls 'consumer mind readers'- results of recent surveys into various aspects of consumer behaviour, conducted by his firm. While totally unrelated to the subject matter of the particular chapter that it is tacked on to, there is some interesting material contained within these mini-surveys. The topics addressed in these 'consumer mind readers' are:

  • the 10 highest-rated products for which consumers have brand loyalty (would you believe, for example, that the highest is soft drinks, and the second-highest is insurance?)
  • the most common things that Americans do check out or think about before making a purchase (the top-rated item here is 'check product quality')
  • shopping preferences of adults and teens (adults prefer shopping in person, teens prefer shopping on the internet)
  • what American consumers would do if they won $100,000 in a lottery (the top choice was "put the money in the bank")
  • the top ten uses for the internet (number one: to do 'personal research' - Beemer doesn't tell us if this means looking up family histories or surfing the net for porno pictures)
  • ways in which teenagers are influenced by advertising (the most persuasive ploy appears to be giving away CDs or posters of rock groups)
  • twenty-five things that store appearance conveys to customers (quality, pride and selection are rated as the top three)
  • the top ten issues that parents are concerned about (topping the list: drugs at school)
  • five ways to predict the level of consumer spending (including things like: how many people are saving their tax refunds?)
  • how consumers think the drug problem in America should be handled (topping the list: mandatory prison sentences for those convicted)

One must be careful, though, with Beemer's facts and figures - he presents no information on survey selection procedures, respondent types, sample sizes, potential bias in the data, etc. This is quite annoying and significantly limits the practical utility of the information.

Despite all this there are some useful tidbits throughout the book. An example:

"If you can log only one number into your memory, it should be the 1.3 stores per major purchase that the American consumer will shop in the year 2000. Coupled with the fact that there will undoubtedly be more stores with more choices than ever, this alarming number substantiates that if you are not the first store shopped, your prospects are severely limited...All customers are demanding more, and if you don't give them what they want, it is certain your competition will." (p.273)




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