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Marketing has traditionally been based on the four P’s: price, product, promotion and place. But these days, those should be complemented – and perhaps superseded – by a T.

T, for time.

Most of us – even retired people – are in a frenzy, complaining about time. Not enough time to do anything. Few chances to relax and enjoy an activity. Any marketer not taking a lot of time to consider time is missing out, big time.

We attribute Amazon’s success to the fact it’s online, and anything online these days is considered leading edge. But talk to friends about why they use Amazon and invariably they will remark, almost immediately, about how quickly they receive their orders – and how effortlessly. They don’t have to make a trip to a store to get the purchase, but simply click once online and usually two or three days later it’s at their door or their community mailbox. (It’s worth noting Canada Post has decided the time of its employees and their cost were more important than our time, so many of us make that walk to the community mailbox.)

Yes, Amazon has a vast selection and good prices and that’s important, fitting the four P’s. But time is critical. It’s similar with Costco. Lots of merchandise and good prices, but conversations about shopping there usually mention how quickly they handle you at the cash register. Often we are treated as captives at the payout counter by supermarkets and the like. But Costco has two people to serve us in my home town and, despite carts overflowing with goods, will often beat the supermarket’s supposed fast lane. Walmart understands time with its clump of cash registers, usually in the centre of its checkouts, designed for quick service.

So did William Thorsell when, several years ago, as editor-in-chief of this newspaper, he told journalists they weren’t selling readers wonderful stories so much as asking those readers for their time. These days, many websites tell us how long it will take to read a story, although that can disguise the fact that many readers will spend endless time on things that fascinate them, as The New Yorker shows with its devotion to long, rambling reads. But in each case, the publications have thought about time and their specific readers.

In their 2008 book Stopwatch Marketing, consultants John Rosen and AnnaMaria Turano noted consumers have an internal stopwatch that is ticking when they consider our products or services. The authors set out four types of situations:

  • Impatient shopping: This involves products or services that are urgently needed but rarely purchased in advance, as when buying a padlock for your child’s locker at 11 p.m. the night before the first day of classes.
  • Recreational shopping: Shopping is turned into an experience, slowed down with many opportunities to reach the consumer. Whole Foods Market and Farm Boy have changed supermarket shopping from drudgery to a treat.
  • Reluctant shopping: Shopping for tires or plumbers may be unpleasant but usually can’t be put off. But in some cases people can delay, staying with things that are “good enough,” such as computer software.
  • Painstaking shopping: These decisions take a long time, as when picking a university to attend or a car to buy. Customers can’t be rushed. In some cases, you may want to slow them down further to persuade them to pick higher-margin items.

In the just-published book Would You Do That to Your Mother?, consultant Jeanne Bliss calls for a “make mom proud” standard for treating your customers. She urges you to end service exhaustion: “Would you make your mom do work to get good service, which you could have easily done for her?” Think about all the steps, people and processes it takes for a customer to interact with your organization and resist layering work on customers, she advises. This goes against the grain today, where we ask customers to do more in dealing with us.

In a recent study, Wharton School professors Katherine Milkman and Judd Kessler looked at a hospital to see how soon after providing service they (and other non-profits) should ask for a donation from former patients. They found a steep decline in generosity toward the hospital the longer it waited, with donation rates dropping about 30 per cent for every 30 days the system waits to contact patients.

So, add to the four P’s the often-vital and neglected T.

Quick hits

  • Loose-tight is an important managerial dimension. What can you loosen up, allowing staff to handle with less direction? It may be more than you have believed. I remember the founders of Creo, a Vancouver tech firm, telling me they saved money by giving all employees corporate credit cards because even with some cheating and mistakes, it was cheaper than the bureaucracy required to oversee such spending. What needs to be tightened? Take time in the next few days to rethink the loose-tight balance.
  • When you want somebody to faithfully implement your policies and procedures, hire a straight-A student, since they have learned to play by the rules. When you need to innovate, hire a rascal like Steve Jobs, says consultant Roy H. Williams, since rascals make up their own rules and give you the benefits of their alternative thinking.

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