Placing a Product

Once a product has been developed and a pricing strategy has been chosen, the business must consider where it should place the product and how to get it there via placement and distribution. Read this section to learn about product distribution strategies and supply chain management.

Before we go on to the final component in the marketing mix – promotion – let's review the elements that we've discussed so far: product, price, and place. As we've seen, to be competitive, companies must produce quality products, sell them at reasonable prices, and make them available to customers at the right place at the right time. To accomplish these three tasks, they must work with a network of other firms, both those that supply them with materials and services and those that deliver and sell their products. To better understand the links that must be forged to create an effective network, let's look at the steps that the candy maker Just Born takes to produce and deliver more than one billion Marshmallow Peeps each year to customers throughout the world. Each day, the company engages in the following process:

  • Purchasing managers buy raw materials from suppliers (sugar and other ingredients used to make marshmallow, food coloring, and so forth).
  • Other operations managers transform these raw materials, or ingredients, into 4.2 million Marshmallow Peeps every day.
  • Operations managers in shipping send completed packages to a warehouse where they're stored for later distribution.
  • Operations managers at the warehouse forward packaged Marshmallow Peeps to dealers around the world.
  • Retail dealers sell the Marshmallow Peeps to customers.

This process requires considerable cooperation not only among individuals in the organization but also between Just Born and its suppliers and dealers. Raw-materials suppliers, for instance, must work closely with Just Born purchasing managers, who must, in turn, work with operations managers in manufacturing at Just Born itself. People in manufacturing have to work with operations managers in the warehouse, who have to work with retail dealers, who have to work with their customers.

If all the people involved in each of these steps worked independently, the process of turning raw materials into finished Marshmallow Peeps and selling them to customers would be inefficient (to say the least). However, when everyone works in a coordinated manner, all parties benefit. Just Born can make a higher-quality product at a lower cost because it knows that it's going to get cooperation from suppliers whose livelihood, after all, depends on the success of customers like Just Born: suppliers can operate more efficiently because they can predict the demand for their products (such as sugar and food coloring). At the other end of the chain, dealers can operate efficiently because they can depend on Just Born to deliver a quality product on time. The real beneficiary is ultimately the end user, or customer: because the process that delivers the product is efficient, its costs are minimized and its quality is optimized. The customer, in other words, gets a higher-quality product at a lower price.

Supply Chain Management

As you can see in Figure 9.10 "A Simplified Supply Chain", the flow that begins with the purchase of raw materials and culminates in the sale of the Marshmallow Peeps to end users is called the supply chain. The process of integrating all the activities in the supply chain is called supply chain management (SCM). As you can see from our discussion so far, SCM requires a high level of cooperation among the members of the chain. All parties must be willing to share information and work together to maximize the final customer's satisfaction.

Figure 9.10 A Simplified Supply Chain

Managing your supply chain can be difficult, particularly if your company has large seasonal fluctuations. This is certainly true at Just Born. Even though it has a Marshmallow Peep for every season (heart Peeps for Valentine's Day, spooky Peeps for Halloween, patriotic Peeps for July Fourth, and so on), the biggest problem rests with the standard yellow Marshmallow Peep that provides a major spike in sales each spring. Without careful supply chain management, there would be either too many or two few yellow Marshmallow Peeps – both big problems. To reduce the likelihood of either situation, the manager of the company's supply chain works to ensure that all members of the chain work together throughout the busy production season, which begins each fall. Suppliers promise to deliver large quantities of ingredients, workers recognize that they will be busy through February, and dealers get their orders in early. Each member of the chain depends on the others to meet a mutually shared goal: getting the right quantity of yellow Marshmallow Peeps to customers at the right time.

But what if a company has multiple sales spikes (and lulls)? What effect does this pattern have on its supply chain? Consider Domino's Pizza. Have you ever thought about what it takes to ensure that a piping-hot pizza will arrive at your door on Super Bowl Sunday (Domino's busiest day of the year)? What about on the average weekend? How about when the weather's bad and you just don't want to go out? Clearly, Domino needs a finely tuned supply chain to stay on top of demand. Each year, the company sells about four hundred million pizzas (more than one pizza for every man, woman, and child in the United States). Its suppliers help to make this volume possible by providing the company with about one hundred fifty million pounds of cheese and toppings. Drivers do their part by logging nine million miles a week (the equivalent of 37.5 round trips to the moon every week).

How are these activities managed? Dominos relies on a software system that uses historical data to forecast demand by store; determines, orders, and adjusts supplies; fills staffing needs according to expected sales levels; and facilitates the smooth flow of accurate information among members of the chain. All this coordination is directed at a single goal – satisfying the largest possible number of end users".

The Value Chain

Supply chain management helps companies produce better products at lower costs and to distribute them more effectively. Remember, however, that effective supply chain management doesn't necessarily guarantee success. A company must also persuade consumers to buy its products, rather than those of its competitors, and the key to achieving this goal is delivering the most value.

The Customer Value Triad

Today's consumers can choose from a huge array of products offered at a range of prices through a variety of suppliers. So how do they decide which product to buy? Most people buy the product that gives them the highest value, and they usually determine value by considering the three factors that many marketers call the customer value triad: quality, service, and price. In short, consumers tend to select the product that provides the best combination of these factors.

To deliver high customer value, a company must monitor and improve its value chain – the entire range of activities involved in delivering value to customers. Some of these activities arise in the process of supply chain management – obtaining raw materials, manufacturing products, getting finished goods to customers. Others take place outside the supply chain, particularly those associated with marketing and selling products and with providing customer support. In addition, companies need to find ways of creating value by improving the internal operations – procurement, research and development, human resource management, and financial management – that support their primary value-chain activities.

The idea is fairly simple: by focusing on the interrelated links in its value chain, a company can increase product quality, provide better service, and cut prices. In other words, it can improve its quality-service-price mix, thereby making its products more competitive.