With more organisations moving their core business to consumer directed funding models such as NDIS and My Aged Care, change is in the air – for providers and their clients and beneficiaries. For the first time, clients hold the purse-strings – and with them, the chance to exercise true choice and control over the services they receive. For the first time, individuals – not the government – are the customer.

For a customer-driven market to thrive, there must be sufficient choice available from a range of providers, offering services that fulfil genuine community needs in a way that’s sustainable, ethical, and generates positive social impact.

The approach providers take towards creating and marketing services has great bearing on how well organisations and the communities they serve will fare in the developing social services marketplace.

Approaching marketing by focusing only on activities – like service, sales and advertising – can be risky.

A market orientation can help your organisation to focus your efforts in a way that benefits both your organisation and the communities you serve.

Where are you now – activity or market oriented?

At its core, the purpose of marketing is to facilitate the exchange of value between an organisation and its customers. The difference between an activity-led approach to marketing and genuine market orientation lies in the perception of where and how this value is created.

Do you recognise any of these in your organisation?

Sales orientation

Value is seen to be created by revenue or size of customer base. A focus on volume over differentiation can create the temptation to over-diversify in an attempt to serve everyone – or anyone.

With too many eggs and too many baskets, service quality and relevance is harder and more costly to maintain – thus putting longer term financial sustainability at risk. There’s also a potential human cost if you’re trying to do more than you can manage within quality and safety guidelines. Risk: poor quality and sustainability.

Advertising orientation

Value is seen to be primarily created through brand perception – risking overstatement. A lack of integrity, ‘purpose washing’, or even well-meaning (but poorly implemented) marketing in which reality fails to match expectation, can result in real damage to the interests of the organisation and its customers.  Risk: brand damage.

Service orientation

Value is seen as vesting solely with the features and quality of the service you currently provide. Organisations with a service orientation often do have a strong ‘customer orientation’, and provide excellent care – but If you’re not looking beyond your existing customers to understand how the wider market is developing, your service – however high in quality – may fall out of step with changing needs and expectations. Risk: poor impact.

A market orientation benefits your community

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Peter F. Drucker

A market orientation puts current and potential customers and the world as they experience it at the centre of the marketing process. To improve your market orientation, the first step is to develop clear, accurate business intelligence around three Cs[1] – community, context, and capabilities.

1. Know your community

Looking beyond the customers you already know to build a picture of the whole potential customer base – along with a solid understanding their needs and behaviour – is essential. This article offers some tips to help you build a market map.

2. Understand the context

It’s vital to have a complete picture of the context in which your customers and your organisation connect, especially in a complex environment like community and social services.

Go beyond listing direct competitors and take a look at all of the other options your community has to solve their problem. This can include indirect competitors (like informal support), as well as barriers (such as access to funding).

In the process of scanning your context, you may even identify some potential collaborators. If you’re tending towards a sales orientation in an attempt to survive, finding partners who share similar goals but have different competencies is one way to offer your customers a wider range of services.

3. Review your capabilities

What is your organisation good at, really? It can be helpful to get an outside, objective opinion on this from a consultant, or through market research. Research your current customers but also make sure you understand the market beyond your current base. You can learn a lot from customers who have chosen a competing option.

Having a good picture of your unique strengths can help guard against overselling (advertising orientation). You may also find something that you do best of all, that fits the needs of your market perfectly. That’s market fit: the magic ingredient in developing a sustainable position in the market.

A fresh perspective

Adopting a market orientation creates a fresh perspective that puts the needs of your current and potential customers into context. With a market orientation, your organisation is better placed to deliver sustainable social impact through your marketing and indeed, everything you do. That’s good for your organisation and great for your community.