What is Consumer Communication? Characteristics, Components, Steps in Designing, Ethics

  • Post last modified:15 August 2023
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What is Consumer Communication?

Consumer communication refers to the exchange of information, ideas, and messages between businesses, organizations, or brands and their target audience, which consists of consumers or potential customers. It encompasses all the ways in which companies interact with their customers to inform, persuade, educate, and engage them about their products, services, values, and overall brand identity.

The essential part of any marketing strategy is consumer communication and the rapid pace of developing technologies has made it easy to reach out to the consumers. The advancement in technology has made it easy for companies to collect important information about their target market like their personal preferences, methods of connecting with their customers, and even know when to reach them. Consumer communication is referred to as the flow of information regarding a product or service that is being offered by a business enterprise for the consumer.

Salient Objectives of Consumer Communication

Informative: It is aimed to create awareness of orgnisations products/ services or ideas. The organisation seeks to apprise people about the attributes and benefits of new or established products. For example, before a launch of a hair conditioner, an organisation may create awareness about the product’s various benefits and features. For example, Patanjali tends to apprise the customers about the several benefits of the ingredients used by it in its products.

Persuasive: It is aimed to induce the customers that the services or products offered by the organisation are the best, Through persuasive communication organisation strives to change the prevailing consumer perceptions. The organisation tries to influence consumers to change to its brand. For example, a toothpaste advertisement showcases whether your toothpaste has salt in it; if not, switch to our brand of toothpaste. It is aimed to cajole consumers to switch to organisation’s brand.

Reminder: It aims to prompt potential consumers about the need for a product/ service or make them aware about the its features and benefits. For example, an email sent by Alpha shampoo to consumer which reads still using old product, then switch to the new product of Alpha shampoo and get nourishing hair. While shopping through Flipkart, if a customer has added some product in his shopping cart but has not ordered it yet, then there will be a pop up or notification reminding the customer to order it as the product is the cart.

According to American Association of Advertising Agencies, “integrated marketing communication recognizes the value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines advertising, public relations, personal selling, and sales promotion and combines them to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communication impact.”

There are two kinds of consumer communication or marketing communication:

  • Personal communication: Communication through a salesperson, marketer, or the dealer. For example, many departmental stores have sales person to help customers in buying decision or clarifying their queries.

  • Impersonal communication: Communication through a channel or a media, print, audio-visual, and more. For example, many fashion outlet reach out to customers by sending a email or though text message to give a feedback of shopping experience.

This form of communication mix that consists of personal selling, advertising, promotion, publicity, direct marketing, and more are normally used by marketers for communicating with their customers. Customers are well informed about the product or service offerings by the company and the changes through the personal and impersonal channels.

Marketing communication play a pivotal role in the existence of a business enterprise. Consumers depend on the information disseminated by the organisation through various mediums which help consumer to make prudent purchase decisions. Organisation, spanning from transnational corporations to small scale retailers, rely on marketing communication to sell their products and services.

Consumer communication lays foundation for forging relationships with customers and other key stakeholders in the company. Organisations make use of communication mix, which entails advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, publicity and direct marketing to communicate with their consumers. Organisations inform the consumers about both current and upcoming products/services, as well as any changes brought about in the marketing mix.

The important modes of communication used by marketing companies as their strategies for the consumers are:

  • Advertising: It is non-personal by nature and targets mass audience. It can address a large number of audiences at a time. Advertising facilitates the method of informing, persuading, differentiating, and reminding the consumers about the brand and helps to maintain brand equity. It is a paid form of promotion which involves a sponsor who invests money in buying media and monitoring advertising programmes. For example, in many cricket matches, there are various organisations that are sponsors of the league. In this way, the organisations are advertising themselves.

  • Public relations: This is a two-way form of communication between the organisation and the general public. It helps with establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships and also for the promotion of the business and improving the image of the enterprise. For example, e-commerce sites obtain the response from the customers regarding the products delivered. This is done to maintain cordial relation with customers.

  • Direct marketing: This is a method used by business enterprises to communicate and directly target customers through mail, telephone, and other forms of electronic media like radio, advertising, television, and more. The method of direct marketing is used by a company to target a segment of customers and prospects with a sales message that is tailored to their specific needs and requirements. For example, a car manufacturing organisation may advertise on radio and newspaper not to indulge in drink and drive, and drive safe.

  • Sales promotion: Sales promotion is the method adopted by business enterprises for promoting a product by adding extra incentives. It helps with accelerating the movement of the product from the producer to the consumer so that it motivates the consumer to select a particular brand. The various forms of consumer promotions include coupons, samples, premiums, and discounts, and more. For example, Liberty or Reebok offers a 30 per cent discount to its consumers is a sales promotion.

  • Personal selling: Personal selling is a two-way face-to-face communication between the salesmen and the prospective customer. The result of such interaction depends upon the extent to which they trust one another as well as the level of their common understanding. It is an interpersonal form of communication, and it is used as an effective tool of communication since it provides immediate feedback. For example, Hindustan Unilever sells its products, the water purifier ‘Pure it’, using personal selling.

Characteristics of Communication

Communication has an important role to play in bridging the gap between the business enterprise and the consumer. Communication is a two-way flow of information between the company and its buyers and also from the consumer to the firm.

Different Characteristics of Communication

Continuous Process Involving Two or More People

Communication is a continuous process that goes on constantly and an organisation cannot exist without communication. The process of communication requires two or more people since a single person cannot exchange ideas with himself.

Building and Maintaining Relationships

Communication helps with building and maintaining long-term relationships with its stakeholders. It is an important tool for creating an emotional connection with the customers and makes them feel valued and comfortable while telling them about the goods and services offered by the company.

Exchange of Ideas and is a Pervasive Function

In communication, there is an exchange of ideas between two people and more. If there was no exchange of ideas or messages, there would be no communication. It is a pervasive function and it is applied in all aspects and functions of management and authority.

Facilitates Innovation in Marketing

Effective communication skills help with innovative methods in marketing to stand out from the competitors. Innovation is one of the most important processes of and for the marketing of goods and services one needs to be creative to gain a competitive edge.

Helps With Understanding Needs

Communication helps with a proper understanding of the needs and requirements of the consumers and the employees. It helps with convincing customers across the globe to trust the company and its products.

Overcoming Marketing Obstacles

A good communication system is required for making the marketing process effective and helps the business enterprises with facing and cultural and language challenges in the business environment. Using the appropriate communication skills and approaches for specific target groups makes it easier to evaluate the needs and develop lasting connections with customers.

Facilitates Easy Changes

Effective communication helps with building trust through regular communication. The customers are at ease and more inclined to stay with the company they trust when changes in the market occur.

Provides Effective Feedback

Good communication works both ways where the customers can provide feedback and express their views on the products or services and make suggestions about what improvements can be made. When the customers feel that the company is accepting their opinion and feedbacks is acting on their comments they feel valued and continue to communicate constructively.

Provides Improvement in Services

Communicating with the customer helps companies tailor and improve on their products and services and create products or services tailored to their specific needs.

Improves Customer Loyalty

Effective communication helps with improving customer loyalty when customers feel valued by regular contact with a company. Further on, a sastified customer will recommend the organisation’s product/service to his/her friends or family members, which is utmost important as it is based on genuine personal experience. This experience can result in a loyal consumer who in a way becomes a brand ambassador for the organistion. For a marketing organisation, these are worth just as much as the best-written brochures and websites.

Components of Communication

The process of exchanging verbal and nonverbal messages is done through communication. Communication is a continuous process where a message is transmitted through a medium to the recipient.

The message must be understood by the recipient as it was intended by the sender. Thereafter the recipient responds to the message within a timeframe. Hence the process of communication is a two-way process and it is not completed without feedback from the recipient. The three important components of the communication process are the sender, receiver, and the media. Apart from these, there are two sub-components, which are referred to as feedback and noise.

The message is first encoded by the sender and sent through medium and it is decoded by the receiver, who then offers feedback. During every stage of the communication process, there could a disturbance in form of a “noise”. The ‘noise’ could be a loud sound and these are kinds of disturbances that could take place within the sender or the media or the receiver.

  • Sender: The objective of communication is deemed as a message transmitted by the sender. The sender encodes the message in form of words, pictures, orally and transfers it through media or a channel. The message sent by the sender consists of the subject matter which the sender wants to transmit to the receiver, and it could be in oral, written, or as gestures.

  • Media or channel: Communication could be either personal or impersonal. It is personal when two people interact with each other face to face by talking and listening to each other and the air and the sound waves act as the media. The media is the channel through which the information is transmitted. Communication could be impersonal when the communication takes place through print media in form of newspapers, magazines, brochures, and more or through broadcast audio-visual means like the TV, radio, websites, and more.

  • Receiver: Once the message is sent through the media, it reaches the receiver, who decodes the message to extract meaning from it. After having decoded and comprehended the message, the receiver reacts with feedback.

  • Feedback: Once the message has been received by the receiver, the receiver sends back feedback that moves from the receiver to the sender, which creates a loop. Feedback expresses whether the message has been appropriately understood by the receiver. It is also a means by which the sender gets to know of the receivers’ reaction to their message.

  • Noise: Noise is what disturbs and interferes with the communication process, and acts as a barrier to effective communication and it can affect every stage of the communication process. It acts as a barrier to effective communication and it could be internal as well as external. It is internal when it concerns the sender or the receiver, who are not able to understand or pay attention to the message. External noise occurs when there is a disruption in the environment in form of loud noise or when there is a snag with the media such as weak signal, sound waves, air, etc.

Steps in Designing Persuasive Communication

Persuasion is a communication process that is involved with the main objective of influencing the other person. The persuasive message used by the enterprises is a form of communication strategy designed by the firm to change the consumer’s belief or behaviour. For persuading the consumers, organisations must focus on the receiver or the consumers of the persuasive message.

The persuasive message is the central message that informs or tries to convince the consumers towards a certain action. Persuasive messages are often discussed in terms of reason versus emotion since people make decisions based on emotion as well as reason. On the other hand, if the people have researched all the relevant facts, the decision may still come down to impulse, emotion, and desire. The successful persuader tries to convince the consumers by putting them in a mental state of conflict.

Persuasion is about the connection between two people and the main aspect of persuasion involves four components:

  • Source: It is the company that is the persuader. The company has an objective and wants to achieve something.

  • Main Goal: Persuasion is goal-oriented and the goal is winning Over the user.

  • Medium: These include the messages which the persuader directs to the audience.

  • Audience: The users who can help the persuader achieve their goals.

Various Steps of Persuasive Communication

Deciding on the Audience Goal

It is a process of identifying the shared advantages that are necessary to identify the main objective with the tangible benefits for the people the firm is trying to persuade. The enterprise needs to closely study the issues that matter to the people they want to convince. They use conversations, meetings and other techniques to collect essential information and they test their ideas with trusted contacts and question the people they will later be persuading. They are good listeners and through this approach, they develop methods that would appeal to the customers.

Designing the Communication Strategy

It is essential to establish a communications strategy along with determining the primary communication objectives. The key factors of persuasion are perception, experience, and memory. The main focus is to create awareness of a service or product, promoting, attracting, and creating goodwill.

For this organisation needs:

  • To create awareness
  • To promote organisational image
  • To ensure audience retains message
  • To stimulate action

Analyse the Listeners

The company must do thorough background research on the target audience to understand them better and be able to anticipate their specific wants and needs that enable the company to tailor their persuasive message accordingly.

For one needs to:

  • Get consumer/audience profile

  • Choose the media strategy

  • Decide on which media the target audience listen or read

Create a Logical, Emotional and Credible Appeal

It is necessary to establish credibility and build a relationship with the audience by discussing the unique and attractive features of the products offered. Credibility develops from two sources: expertise and relationships. It is important to listen carefully to other people’s suggestions. Create an environment in which they know their opinions are valued. The marketers can prepare by collecting data and information that both support and contradict the arguments.

This involves:

  • Decide on the message strategy

  • The goal of the message strategy should be persuasive and relative to the communication objective.

  • Issues to keep in mind
    • Wordsused for pictures
    • Vividness
    • Repetition
    • Semantics

Organise and Deliver the Persuasive Message

It is necessary to get the attention of the target audience by using drama, humour, or other methods and follow with specific facts that establish the credibility of the firm. The next step is to provide more information about the product or service and lead the audience towards the centre of the action.

Pioneer persuaders can form a precise sense of their audience’s emotional state, and alter their tone of arguments accordingly. To strike the right emotional tone, persuaders need to understand the audience and know the kind of emotional argument to make. It involves framing the message and level of involvement when deciding on message presentation.

Marketing Communication Ethics

Every country has a basic framework in place in terms of communication and regulations that regulate the field of advertising. There are many kinds of advertising policies that consist of self-regulatory codes of marketing and advertising ethics and many advertisements that are prohibited by law.

In every country, there is one advertising industry trade association with a self-regulatory panel or committee that reviews consumer complaints. At the same time, it is necessary to understand the associated risks, ethical and legal issues concerning advertising for ensuring a safe and secure environment of communicating with customers and other businesses.

The long-term success of communication media and advertising requires adequate enabling of a legal framework in place for the consumers and other stakeholders to ensure a stable environment for conducting business. It requires having in place business ethics with a system of moral principles applied to commercial transactions. Ethical policies help to provide the guidelines that are acceptable by the business enterprises in regards to their formulation of strategies and day-to-day operations.

For a business organisation to be successful, it is necessary to have an ethical approach for conducting business that also creates a positive image of the enterprise. Every business should follow certain basic principles and a code of conduct. These principles should set the tone for business so that the consumers can get the right information proper communication regarding their products. The codes of advertising ethics are decided by the self-regulatory panels that base their decisions based on these ethical principles.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) determines the most influential codes that are followed by advertising bodies in more than thirty countries. The ethical policies followed by marketing communications consist of ICC Codes that are based on the core principles of legality, decency, honesty, and truthfulness.

According to ICC “all marketing communications should be prepared with a due sense of social and professional responsibility and should conform to the principles of fair competition, as generally accepted in business. No communication should be such as to impair public confidence in marketing.”

Even the American Marketing Association has a statement of ethics that requires its members ‘to do no harm, foster trust in the marketing system, and embrace ethical values. It lists the following attributes as ethical values: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency, and citizenship.’

Self-regulatory codes are made in general terms since it becomes very difficult to objectively define the kind of advertisement that can be considered as right and ‘decent’. Since in many countries the standards of decency vary on a national or cultural basis and are likely to change over time, therefore, the ICC Code provides general guidelines: “Marketing communications should not contain statements or audio or visual treatments which offend standards of decency currently prevailing in the country and culture concerned.”

These further collaborate with the following:

  • Business enterprises should frame their marketing communications in a manner that should not exploit the customer and abuse them due to their lack of experience or knowledge. They should communicate the importance to the customers that are likely to affect their decisions at such a time that the consumers can take them into their consideration.

  • Marketing communications by the enterprises should respect the dignity of human beings and not incite or render any form of discrimination, based on race, religion, age, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

  • Business enterprises should not play on fear or exploit the suffering or misfortune of the people with their marketing communications.

  • Marketing communications by the enterprises should not incite or condone violent, unlawful, or antisocial behaviour.

Types of Unethical Marketing Communication

Legal Violations: The violations of ethics in communications can become legal violations when it relates to a person’s responsibility to communicate fairly, without bias, and concerning those affected by the communication. For example, in an advertisement of toothpaste, a company said its product is recommend by Indian Dental Association. However, the Association was in denial as there was no recommendation as such. There maybe a legal action initiated against the company using unethical means.

The ethical practice should first seek permission and then advertise that the product has been recommended by a competent authority.

Truthfulness: Business enterprises must check facts before committing the offence of an untruthful piece of communication to the customers. Not checking facts rightfully is a violation of ethics, when communicating information about a product, competitor, customer or employee, into the piece of communication. For example, a toffee making company concealed that it uses egg as an ingredient in its product and labeled it as a vegetarian product, which is unethical.

The ethical practice is to be honest and explicitly state all the inputs used in the product.

Confidentiality: Confidentiality involves protecting the information and rights of people. Violation of communication ethics takes place by sending information that was provided in confidence or that was overheard in someone else’s conversations. The act of spreading rumours is degrading to business enterprises who wish to earn the trust and respect of their employees and customers to be successful. For example, if an organisation has obtained customer information, and without informing the customer, is further shared the information with another organisation, it is breach of confidentiality.

Ethically, the organisation should not share customer data without his/her prior approval.

Offensive Messages: Communication in form of messages that are offensive to the receiver or anyone affected by the information contained in the message violates ethical communication guidelines. The communication may offend the people due to references to race, gender, income level, background, or education level.

For instance, an advert of fairness cream may portray people of dark skin as unsuccessful or demean them because of their complexion. They showcase that by using fairness cream, a person can improve skin texture and attain success. This may hurt the sentiments of dark-skinned people and such type of messages should be strictly avoided. Ethically, organisations should not categorise people on the basis of their caste, creed or religion.

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