Marketing Channels and Value Networks
Most producers do not sell their goods directly to the final users; between them stands a set of intermediaries performing a variety of functions. These are marketing channels, sets of interdependent organizations participating in the process of making a product or service available for use or consumption. They are the set of pathways a product or service follows after production, culminating in purchase and consumption by the final end user.2
The Importance of Channels
A marketing channel system is the particular set of marketing channels a firm employs, and decisions about it are among the most critical ones management faces. In the United States, channel members as a group have historically earned margins that account for 30 percent to 50 percent of the ultimate selling price. In contrast, advertising typically has accounted for less than 5 percent to 7 percent of the final price.3 One of the chief roles of marketing channels is to convert potential buyers into profitable customers. Marketing channels must not just serve markets, they must also make them.4
The channels chosen affect all other marketing decisions. The company’s pricing depends on whether it uses online discounters or high-quality boutiques. Its sales force and advertising decisions depend on how much training and motivation dealers need. In addition, channel decisions include relatively long-term commitments with other firms as well as a set of policies and procedures. When an automaker signs up independent dealers to sell its automobiles, it cannot buy them out the next day and replace them with company-owned outlets. Holistic marketers ensure that marketing decisions in all these different areas are made to maximize value overall.
In managing its intermediaries, the firm must decide how much effort to devote to push and to pull marketing. A push strategy uses the manufacturer’s sales force, trade promotion money, or other means to induce intermediaries to carry, promote, and sell the product to end users. This strategy is particularly appropriate when there is low brand loyalty in a category, brand choice is made in the store, the product is an impulse item, and product benefits are well understood. In a pull strategy the manufacturer uses advertising, promotion, and other forms of communication to persuade consumers to demand the product from intermediaries, thus inducing the intermediaries to order it. This strategy is particularly appropriate when there is high brand loyalty and high involvement in the category, when consumers are able to perceive differences between brands, and when they choose the brand before they go to the store. Top marketing companies such as Coca-Cola and Nike skillfully employ both push and pull strategies.