Organizations have historically believed that the less information they give customers the more power they have over them. The Web changes that.

Right now I'm researching a heat pump solution for my house. It is almost impossible to get a price on the websites of heat pump manufacturers or installers. You have to ask for a quote. I don't want to ask for a quote before I get a sense of the general price. But I'm not going to be given the price. And here's why.

The manufacturer's customer is the distributor or installer. Thus, the manufacturer is more concerned with keeping the distributor/installer happy than with keeping the end-customer happy. In a typical manufacturer-distributor relationship they like to maximize profitability. So, if they think they can get away with charging a lot more for heat pump X in Dublin than in Cork, then, of course, they will. Putting prices on the website would not allow for such profit maximization.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for price differentials. Historically, there have often been big differences between prices for product X in Ireland than in the UK. When a customer found out about the different prices, they were told about distribution costs, taxes, etc. The truth is unfortunately that even after distribution costs, taxes, etc., Irish consumers were being charged more. Why? Because manufacturers and distributors could get away with it. That's why.

There is a basic model of business that sees the customer as a target to be exploited and manipulated. In truth, much marketing is about manipulation, about exploiting the large reservoir of irrational human behavior. Keeping critical information from the customer was seen as central to such a strategy.

I recently talked to a marketing executive at an organization who had in the previous year released a very poor quality product. He said the marketing department felt they had failed because they were unable to convince customers that the product was actually of a high quality.

The Web changes the game. Sure, in many areas it still pays to treat the customer as an emotional fool. But there's far more benefit-particularly long-term benefit-in treating the web customer as an intelligent stranger.

Learning Opportunities

I got into a conversation with one heat pump installer and he sent me a quote. I told him that I'd really like to compare his offer with appropriate competitors. He replied by saying that there was only one significant competitor but that this competitor was more expensive. He wouldn't tell me the name of the competitor. I just had to trust him.

That's not the way the world works anymore. You can't build a successful business model on the Web based on keeping customers uninformed. There are just too many ways for us pesky customers to find out stuff these days.

So you need to free the information. Think like a customer. What does the intelligent stranger need to know in order to make an informed decision? Then tell them.

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